Pizza Bread Twists | Lunch Box Series #1By Yun Zhang JohnMy son is going back to school and that means that I’ll have to give him a delicious and nutritious packed lunch every single day. Did I mention that he’s also a picky eater? Well, I’m up for the challenge! One of my plan is to make these Pizza Bread Twists on Sundays for the week.
Because even the pickiest eaters like both bread and pizza. This is literally the combination of the two! These Pizza Bread Twists also check off my list of “mom approved” lunch items. Which are:
- Healthy and balanced
- Portable and mess free
- Quick to assemble
- Yummy and most likely to be eaten
The enriched bread
This bread dough is ultra enriched with milk, eggs and olive oil, which adds both nutrition as well as flavour. And that means that A, it’ll taste fantastic and rich and B, it’ll stay moist and soft for longer. When stored in plastic bags in the fridge, these breads will stay fresh tasting for up to a whole week!
And that's part of the reason why I'm not just using store bought pizza dough.
So whether you are eating these pizza breads at room temperature or warmed up in a toaster oven, air fryer or even a microwave, they’ll taste the like you’ve just made it.
The Pizza toppings
While it’s tempting to cram in a bunch of traditional pizza toppings like tomato sauce and fresh mozzarella in there, these Pizza Bread Twists would be harder to assemble if you do. For example, use tomato paste instead of tomato sauce because it’s thicker and the concentrated tomato flavours shine through more.
Certainly, add a ton of cheese, but make sure it’s dry and shredded so the cheese won’t run out during baking.
Include meats like pepperoni, ham or salami…or none is entirely your choice but chop them up small so they’ll stay put in between the dough. Also, I would not add too many vegetables for the same reason why we use tomato paste instead of sauce…too much excess liquid.
Shaping the breads
I’ve obviously shaped these pizza bread into twists, but you don’t have to. You can turn them into buns by simply twirling the twists around itself and tucking the ends underneath.
And do not worry if the toppings / fillings fall out as you twist, just gather up them up and sprinkle on top of the shaped breads.
So Easy to make
Seriously, this is an easy and forgiving bread recipe that’s also completely customizable based on your or your kid's preferences. No machine needed, just a big mixing bowl and a few minutes of light kneading by hand.
An alternative to sandwiches, they're a great solution for the packed lunch problem. Make them ahead on the weekends, and quickly reheat before putting it into the lunch box and the morning rush suddenly becomes less so.
Plus, they are delicious! Both parents and kids approved.
Be sure to come back for #2 of my Lunch Box Series - Asian Hot Dog Buns.Sichuan Cold Noodles – Liang Mian 凉面By Yun Zhang JohnMost of the year, Chinese people prefer to eat their noodles scorching hot. But in the summer time, when the humid Sichuan heat clings onto you like a blanket, a bowl of pungently spiced, Sichuan cold noodles accompanied by a soothing bowl of cooling rice congee is the choice of many.
What is Sichuan Cold noodles?
These little bowls of cold noodles or Liang Mian 凉面 in Chinese, are often referred to as “Xiao Chi 小吃”. This translates to “little eats”, and is meant to be enjoyed in small portions along side other similar little eats…at any time of the day.
Sold in little shops and by street vendors, these noodles are served at room temperature and seasoned in front of customers upon ordering. The flavours are a balanced combination of salty, spicy, sour and sweet. They are readily available, cheap and especially popular during the hot months.
Easy to make
It’s also very simple to replicate at home because all you really need for a classic bowl of Sichuan cold noodles are wheat noodles and Mung bean sprouts. As for the noodles, both fresh and dried are fine. Just find one that it’s not too thin or too thick. Thin noodles can be easily over cooked and thick noodles won’t cling onto the sauce well.
Blanched Mung bean sprouts are added for their crunchy texture. You can certainly include other vegetables like cucumbers and carrots as well as protein like shredded chicken for a souped up home version of Sichuan cold noodles. But to keep it classic, I’m using just bean sprouts.
Cooking the noodles just right!
An important thing to remember when cooking your noodle of choice is to undercook it by a minute. It’ll carry on cooking as it cools down and we want to retain a nice chewiness in the final product.
And do not rinse under cold water like some other cold noodles recipes! This is crucial because it’ll prevent the oil that’ll be added to stick to the noodles. So to cool down the noodles fast, spread it around a big platter or plate and toss the noodles about with chopsticks….preferably in front of a fan:)
And there you have it! A simple recipe for a perfect bowl of Sichuan cold noodles.
Want more delicious Asian noodle recipes?
Dan Dan Mian 担担面10min Chilli garlic noodles2 Cold Soba noodle saladsBraided Coke Bread – surprisingly delicious!By Yun Zhang JohnI’ve got an obsession with Coke. If there’s a cold can of it nearby, I will always reach for it. So for the sake of my waistline, I try not to keep too many cans at home. Then, I saw this recipe for Coke bread, and I said….WHA? How interesting! How does that taste? Will it be too sweet? Would it rise properly? Needless to say, I had to try it out.
And the ensuing result was pretty fantastic! A soft, squish, sweet bread that is nice to enjoy as is or toasted with butter or jam.
Please don’t confuse this recipe for some quick breads made using Coca Cola that are more cake like than bread. This is a yeast leaven bread bread that eats like….bread.
Coke in cooking
The idea of using Coca Cola to make bread may seem novel, but in fact it’s not so far fetched. Some German breads use beer as the primary liquid to add a robust earthy flavour. Comparatively, the coke used here also imparts a surprisingly pleasing caramel-y flavour to the otherwise simple bread.
In fact, if you look for it, Coke can be found in other cooking applications too. I’ve seen it successfully used to cook ham, to make chicken wings, or even noodles! So why not a Coke bread?
