Tuesday, July 24, 2012

take a bao: 包子! 素的! 美好!

baozi is love.

hard to believe i left china three years ago... and not a day goes by that i dont miss the food. oh! the food. the fragrance, the texture, the flavour...
longman grottos

ive been experimenting with recreating chinese food ever since i got back from the middle country. ive done huge chinese new year dinners with friends and family, cooking up favourite dishes the best i can, and sometimes i'm triumphant. the dishes always taste good, but sometimes there's magic. ive been quite successful with my jiaozi.

lots of folks are familiar with jiaozi--moon shaped pasta stuffed with delicious. they're commonly called dumplings, but they're more like ravioli than anything else. jiaozi are made with fresh pasta dough and are boiled, and then sometimes pan fried (pot stickers)--it's a regional thing. i only had pot stickers once in china, the best pot stickers ive had in my life, in luoyang, henan, in december of 2006. the food memory of that cold, foggy breakfast is strong. those pot stickers were special.

100_8917.jpgi ate jiaozi on a regular basis. jiaozi is gooooooooood. we'd always go to a certain place, creatively called the jiaozi place, and usually we'd get a cold salad with tofu, peanuts, lotus root, and celery to accompany the dish.  i never got mine in soup because the broth was meaty, but my friend chris, also a vegetarian, and i could get a heaping plate of veggie jiaozi.

100_8920.jpgit's possible to find good jiaozi in places outside of china. but sometimes, what i really crave is baozi. and baozi is harder to find. baozi is steamed bread stuffed with scrumptious. it's commonly eaten for breakfast, but it's also a snack food. i considered it an anytime food.

oh, how i miss baozi.

for me, baozi is not a dim sum item. dim sum is more of a thing in the south, and i lived in the north. for me, baozi was street food. glorious, glorious street food. i have fond memories of stacks of steamers and the smell of yeast. i had to make baozi possible. lo, i decided to do some experimenting.
adam gets us a snack
adam buying a baozi snack in xi'an

 i found an article in the LA times that inspired and encouraged me...  and provided me with a dough recipe:

1 1/2 teaspoons instant dry yeast
3/4 cup lukewarm water
2 tablespoons oil
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
3 cups flour

I put the yeast in a small bowl and added water. it sat for a moment, and then I whisked in oil and a pinch of sugar, and sat it aside.

in my kitchenaid, i combined the sugar, baking powder, and flour. then i slowly poured in the yeasty mixture and kneeded the mass until the dough pulled from the side of the bowl. i oiled a glass bowl, added the dough, covered it with a kitchen towel, and sat it in the sunshine for an hour.

meanwhile, i prepared the filling.  i wanted to make two fillings--one with greens and one with tofu--but the market did not provide.   sometimes in the market here, one can find 青菜 qīngcài(bok choy), but not always. i didnt see any inspiring leafy greens, so i went for tofu and mushroom instead.

for the filling i combined:
finely chopped ginger
1 shredded carrot
120 g chanterelles
2 slices of pressed tofu
chives from balcony garden
soy sauce, honey, black vinegar

after an hour, i brought the dough inside and punched it flat so it could rise again.

after another half hour, i divided the dough into balls and then began preparing the baozi.

using a rolling pin, i flattened the dough ball into a circle shape. i kept the dough thicker in the middle and continued to roll the perimeter. i cupped the dough circle in my hand and scooped the filling inside. then, i closed the bao.
i can best describe closing the baozi as a series of pinches.

pinch a small bit of dough together, then grab another small fold of dough and pinch it to the first crease and keep going around and around.

i let each baozi rest on some parchment paper as i worked.  then i covered them with the towel and let them hang out while i prepped the steamer.  of course, a bamboo steamer is ideal,  but i havent got one here.

before steaming

i cut small squares of parchment and placed them on the bottom of each bao before placing it into the steaming steamer. i closed the lid and let each batch of 4 cook for at least 15 minutes. then i removed the steamer from the burner and let it sit for another few minutes before removing the lid.  and, boy howdy, did we chow down.

christian found some black vinegar at a local asian grocery.

black vinegar is grain based and malty and perfect with baozi.  i dont think the woman at the grocery was used to people buying the stuff though, as she questioned christian, "are you sure that's the vinegar you want?"

ooooh yes.  quite sure.

and how did christian find the baozi? did they satisfy his cravings? indubitably.