Asians like our breads pillowy soft and fluffy. These are seen in bake shops from North Asia Japan, to Taiwan, to Hong Kong, to South East Asia Singapore and Malaysia. The western buns tend to be bigger, heartier and rougher in texture.
In our house, we prefer soft breads, freshly baked, please.
I have watched my dad make breads since the 1960s, when breads were rare in Singapore. He was taught how to make breads by the British when Singapore was still a colony. At one point of his pastry career, he worked in Cold Storage before the 1972 fire that wiped out the place that was a landmark in Orchard Road. My dad also lost his wedding ring when he took it off to knead bread and left it in his apron.
The most important thing about making bread is in the kneading of the bread, and the test that the gluten is well formed. Therefore, the window pane test is crucial.
If the bun is to be soft and pillowy, the trapping of the moisture is vital. I have spent quite a bit of time searching for this secret in many methods, and baked 65C bread tangzhong, Hong Kong’s zhongzhong, with and without starters, with and without roux etc etc. They all worked and they all have a common motive, which is to trap in as much moisture as possible at the right temperature or right environment.
So here is my own theory of how this method works.
In proofing the breads too many times, I feel that the dough will lose too much moisture to the surrounding air, especially if we stay in countries that are not so humid. I remember my bread teacher used to put a bowl of water in the proofing cupboard and generate steam to keep the dough moist as they proved. The result is soft soft buns.
Another thing he did was to spread oil on the dough during the first proof, and then spray water on the breads after shaping. All to stop the dough from drying out.
So these theories on proofing make a lot of sense to me. I then thought about the yeast.
I saw how the commercial yeast evolved over the last 40 years, from the time my dad used fresh yeast that he kept in the fridge to those quick activating ones we get in stores today. In fact, it is hard to find fresh yeast these days. So I experimented a few times to see if these yeast work uniformly. Most do.
And this is how I derived this method of making Asian buns. You just need to proof these buns enough for them to continue activating the yeast in the oven. They will be soft even after a day (if you keep them in air-tight containers), and can be kept for up to 3 days.
130g Fresh Milk (at 37°C)
4g Instant Yeast
220g Bread Flour
50g Plain Flour
1 Egg (reserve a teaspoon for egg wash prior to baking)
30g Raw Sugar
1/2 tsp Salt
30g Unsalted Butter
9 tsp Peanut Butter (or any of your favourite brekkie spread)
Roughly chopped nuts or icing sugar
- Sprinkle the yeast on the milk and sitr through. Then let it sit for 5 minutes until it becomes frothy. If it does not froth, try another time. If it does not froth the second time, discard the yeast and buy another batch.
- Put in the ingredients in this order: egg, sugar, bread flour.
- Knead for 2 minutes.
- Now add plain flour and salt. Knead for another 3 minutes.
- Add the butter and knead until incorporated, smooth and pass the window pane test.
- Divide dough into 40g each.
- Wrap 1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon of peanut butter or jam into each dough.
- Roll out to an oval then fold lengthwise.
- Make an incision and then open up the dough into a long line.
- Twist this dough into a rope and then make a circle.
- Put them into cup cake tins, cover with cling wrap to ensure the dough won't dry out.. Let it raise to about 3/4 full (Mine took 30 minutes under indirect sun)
- Brush the top with a thin layer of beaten egg.
- Top with the chopped nuts if using.
- Bake for 10 minutes at 200°C or until the sides and bottom of the buns are 2/3 golden brown.
- Top with icing sugar if using.
- Remember to keep these in air tight containers or sealed bags when cooled.