While the recipe is simple, the shaping was not. I decided to shape this loaf of Coke bread into a Swiss Braided Bread or “Butterzopf” or “Tresse” - a sweet brioche-style plaited bread that is traditionally served on Sundays …And boy, did it look good.
And while the addition of Coca Cola is definitely unconventional, the sweetness and soft, chewy texture of this Coke bread is actually quite similar to a typical Swiss Braided Bread.
Having said that, the technique for forming a six braid Swiss Braided Bread can be a little bit complicated, so be sure to watch the video carefully to get the sequence of steps.
If you’ve made it this far in the post, I must have peaked your curiosity. So let me give you more reason on why you should definitely make this Coke Bread.
-It’s super easy. 6 everyday ingredients and no equipment needed. (unless you want to pull out that stand mixer)
-It’s a show stopper. Follow my guide for braiding and brush generously with egg wash and you can also pull this gorgeous braided bread out of your oven!
-It’s fun! Surprise your family and friends with a bread made with Coke. They’ll be intrigued and impressed…I promise.Spicy & Numbing Mapo Tofu 麻婆豆腐By Yun Zhang JohnMapo Tofu 麻婆豆腐 is probably the most well known tofu dish in the world. While it originated from my hometown of Chengdu, Sichuan. I think variations of it have spread through out the world.
You might think that this is a dish best eaten in restaurants, but I would argue that with the right ingredients and techniques, you can make a plate of authentic Mapo Tofu right in your kitchen!
What should Mapo Tofu taste like?
There are 4 characteristic for an authentic and delicious Mapo Tofu:
1. “Ma” or 麻. It has to be sufficiently “ma” from the Sichuan peppercorns. The numbing, citrous-y flavours from the peppercorns is omnipresent in many Sichuan dishes, but even more so here.
2. “La” or 辣. It should be some what spicy, not over whelmingly so, but you need to balance out the “ma” of the Sichuan peppercorns. Of course, adjust to your personal tolerance…that why I put down chilli powder as optional.
3. Delicate or 嫩. Traditional Mapo Tofu is always made with soft, custard-like tofu, so that the texture of the cooked dish is tender and smooth. This is the preferred mouth feel for this dish.
4. Hot or 烫. This refers to the temperature of the dish when it is served. Mapo Tofu, like many other Chinese dishes, is best when eaten piping hot!
Which tofu to choose?
As mentioned above, try to pick a soft tofu that is smooth and jiggly. You want something that can hold its shape during cooking but melts on contact in your mouth.
Silken tofu- tofu that are not pressed, can also work. However, if handled too much, you run the risk of it falling apart completely during cooking. Likewise, lMedium firm tofu will also work, however, it should be pre-blanched in salted water before hand. Whichever tofu you pick though, these "Mala" 麻辣 - spicy & numbing flavours will always ensure that they taste amazing!
The meat and vegetables
Traditionally, small amounts of ground beef is used to add flavour as well as a textural contrast to the soft tofu. The focus is on the tofu, so the meat is used sparingly or not at all. Personally, I prefer small amounts of ground pork because the extra fattiness works well with the tofu.
Same goes for the vegetables. My recipe calls for Chinese chives, but you can easily substitute for garlic chives or scallions or nothing at all. These aromatic green vegetables bring colour and texture, but at the end of the day, it’s all about the tofu.
I’ve talked about the Fermented broad bean chilli paste Pixian DouBanJiang (郫县豆瓣) before. It’s used in many of my recipes and essential here as well. It's not just the spiciness that I’m after here but also for the umami depth of flavour that only fermented products can yield. Often considered the soul of Sichuan cuisine, Pixian DouBanJiang is present in so many dishes.
The other essential ingredient, in my opinion for Mapo Tofu is the Fermented black soy beans or Dou Chi (豆豉). I always use the dry version that’s preserved in salt. It’s got a earthy and complex flavour that is hard to replicate and as with the DouBanJiang, it can be found in many sauces, stir fries and braised dishes.
Finally, the Sichuan Peppercorns! 花椒. So so important here because it is the only thing that'll give you that mouth numbing flavour. Which can be kind of weird at first but addictive once you're accustom.
Do try to source the freshest, best quality peppercorns that you can. You can tell when they are good quality by the vibrant reddish colour, the pungent distinctive scent and the intact husks they come in. And of course, the fresher the peppercorns, the more powerful, so try it out first and adjust the amount used accordingly.
Yu Xiang Rou Si Steamed buns 鱼香肉丝包子By Yun Zhang JohnThis recipe marries two of my favourite Chinese dishes - Yu Xiang Rou Si / 鱼香肉丝 and soft, fluffy steamed baozi 包子. And it seems that they’re a match made in heaven. So it is with great pleasure to introduce you to my Yu Xiang Rou Si steamed buns 鱼香肉丝包子. Please join me in wishing them a joyous union!
Yu Xiang Rou Si / 鱼香肉丝
Previously I’ve shared a recipe Yu Xiang Rou Si / 鱼香肉丝. The name translates to “fish fragrant meat slivers”, which I admit, sounds really unappealing. But actually, “Yu Xiang / 鱼香” aka. "fish-fragrant" has nothing at all to do with fish. It refers to a combination of aromatics and flavours that comes together to form an incredible fragrance.
It is a classic stir fry dish that can be found in most Sichuan restaurant menus.
While the name maybe foreign (and strange), its sweet, sour, fragrant and savoury flavour profile is commonly found and beloved in many Chinese stir fry dishes.
