On a Sunday a few weeks ago (like many Sundays), I was looking for something to make when I remembered that Popo had given me her old bamboo steamer and The Dim Sum Book by Eileen Yin-Fei Lo.
I’ve made dim sum with Popo a few times and it’s always been an interesting challenge. There were the soup dumplings that were tasty but kind of leaked and both successful and failed steamed buns. Luckily, these baked ones turned out pretty well except for the salt.
It’s not often that I tap into the Chinese in me. Most of the time I feel very American. But, this year I am attempting to make more Chinese foods. I’ve already been off to a pretty good start with egg drop soup and wonton soup.
Growing up, the extent of Chinese New Year has been the occasional lai see and maybe some dim sum but that's about it. It’s just never been something that my family has particularly celebrated.
When I moved to Hawaii, it was much more obvious that Chinese New Year was a celebratory event. Hawaii's Chinatown explodes in red and gold. Stalls with all sorts of knick knacks and food come out. There's a huge parade with lion dancing and firecrackers. The already humid air gets inundated with layers of smoke and fried food. It's hot, loud, crowded and boisterous but everyone is excited and full of positive energy.
So I’m not surprised that this year, I’m feeling Chinese New Year more than others. Perhaps it's because a few family members are going to Hawaii specifically for Chinese New Year and I wish I was too. Or because I'll be learning how to make jai this weekend. Or maybe it's because it's the Year of the Monkey and that's my year, Qiao's and Popo's, too. I mean, it only comes every 12 years.
While flipping through The Dim Sum Book, I was looking for something that didn't require too many ingredients or additional cooking time like char siu bao. And then I found these little buggers which required very little ingredients and time compared to most of the other dim sum.
These lap cheong buns are basically the Chinese version of pretzel buns. It's a steamed bread wrapped around lap cheong. Now, mind you, I'm pretty particular about this Chinese sausage called lap cheong. Like wonton wrappers, certain brands taste and work better than others. I'm partial to this one, the one in the red package. Don't ask what's in lap cheong because it's a lot of
unhealthy really delicious stuff. The fattier the better.
There are two parts to this recipe–the dough and the filling. The technique for forming the dough is similar to making pasta dough. Add the wet to the dry on a work surface and slowly work it together. (In retrospect, I wish I had tried it in a bowl since it is quite messy. Next time, I'll see how it is. )
After the kneading the dough for 12-15 minutes, let the dough rest for an hour. This is an important step since this isn't a yeasted dough. Letting the dough rest results in a soft and fluffy bread in the end. While letting the dough rest, cut the waxed paper into pieces and marinate the lap cheong in oyster sauce, soy sauce and sesame oil.
Then, cut the dough in 16 pieces and roll each piece in a 12-inch rope. Wrap it around the sausage and place it on the wax paper. Finally, into the steamer they go. Resist all temptation to open the lid for 15-20 minutes. The one key to really fluffy steamed buns is in the name. You've got to have a steady and powerful steam so that the bread can cook all the way through. If you don't, they'll be incredibly doughy and inedible. This also means, you'll need to keep an eye on your steamer as it can run dangerously low on water towards the end.
When you do open the steamer, it's surprising at how big these buns grow and how fluffy the bread gets. It's slightly sweet, soft and a little chewy–exactly how it tastes at a dim sum restaurant. And the lap cheong adds a nice salty and juicy balance to the bread.
I do love char siu bao but these come very close. They're easier to make and are super cute.
I forgot to mention that your living space will smell very Chinese-y in the end. But, it's so worth it!
So, whether or not you celebrate it, Happy Chinese New Year / Gung Hay Fat Choy!
Lop Cheong Buns
Yields: 16 buns // Active Time: 1 hour // Inactive Time: 2 hours