These buns are a twist on the classic Chinese egg custard buns (奶黃包, nǎihuángbāo). They still have the creamy custard and the fluffy steamed bun, but I added pumpkin and fall spices to both the filling and the dough to create a pumpkin spice version. Notes on ingredient substitutions and the science behind the custard filling, dough, and steaming process follow the recipe!
We’ve seen that fats add tenderness to many of our baked goods, both by preventing tough structural molecules from forming and by contributing to leavening. But in bakes like pie crust, biscuits, croissants, scallion pancakes, and baklava, fat has another function: flakiness. In this post, we’re exploring how fats add flake to gain a better understanding of how to work with them.
In the recent post about starch in flour, we discussed the effect of water temperature on doughs. In Chinese cooking, different ratios of hot and cold water are combined with flour to make dough for everything from noodles to chive pockets to dumplings, all of which differ in both texture and cooking method. To explore how water temperature adds so much versatility to dough, we made dumpling wrappers using a cold water dough and a hot water dough. We then boiled or steamed both types of dumplings and compared their textures.
Castella cake is a light, fluffy cake popular in East Asia, and there are two main methods to make it. Today, we’re taking a closer look at the Taiwanese version (古早味蛋糕, gǔzǎowèi dàngāo). A typical recipe starts with cake flour and cornstarch in hot oil, then adds milk, egg yolks, and an egg white meringue. In this post, we’ll focus on the ingredient that’s less common in cakes: the hot oil. We’ll bake two cakes, one with hot oil and one with oil at room temperature, and we’ll discuss the effects of the hot oil on the flour and cornstarch, the batter, and the final baked cake.
Tangzhong (from the Chinese 湯種, tāngzhǒng) is a breadmaking method derived from the Japanese breadmaking method yukone or yudane. It’s recently gained popularity largely thanks to the Chinese cookbook 65°C Tangzhong Bread by Yvonne Chen. For the tangzhong method, a small portion of the flour and water are cooked together to 65°C (149°F), then added to the rest of the bread ingredients. Tangzhong is known to keep breads softer and moister for longer due to the gelatinized starch in the cooked flour. To taste the effects of tangzhong for ourselves, we made two sets of bread rolls with the same ingredients. Half the rolls were made with tangzhong, and half the rolls were made without.
Bread dough doesn’t have to be baked. In Chinese cooking, for example, it’s often steamed to make buns. Commercial western-style bakeries also use steam to bake larger loaves with shinier, crisper crusts, an effect home cooks replicate with Dutch ovens. In this post, we’ll compare three methods of cooking bread dough using 花卷 (huājuǎn, literally “flower roll”), a type of Chinese steamed bun speckled with scallions. We’ll compare the traditional steaming method to baking and to baking with steam.
In the last few posts, we discussed starch’s different roles in baked goods and other desserts. But some starches are better than others for certain applications. Cornstarch, for example, is useful for gelling custard pie fillings, but if we refrigerate a cornstarch fruit filling, it gets cloudy. Tapioca starch, on the other hand, won’t gel into a solid you can slice, but it remains clear once refrigerated. In this post, we’ll explore the molecular differences between different starches and their consequent effects in our desserts.
In the last post, we discussed the molecular details of starch: what it is, where it comes from, and how it changes with water and heat. Today, we’ll apply those concepts to baked goods with a focus on the starch in wheat flour. Although flour is often noted for its gluten, it actually contains 68–75% starch. So when we consider the chemistry of any baked good that contains flour, be it cake, bread, or cookies, starch always plays a role. And in foods cooked in steam or boiling water, starch helps create textures as diverse as soft skins on steamed buns, chewy crusts on bagels, and crisp shells of choux pastry.
Red bean soup (紅豆湯,) is a popular dessert throughout China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong. It’s made from red beans (紅豆, also called adzuki beans) which are incorporated into many East Asian desserts. Red bean soup itself is versatile. It can be eaten hot or cold, plain or with toppings, liquid or frozen. When my mom first dictated her version to me, she cautioned, “糖最後加，不然紅豆煮不爛！Don’t add the sugar until the end, else the beans will never soften!” Today, I’m sharing my mom’s recipe, adapted for a typical Western kitchen and pantry, then discussing the science behind her words.