I have a Kenwood Chef mixer at home and all these while, I have been using them to prepare breads, Chinese steamed buns and etc..Though it is powerful and produce a better kneading results, but it does have some disadvantages. If the volume of the dough prepared is too small, it is not efficient to knead the dough using my Kenwood machine. In fact, the hook at times cannot touch the bottom of the mixing bowl and knead the dough properly.
The ideal volume for efficient kneading is about 500 grams of flour and this can be used to prepare 12-15 buns. For a family of 4, we will need to eat these buns for at least 2 days. Therefore, I have been hand kneading buns for quite a while when I am short of time when i felt I just need to prepare a few buns .
To me, these become much efficient that taking out the machine, knead the dough and wash the mixing bowl, hook etc. What I needed is basically just a mixing bowl and a tablespoon. You must be wondering why is it faster since it is manually knead? Well, because the volume is very small, it is not tiring and hence you can knead it really quickly to have a small quantity of smooth dough.
But do not compare hand knead bao with machine knead bao.. Hand knead bao may not be as smooth as those machine kneaded bao. Of course you can still spend more time to reach the machine knead smoothness stage but is that necessary? What you need now is to be efficient and such a minor compromise to the texture will not be noticeable at all..
In this recipe, I am sharing what I did and I have never claim that this is the best way of preparation. i have decided to use tablespoon as a measurement unit and will benefit those who do not have a weighing scale and standing mixer at home.
There is nothing to shout about, this way of preparation is exactly what grannies have been doing well before systematic method of bao preparation. The granny have some measurement guideline deep inside their mind, they used their hand feel and visual observation to get the dough they are familiar with. What you need is roughly to remember the ratio of water : flour: sugar: yeast. Once you can remember this, you can easily prepare bao in very small quantities. Having said that, what I shared are guidelines and you can always amend it along the way as practises made perfect.
Below is a video which I have demonstrated what I have done for small quantity of mantou not even measuring anything and prepared purely based on hand feel. If you cannot see this video via mobile, you can refer to here: https://www.facebook.com/kengls/videos/vb.1317769770/10210686307256654/?type=3&theater
WHAT IS REQUIRED
Servings: 6 hand knead baos
- 8 tablespoons of bao flour or medium protein flour (中筋面粉） Note (1)
- 1 teaspoon of instant yeast （即发酵母）
- 2 tablespoons of sugar （白糖）
- 6 tablespoons of your desired fillings (I used red bean paste) (所喜欢的馅料）Note (3)
- 12-15 tablespoons of plain water （白水） Note (4)
You can use bao flour or plain flour or all purpose flour or even bread flour for bao making. There is absolutely no need to use bao flour or hong kong flour for bao as it is just a more expensive bleached flour resulted in a more whitish bao. I used any flour at home depending on what I have and for such a small quantity, I do not think there is much a difference.
As a general guideline, one bao needs 1.5 – 2 tablespoons of flour depending on size.
I have used a tablespoon and a teaspoon to measure for the purpose of this post. It is best to use a measuring spoon but if you do not have, just the common soup drinking spoon or any spoons as long as the ratio is there.
As a general guideline, the dough to filling ratio is 1:1 meaning 50 grams of dough will need 50 grams of fillings. However, since this is a fast and easy recipe, you can just estimate your own filling quantities based on what you have at hand. I did that especially when I do not have adequate fillings at home.
Just remember that a dough can be formed when flour to water ratio is 1:1 meaning the hydration ratio is 50%. This harder dough is easier to shape but the bao can be rather dry. For a softer dough, flour to water ratio is 1:1.2 to 1:1.25. Effectively, the hydration ratio is 60%-70%. While this is a guideline, what I did is to add the water gradually such that you can easily knead the dough and the dough will not be too dry that tends to break. I do not usually measure the water and what I am looking for is the hand feel. Therefore, in your second or third attempt, you should be familiar with the dough that you are handling.
STEPS OF PREPARATION
- Shape all the filling into 6 equal balls. You can decide the size of the filling. Set aside.
- In a big mixing bowl, put 12 heapfuls of flour followed by 2 tablespoons of sugar and 1 teaspoon of instant yeast.
- Add about 12 tablespoons of water and use a chopstick to stir until it forms a rough dough. Keep the remaining 3 spoons of water for later addition. You may need to add more along the way.
- Use hand to knead the dough lightly and if it is too dry, add water tablespoon by tablespoon. Initially when you knead, the dough will stick to your hand and side of the bowl. As you knead, it will become less and less sticky.
- If you bowl is too small, you can transfer out to a lightly floured surface.
- Use your hand to knead the dough until smooth. Should there be a need, add water tablespoon by tablespoon to enhance the gluten structure. You can also use a rolling pin to roll the dough if you find that you are tired. Roll on those rough surfaces. The dough should take less than 10 minutes to become smooth for this quantity of flour. Once smooth, shape round and let it rest for 20 minutes. Cover with a clingy wrap or a wet towel while resting.
- Divide the dough into 6 pieces and when you touch the dough now, you should feel that the dough is very soft and much easier to stretch. Resting of dough helps to loosen the gluten structure and hence easier to shape. Re-kneading the dough will make it very tense and difficult to shape again.
- Shape each portion into a small dough and let it rest for 15 minutes.
Smooth means the dough will not break easily and the dough will not stick to the bowl and hand. The standard Chinese definition of smoothness of the dough is three “smooth” criteria aka 三光 meaning: no dough stuck to the hand (手光), no dough stuck to the bowl (盆光）and the dough is smooth with no rough irregular surface (面光）. This test is used in all Chinese pastry making of dough kneading. The rationale is simple, as you knead, gluten in the wheat flour will develop create a rubbery structure. They will tend to stick to each other and hence create a smooth dough. This is also the same thing as what is termed as window pane test in bread making. However, there is no such a need to reach the window pane test for simple bao making . As long as it does not stick to your hand, it is considered as done.
- Take a dough, lightly flatten it and put a filling ball on the centre. Seal the edges and use hand to shape it round. Put on top of a piece of paper and transfer to the steamer basket.
- Cover the basket and let it proofs until it is 1.5 times the size . If you use your hand to lightly pressed, the surface will slightly bounce back. Note that over proofing dough can result in wrinkled buns.
- Once the proofing size have almost reached 1.5 times, get ready a steamer full of water. Bring to boil and steam the buns in the steamer under high heat for about 12-15 minutes. Once steamed, let it sit in the steamer for 5 minutes with the lids slightly opened. Open the lid too quickly will result wrinkled bao also as cold air suddenly rushed in. Bao is ready to be served after 5 minutes.
This post was issued after long consideration as readers are always concerned about too much food being prepared at home.One of the most common question is how long can the baos be kept. I thought it might be of help to those families who has small family members. In fact, if you do not have an overly high expectation, hand knead bao is much easier to prepare than if you need to prepare a big number of steamed buns. Shaping, proofing and steaming can be a problem if you do not have enough people to help you.. Hope this will benefit those are in need of such a recipe without using a weighing machine and a standing mixer.
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