To make a traditional stir fry dish work for steam buns, I had to make some small adaptions. For example, to make the filling, I only stir fried the meat and Woodear mushrooms and mixed in the other raw veggies off the heat. This will help retain some crunch in the veggies after steaming.
Chinese Fa Gao 发糕 aka. Prosperity CakesBy Yun Zhang JohnChinese Fa Gao 发糕 is a sweet steamed rice cake that symbolizes - you guess it - prosperity. Chinese people love to be prosperous! Surprisingly, this simple little recipe has taken me a while to develop. And now, I feel confident to share with you a great way to make soft, yet chewy Fa Gaos from scratch.
What is a Fa Gao?
Growing up in Sichuan, I remember picking up these little rice cakes in the open markets, often made by a grandma, to take home in plastic bags. They are cheap and an alternative to the usual meat or veg steam buns or YouTiao for breakfast.
Elsewhere in China though, Fa Gaos are often served during Chinese New Years or used as a ceremonial offering to honour ancestors. Because as I mentioned already, its name in Chinese - 发糕, means “prosperity cakes”. So naturally it lends itself to be an offer of good fortune.
Even the shape, little cakes split open and bursting out on top further symbolizes abundance and excess. So the higher the cakes rise and the bigger the split, the better.
To rice or not to rice?
Developing this recipe actually took a lot of trial and error to get right. I was after a traditional recipe that uses rice and not rice flour. And while some may make their Fa Gao completely with wheat flour, the ones I remember eating were always made with rice.
To achieve the right soft and squeegee texture, I used both uncooked and cooked rice. No wheat flour or any other starches at all. So these Fa Gaos are gluten-free and a great alternative for those sensitive to gluten or wheat.
Quick or Slow Leavening?
Nowadays, you can make a quick batch of these steamed rice cakes using baking powder for leavening. But I used yeast for fermentation because I wanted the slow process which usually equals more flavour.
Furthermore, I fermented the batter twice. This leaves a tangy taste in the cakes, an important characteristic of a traditional Chinese Fa Gao. And for me, it is this slightly sour tang that makes these simple cakes more complex.
Coconut & Pandan
Ok, this part is not very traditional, at least for me. The Fa Gao of my childhood were never flavoured with coconut milk or Pandan. Just water.
But I quite like the lovely fragrance that both add to the simple rice cakes. The fat from the rich, thick coconut milk helps not only in flavour but also in terms of texture as it plays role in the thickening the batter.
Pandan leaves are tropical plants that grows abundantly in Southeast Asia. It is used in many desserts and sweets due to its subtle fragrance and sweet aroma. The flavour is akin to vanilla, with a grassy note. And it pairs really well with fellow tropical flavours like the coconut.
Using fresh Pandan leaves is nice. But you’ll have to source it, blend it and strain it…etc. So buy a good Pandan extract and you can get the same effect with less effort for these Coconut Pandan Fa Gaos.
I purchased these silicon cupcake moulds specifically for the purpose of making Fa Gao. ( I did say that I’ve been developing this recipe for a while…) However, you definitely don’t need to. Just use any small porcelain or glass dishes that will fit into your steamer. Tea cups…sauce dishes…as long as they have high sides to allow the batter to rise upwards.
And that's it! Now you are ready to make some delicious sweet Chinese Fa Gao 发糕! Eat them warm or at room temperature and store in plastic to keep the exterior from hardening. They are a lovely little snack.
Fresh Raw Chilli sauce : A super spicy useful condimentBy Yun Zhang JohnI love ALL chilli sauces. Most often I use my classic Sichuan hot chilli oil to add heat and flavour. However, when I can get my hands on fresh red and green chillies, I love to make this Fresh Raw Chilli Sauce. It is really spicy, fragrant and can be used in so many ways.
A simple recipe
Aside from the chillies, there are only a couple of other ingredients. As with my classic chilli oil, I want the taste of the fresh chillies to be the focus. So the type of chillies you pick is important because it determines the spice levels and pungency of the sauce.
The Green Chillies
I specifically chose long green chillies for this sauce due to the complex vegetal flavour that it brings. Green chillies usually has a lovely bitter note because it’s basically an unripe red chilli.
Depending on the variety that you pick, they can also pack a good amount of heat. So if you are like me, a spice lover, choose a green chilli that is skinnier, such as a Cayenne pepper, which packs more seeds and thus more heat. However, if you want to temper the spice levels, choose a green chilli that is fatter and larger, like a Jalapeño or a Serrano pepper.
The Red Chillies
Obviously, red chillies will compliment the green chillies in terms of colours. But more importantly, I pick the red Thai chillies aka. Bird’s eye chillies for its intense heat. For that reason, the ratio of green to red chillies is 2:1.
You can of course substitute the Thai bird’s eye chilli for a milder red variety, but I quite like this fresh raw chilli sauce to be super pungent. It is used as a condiment, therefore, I’m after a strong intense flavour that’ll lend itself well to various applications.
Copious amount of raw garlic is also used in the making of this Fresh raw chilli sauce. Again, I’m after a strong flavour that will continue to develop as it sits in the fridge so I highly recommend using lots of aromatic garlic cloves to add interest to the otherwise heat packed sauce.
Ginger is used to add fragrance and a deeper, earthier warmth to compliment the pungent raw chilli heat. You won’t need as much of it as garlic but including some will make the sauce more well rounded.
Salt and other seasonings
To keep the focal point on the chillies, the main seasoning used is salt. Plenty of salt. The salt helps to ground the heat and it acts as a preservative so the sauce will last longer. So don’t be shy with it.
As well, a touch of Chinese black vinegar is added to balance out some of the heat. use a rice vinegar if you don’t have the Chinese black vinegar on hand.
Finally, add some MSG if you choose to do so. It’ll boost the umami flavours of this fresh raw chilli sauce by ten folds.
Various ways to use this chilli sauce
As mentioned before, there are many ways to use this fresh raw chilli sauce.
1. Eat it straight up with white rice or noodles or on top of a boiled egg, for a quick and super spicy meal.
2. Add chopped green onions and cilantro to a bit of the sauce and turn it into a dipping salsa for meats like lamb.
3. Add a spoon or 2 to stir frys to amp up the heat factor.
4. Use it as a part of a marinade for a spicy grilled chicken or pork.
How to store it
Once it has cooled down completely. spoon it into air tight jars and put it into the fridge. Always use a clean utensil, each time as you take it out of the jar and this sauce will last refrigerated for 2-3 weeks.
King Oyster Mushroom Salad that will make you droolBy Yun Zhang JohnHave you ever tried king oyster mushrooms? Whenever I pass them in the store, I want to pick some up but I don’t always know how to cook it. That is, until I discovered this simple and delicious King Oyster Mushroom Salad recipe that blew me away.
This little cold dish of mushrooms with dressing will please the spice lovers, the flavour chasers, the vegan eaters, the texture crunchers and everyone in between.
But what are King Oyster Mushrooms?
King oyster mushrooms are the largest member of the oyster mushroom family. Unlike other types of mushrooms, it’s got a thick white stem and a relatively small brown or tan cap. When cooked, the flesh is almost meaty in texture with a rich umami flavour.
It’s native to the Mediterranean but it’s cultivated throughout Asia and widely used in Chinese, Japanese and Korean cuisines. It's dense, chewy texture lends itself well to be used as a substitute for meat and seafood.
How to use this versatile mushroom?
King oyster mushrooms can be cooked in so many different ways. They are good sautéed
with butter and thyme, grilled like a piece of pork chop, deep fried in batter or shredded to make vegan pulled pork. Due to its firm texture it doesn't shrink much and retains its shape really well after cooking.
In fact, cooking the mushroom actually accentuates the umami flavours. It's more savoury and meatier than in its raw form.
And as I said before, it can be turned into a vegetarian scallop or an imitation shredded buffalo chicken. However, I think treating it as a mushroom is the easiest way to go. That’s why this King Oyster Mushroom Salad is my favourite way to enjoy this wonderful ‘sroom. It takes 10min to prepare, it's flavour packed, vegan and goes so well with rice.
This King oyster mushroom salad has all the textures! You’ve get the meaty chewiness from the mushrooms, sweet juiciness from the bell pepper, fragrance from the leafy cilantro and a lovely oily crunch from the fried peanuts.
Every component is there for a reason and that reason is to provide you with an interesting bite every single time.
The killer dressing
To bring life to the party, let me introduce you to a killer dressing. The combination of dried chilli flakes, cumin powder, sesame seeds and tons of garlic is a revelation! Flash fry with hot oil to bring out the fragrance, the smell will make your mouth water. A method is very similar to my Classic Hot Chilli Oil 红油辣椒 recipe.
Put this sauce on literally anything and it’ll taste amazing. For example, boiled noodles, vermicelli with bean sprouts, steamed eggplant or even boiled, sliced eggs! Once you’ve learn to make this dressing, you’ll want to have it on hand all the time.
A little disclaimer
While I did call this dish a salad, it's not really a salad in the traditional meaning of the term. You don't really eat this straight up with a fork. (well, you can if you want to)
This is more like a Chinese cold dish, used as accompaniment for starches like rice or noodles. That's why the seasonings are more punchy and intense. Check out my trio of salads for more western salad combinations.
Substitutions for ingredients
For those who can’t stand cilantro, replace with thinly sliced scallions.
For those who have peanut allergies, use cashews.
For those who don’t have bell peppers, use cucumbers or thinly sliced sweet onions.
And for those who don’t like king oyster mushrooms….give this recipe a try! I promise you’ll feel differently after.
Tamago (Egg) & Fruit Sandos: Tasty Japanese SandwichesBy Yun Zhang JohnAh… Japanese Tamago and fruit sandwiches ... Often shorten to "Sandos".
The mere mention of them conjures up images of colourful and interesting fillings bursting between two slices of ultra soft and often, crustless Shokupan, aka Japanese milk bread.
These types of sandwiches can be found in every convenience store in Japan. It’s an affordable nutritious snack that has been glorified on social media by travellers, foodies and food bloggers alike.
And since we DID bake some incredibly soft and fluffy Shokupan last time, it would be a shame not to put them to good use.
The Tamago Sando (Egg Sandwich)
Do you even need a recipe for an egg sandwich? It’s got to be one of the simplest things to make. And yet, this Japanese Egg Sandwich or "Tamago Sando" as its known has been described by some foodies as THE BEST egg sandwich in the world.
Now, I’ve never been to Japan and I’ve never had a Tamago Sandwich from a convenience store but I think the key to their deliciousness lays in the quality of the eggs used in Japan and in the expert way that they are treated.
Use good quality eggs!
This being an egg sandwich, high quality eggs are of upmost importance. Organic eggs are best, free range eggs are also great.
Good quality, fresh eggs will have firmer and more golden yolks and less watery whites. This translates to creamier yolks and less rubbery whites when cooked. So please go find and buy eggs that have been laid by happy hens who get to roam around, preferably outdoors.
This will make a world of difference in the taste of your Tamago Sando.
As well, a Japanese egg sandwich differs from an American egg salad sandwich in that it showcases the eggs in all its glory. No celery, no pickle nor chives, just eggs. That’s why using the best quality egg is imperative for the best possible Tamago Sando.
The Japanese Kewpie Mayo
To turn eggs into egg salad, we use generous portions of Japanese Kewpie mayonnaise. It is a tangier and creamier mayo than its Western counterpart. In part because it uses only egg yolks as well as a unique blend of vinegars. Now, if you don’t have it on hand or don’t want to run out to get it, you can certainly substitute with regular mayo. The results would be nice but lack that authenticity.
The Fruit Sando
Japanese fruit sandwiches seem like a novelty idea that is designed purely to be shared on social media. After all, they are attention-grabbling-ly colourful and photogenic. If you’ve never seen one, they are sandwiches filled with an array of fresh, juicy, in season fruits smothered in whipped cream, tucked between two slices of crustless Shokupan bread.
Do a quick search and you'll find someone expertly stuffing basically an entire fruit basket in-between two slices of bread...It’s mesmerizing to watch.
However, did you know that the fruit sandwich or Fruit Sando evolved over many years due to the Japanese's appreciation for gifting fruit? Traditionally, fruits were considered a luxury item. It was, and still is purchased and presented as gifts for personal and business reasons and/or on special occasions.
As the fruit business flourished, so did the variety of fruity desserts and snacks. Thus, the Fruit Sando was born. And it’s been gaining a steady following through the years because they're pretty to look at and pleasing to eat. Now they can be found from convenience stores to specialty shops all over Japan.
And its popularity continues to grow worldwide as more and more people share and post about them.
So, how does it taste?
It taste exactly as it looks. Sweet, juicy fruit, topped with a light, sweetened whipped cream, wrap up in soft, fluffy milk bread. It’s like eating a cool cloud with bursts of refreshing juices.
For example, the Strawberry Sando that I’ve made here would be a great snack or dessert for those looking for a cheater version Strawberry short cake. It's a bit weird to put fruits in a sandwich but it's also weirdly tasty. You’ve got to try it to believe it!
The secret that nobody talks about…
The secret is….refrigeration! Both the Tamago and Fruit Sandwiches need to be chilled. In fact, if you try to cut it before it’s chilled, you would end up with a big mess!
The time spent in the fridge helps the fillings to set up and firm up. It brings the flavours together and gives the sandwich more structural integrity and thus easier to slice and eat.
So there you have it! Tips and tricks to make your own Japanese Tamago and fruit sandwiches at home. Just don't forget to bake the Shokupan first!Shokupan – The easiest Japanese Milk Bread RecipeBy Yun Zhang JohnShokupan is a fun word to say, directly translated, it means “food bread”. If you’ve never heard of it, then which rock have you been living under? Japanese milk bread or Shokupan has been gaining popularity for a number of years, and now they are everywhere!
And for good reason.
So what is Shokupan?
Shokupan is a feathery soft and fluffy white loaf of bread with origins from Japan. Eaten as toasts or made into various delicious sandwiches, it’s enjoyed as an everyday bread in Japan. It has a mild, pleasing taste…slightly sweet…definitely milky with a hint of saltiness to balance things out.
However, it is its texture that most people will remember. While warm, you can pull strands of Shokupan apart and eat it like cotton candy. After it’s cooled down and sliced, the bread has a bouncy integrity that both yields to creamy sandwich fillings like the Japanese Tamago (egg) or fruit Sandos, while holding up meatier fillings like Pork Katsu Sando.
Not unlike its cousin, the North American sliced bread sold in plastic bags in every grocery store, Shokupan has minimal crust and pillowy interior. However, the resemblance stops there. Japanese milk bread is enriched and has way more fat. In fact, 7 times more, either coming from milk, butter or in this case, cream.
Shokupan Vs. Hokkaido Milk bread
To be honest, I’m not really sure of the difference. Except that Hokkaido milk breads have a slightly sweeter flavour than the more ubiquitous Shokupan. So unless you are using milk, butter or cream from Hokkaido prefecture in Japan…can you really call your loaf Hokkaido milk bread?
Some VERY necessary equipments
Before you dive into the recipe, please consider the following.
1. The digital scale.
I’ve been using my scale to make all breads for a while now and I’ve got to say that it just makes sense. Bread making is a precise science and to get it to work every time, you’ve got to start with the right proportion of ingredients.
For example, this recipe is simple to do because it calls for just one bowl and a scale. Everything is measured in one go, making it accurate, mess-free and so easy.
2. A stand mixer
There are many breads that you can make by hand…but this isn’t one of them. This is a high hydration dough, which means two things. First, you will end up with a very soft moist bread and second, it’s super messy to handle. And handle it you must.
This dough calls to be kneaded until it passes the “windowpane test”. Basically, where you can stretch it really really thin, without tearing it, until it’s see through. It took my mixer 20min to get there…I don’t about you, but my arms just don’t have that kind of stamina.
3. Pullman loaf pans
You can of course use a standard loaf pan (9" x 5" x 2.5" OR 23 x13 x 6cm) for like banana bread or something. But simply put, it won’t look as impressive or typical of a Shokupan. Pullman loaf pans are smaller and taller, mine are (8" x 4.5" x 4.5" OR 20 x 11 x 11 cm) so it encourages the doughs to rise higher. It also comes with a lid so you can opt for a closed bake where you end up with a geometrical loaf. And bonus points for being super doper non-stick that I don’t ever have to grease it!
So if you are serious about making Japanese milk breads or any other Loaf breads…and why wouldn’t you be? I would highly suggest purchasing one or two of the pullman pans on Amazon. The joy that I get from easily sliding out a perfect loaf of Shokupan definitely out weights the cost.
Why not use Yudane or Tangzhong?
This Shokupan recipe does not use the popular methods of Yudane or Tangzhong, which is cooking a portion of the dough beforehand to gelatinize the starches. And that in turn will hold and retain more moisture in the final product. Check out my Peanut butter chocolate teddy bear buns post to know more.
This recipe does not use it because it doesn’t need it. In fact, traditional Shokupan made in Japan does not always use the above mention techniques. While those recipes have been popularized in recent years in the making of milk breads, it’s an extra step that can be omitted here.
Don’t believe me? I urge you to give this recipe a try. You will see how soft this bread turns out. And how long it’ll last stored in plastic bags.
I’ve used both “table cream” (18-30% fat) as well as “whipping cream” (30-36% fat) to make this Shokupan and they both work. However there are some trade offs.
- The whipping cream, with its higher fat content gives the bread a richer mouth feel. But it takes longer to knead to the windowpane stage and for the bread to rise for the second time.
- The lesser fatty cream will enable the dough to come together quicker, but you won’t get that creamier taste in the finish product.
So the choice is up to you.
Sliding a perfectly baked loaf of Shokupan or Japapanese milk bread out of the pan is a joyful experience. So to maximize the chance of success, use bread flour. With it’s higher protein content of around 11-13%, depending on where you live, you will have a better rise and an easier time working the gluten.
And there you have it! Nothing else to say except to go give this recipe a try. Making Shokupan or Japanese milk breads is a lot of fun and your family, both young and old will love the results. I promise.Shakshuka: Eggs poached in spiced up tomato sauceBy Yun Zhang JohnShakshuka is one those dishes that I always thought was a good idea but never tried. But then one day I made it for brunch with some friends and I realized that I’ve been missing out all this time!
With roots in North Africa and the Middle East, Shakshuka literally means "all mixed up". A robust dish of eggs poached in a spiced up tomato sauce with vegetables that hits all the right spots. The tomato sauce is tangy and fragrant from the dried spices, the eggs are almost creamy and cooked to ooey gooey perfection.
Think of it like a cooler, older cousin who goes to rock concerts compare to the classic Chinese stir fry of tomatoes and eggs comfort dish.
For brunch, lunch...for anytime!
The sauce can be made well in advance and scaled up or down depending on how many people (ie eggs) you are serving. Plus, you get mop up all that saucy goodness with plenty of bread...carb heaven!
It's a really humble dish that is easy to make and impressive to serve.
Shakshuka recipes have many variations.
The essentials being the tomatoes and eggs but the rest are entirely up to the cook. Naturally, onions and garlic are included for their aromatic properties. Bell peppers, as I have used, are also favourites in this dish because they lend a sweetness that works so well with the spices.
Some other veggies that could be nice are mushrooms, spinach or even eggplant! Why not? As I always say, use what you like, use what you’ve got!
Assorted warming spices
Shakshuka is spiced up but not spicy.
The spices used are chosen for their fragrance and warmth. While cumin and paprika are the minimum, you can definitely build on those flavours. My version also includes turmeric for its earthiness, chipotle chilli pepper for some smokiness and a fresh chilli for a little mild heat.
Whichever spices you settle on though, just be sure to stir fry it for a minute with the vegetables in oil to maximize and bring out their full potential.
And of course salt and black pepper to season. Plus a bit of sugar to balance out the acidity of the tomatoes…which brings me to…
Tomatoes: Canned or fresh?
In an ideal world, where fresh tomatoes are alway ripe and sweet, both canned and fresh tomatoes will work great. However, that is not the case, more often than not, use the canned variety. Bonus points for being cheaper and shelf stable so an awesome Shakshuka sauce is always on hand.
And the one thing that I will have be a stickler about is to use a good quality canned tomato like San Marzano tomatoesfrom Italy. It’s comparably sweeter and less acidic than normal canned tomatoes. The sauce isn’t simmered for long so using the best ingredient to start is key to getting those robust, complex flavours.
Obviously, the other superior ingredient in a Shakshuka is high quality, free range eggs. As they are the stars of the show and all that golden yellow runny yolky goodness needs to be front and centre. As well, the richness of the egg yolks plays a very important role in countering the spiced, tangy tomato sauce to elevate this simple dish to the next level.
To properly cook the eggs, make indentations in the bubbling sauce where the eggs will lay. Then crack the eggs into a separate dish before pouring it into the spot one at a time. You’ll want to keep the yolks intact.
Season the eggs with salt and pepper and cover with a lid to simmer. Take it off the heat just as the whites are set and the middle is still very much wobbly because they will carry on cooking in the hot sauce as it sits.
Topping and Accompaniment
Bring the whole bubbling pan to the table and top with parsley or cilantro or black olives or even little chunks of feta or goat cheese. OR all of the above!
But MOST importantly, serve along side a great piece of bread, like a crusty baguette or my tomato olive focaccia. It’s simply divine.
So have I convinced you to give this a go yet? Look in your pantry and you’ll probably find most of the ingredients already there!The Easiest no knead overnight Focaccia breadBy Yun Zhang JohnA friend recently ask me for a recipe for olive bread, specifically black olives. The bread that immediately came to mind was focaccia!
This flat leavened Italian bread is the perfect vehicle for the Mediterranean flavours of olives and olive oil. It also happens to be THE easiest bread that anyone can make at home. No experience or skills needed, if you’ve got a bowl, some flour and time, then you can master this recipe!
Minimal work, maximum reward
Like so many great breads, basic focaccia starts with flour, water, salt and yeast. It takes less than 5 minutes to mix together and the rest of the work is done without interference from you.
This particular dough has a very high water content (hydration) in proportion to flour, which means two things.
A - It’ll be difficult to handle
B - It’ll create a pillowy soft bread with gorgeous air pockets throughout.
To combat A, we employ a long and slow fermentation. That means we leave it to rise slowly in the refrigerator for at least 18 hours to up to 2 days.
Time is the secret weapon
The upmost important ingredient here is time. Time will develop an amazing depth of flavour in the final product that’ll make you look like a pro. Time will strengthen the strands of gluten, so you don’t have to knead or stretch the dough at all. In fact, you'll barely even have to touch it!
Cherry tomatoes, Olives & Olive oil
My friend likes black olives and I like cherry tomatoes, and together they just work. Imagine biting into a perfectly baked focaccia with a crispy exterior and a fluffy interior to be greeted with salty and sweet bursts of juices?! Come on, how can you resist?!
About the generous use of the olive oil...yes, there is quite a bit. But I promise it’s for good reason. A good extra virgin olive oil adds a lovely fragrant flavour to your bread. Plus a good amount (~1/4 cup) of oil will ensure the bottom and edges come out fabulously crunchy. Like a cracker.
The thing about rosemary
I understand that rosemary is not everyone’s cup of tea. I didn’t like its strong and unique scent until later on in my culinary explorations. But with respect to focaccia, give rosemary a chance. The fragrance is undeniable and classic to a good focaccia.
However, always use fresh and never dried. Fresh rosemary will impart its scent through the bread as it bakes…dried rosemary will just impart its woody texture.
If you are looking to substitute toppings, here are some combinations that will rock:
- Bacon & sliced onions
- Zucchini, garlic & hot chilli flakes
- Bell pepper & capers
- Caramelized onions, anchovies & black olives
- Grapes, feta & rosemary
So what are you waiting for? Grab a bowl and a spoon and get on it! You’ll be thanking me tomorrow when you are biting into an awesome piece of bread that took no effort to make.
Looking for more easy peasy bread recipes? Check out:
Wholesome Honey oat breadSoft and fluffy potato rollsSteamed pork belly with rice powder – Authentic Sichuan Fen Zheng Rou 粉蒸肉By Yun Zhang JohnFen Zheng Rou 粉蒸肉 which directly translated to “Powder Steamed Meat” is a popular Chinese dish of pork belly steamed with a seasoned rice powder that you probably never heard of.
This homey dish is widely celebrated, it can be found on restaurant menus and in home kitchens in various regions in China. But it’s pretty much unknown in the west.
I want to change that because this dish is amazingly fragrant, aggressive in flavour and deeply comforting. It also happens to be my favourite pork belly dish of all time!
A great way to eat pork belly
The dish goes like this:
1. Slice pork belly into 1/2 cm pieces across all the fatty and lean layers.
2. Season the sliced meat with an array of umami filled fermented ingredients. (no need to leave to marinate)
3. Coated it generously with seasoned, toasted, coarsely ground up rice.
4. Spread on top a bed of root veggies.
5. Steam for a long time.
It sounds really simple, right? That’s because it is. This is basically a one pan dish, not technically difficult and no special skills required. What is required are a couple of special ingredients.
The fermented bean curd
One such special ingredient is the fermented bean curd or fǔrǔ, 腐乳. It’s fresh bean curd, otherwise known as tofu preserved in rice wine, salt and other flavouring. In wet markets in China, they are sold fresh in chunks but most often, they are sold in jars surrounded by a spicy or non-spicy brine.
It has a strong pungent flavour and the texture of soft creamy cheese. In all honesty, this is something of an acquired taste. It’s got a “stinky” fermented smell and a slightly slimy exterior (the ones found in jars).
True lovers of fǔrǔ, 腐乳 like to eat them straight up with congee /rice porridge but more often than not, it is used as a flavouring agent or condiment for meats and vegetables. It adds a ultra umami flavour that is unique and can’t be replicated.
It is not absolutely essential for this steamed pork belly with rice powder, but I highly recommended using it if you are looking for an authentic tasting dish. You won’t taste it directly, but it really boosts the savouriness of the meat and add a pleasant “cheesy” after taste to the pork.
And now a days, fǔrǔ, 腐乳 can be readily found in Asian grocery stores around the world. And once opened, keep in the fridge and use clean utensil each time to prevent contamination. It’ll last in the refrigerator for months or even a year, so that you’ll have it on hand the next time you make this dish!
The Toasted rice powder
This is not the Thai version which uses only glutinous / sweet rice, toasted really dark and is pounded until powder fine. The Chinese version that’s used to make Fen Zheng Rou 粉蒸肉 uses both regular white and sweet rice, is lightly toasted and only coarsely grind up. While the Thai version is often used in salads and eaten as is, Chinese rice powder requires further cooking such as steaming.
What does it bring to the party? Well, it provides a soft coating that wraps each piece of meat with flavour, it adds a subtle nuttiness to the bite and it helps to soak up some of the fat that comes out of the fatty pork belly meat…trust me, this is a good thing! Be generous with it because it’s as important as the meat itself.
To simplify the process, I mostly use store bought powders that are usually seasoned with Chinese 5 spice or chillies. Some are brands are better than others and my preferred is /…. It contains some salt, so I’ve adjusted the salt in the meat seasoning accordingly.
If however, you can’t source it or you want to make it yourself. Toast equal amounts of regular and sweet/glutinous rice until light brown. Coarsely pound in a mortar and pestle or food processor and then stir in some Chinese 5 spice powder and salt.
The accompanying veggies
Very often, the pork belly is steamed over a layer of root vegetables. These are some of the BEST tasting vegetables because the fatty oils seeps down and flavours them. I used 2 different types of sweet potatoes here but other veggies that would also be great here are potatoes, pumpkin, taro, soy beans or even peas.
The cooking vessel
To get the most even and fastest penetration of steam to meat, I find that a bamboo steamer is very effective. Veggies on the bottom with the meat spread evenly over. Serve in the steamer for a nice presentation.
If you don’t have a bamboo steamer, find a large bowl and overlap the pork slices nicely on the bottom of the bowl, top with veggies and put the whole bowl into the your steamer. After cooking, carefully invert the hot bowl onto a plate so that now you’ll have a dome of meat with nicely arranged slices of pork belly on top and veggies underneath.
Want more delicious and authentic Chinese pork recipes? Check out:
Lu Rou Fan – Braised Pork Over Rice 滷肉飯Yu Xiang Rou Si / “Fish-Fragrant” Stir Fry Pork 鱼香肉丝Sweet And Sour Riblets 糖醋排骨Sichuan “Shui Zhu” Pork – Spicy And Numbing Water Poached Pork 水煮肉片Cutest chocolate peanut butter teddy bear bunsBy Yun Zhang John“This is the BEST chocolate bread ever! Make it again please!!”
This coming from my pickiest eater is like music to my ears.
But he is not exaggerating, these ARE that good. Enriched chocolate bread filled with a sweet and salty chocolate and peanut butter filling. Reminiscent of Reeses peanut butter cups, the filling is decadent, rich and pairs perfectly with the soft, chewy cocoa scented bread.
Come on, how can anyone resist taking a bite out of these adorable teddy bear faces!?!
Yudane & Tangzhong
There are plenty of recipes for chocolate bread. What sets this one apart from the rest is the addition of a water roux to the yeast bread. Often called Tangzhong or Yudane, this is the method popularized in Asia for its proven ability of producing soft, fluffy bread.
The roux is made by either cooking a small amount of flour and water on the stove top before mixing the cooled roux into the rest of the bread mixture as Tangzhong. OR combining small amounts of flour with hot boiling water, allowing it to rest over night before continuing with the bread dough as is the case with Yudane.
Why it works?
Both methods pre-gelatinizes the starches in the flour which allows it to absorb more liquid whilst retaining that liquid throughout the shaping, baking and storing life cycle of the bread.
Doing this extra step means an easier dough to work with, a softer, chewy texture after baking and a bread that will retain its moisture and stay fresh for longer.
And having tested quite a few other chocolate bread recipes, I swear by this method in producing the BEST chocolate bread.
The peanut butter filling
The filling as easy to make as stirring a few common ingredients together, but there are a couple of important details.
- Use smooth and preferably not natural peanut butter. By that I mean use a brand that's a bit processed because it’s homogenized.
- Add a decent amount of salt. This really does balance out the sweetness and cut into the richness.
Shaping the cute little teddy bears
To successfully make adorable and uniform sized teddy buns:
- Do use a scale to divide the dough into equal size pieces.
- Do try to make the balls as round and as smooth as possible by using my pulling and rolling technique as shown in the video.
- Do attach the ears of the teddy bears once the buns have already been transferred to the baking tray
- Do melt the white and dark chocolate in separate bowls and use different utensils
Now you are all set! Ready to bring these yummy teddy bear buns to live in your very own kitchen.
Wanting more sweet little breads? Check out:
Soft sweet potato bread rollsButtery crunchy bread knotsAsian coconut breadChicken curry fried rice – Better than takeout one pan mealBy Yun Zhang JohnThe ABCs of loving fried rice:
A crowd pleaser
Balanced & nutritious
Easy & quick to make
A classic one pan meal, everyone and anyone can make an awesome plate of fried rice in their home in like 20min.
But sometimes you need some inspiration for new combinations of flavours and textures, so let me introduce you to this mildly spiced and deeply satisfying Chicken curry fried rice.
Similar to Indian Biryani or an Indonesian Nasi Goreng, it’s got complex balance of spice and aromatics. A simple and flavourful meal to put together because the ingredients are completely interchangeable. Use what you like, use what you’ve got! Trust me, this is easier and tastier than take out!
As expected, the rice is the most important part of the dish. I prefer Thai Jasmin rice, but basmati or other short/long grain rice will work. However, stay away from using Japanese sushi rice or glutenous rice for fried rice dishes because they’ll be too sticky and starchy.
Also, day old cold rice is best because it won’t be mushed up during the cooking process as it’s hardened to start with.
But like you, I don’t always have leftover rice when I want to make this dish. So just cook a couple cups of rice a bit before and cool it down quickly by spreading it out in a large shallow dish.
Obviously, for chicken fried rice, use chicken. I really like boneless, skinless chicken thighs because it's got great chicken flavour, stays juicy even when over cooked and is cheaper than breasts.
And to make the chicken stand out in this rice dish, treat it as if it was a separate dish. First, cut it into small bite size pieces so you can get some chicken in each bite. Marinate before cooking so the seasonings can cling onto the meat. Finally, cooking the chicken in a large enough pan or in batches so there can develop crust and caramelization for that extra umami bite.
The veggies are super flexible. Anything goes! Peas…corn…cabbage…peppers…spinach…carrot…broccoli…fresh…frozen…even from the can! It’s so versatile!
And since you don’t need a lot of each, it’s the perfect dish to make when you want to use up bits and pieces of assorted veggies in the fridge. That way, nothing gets wasted and you end up with a delicious meal. Two birds, one stone.
So maybe this fragrant Chicken Curry Fried Rice will make it on the menu tonight?
Looking for more one pan meals to feed the whole family? Check out:
2 Easy & Healthy, kid approved 10min mealsBeef Chow Fun / Stir Fried Beef Rice Noodles 干炒牛河Deluxe Mantou 馒头 : The easiest steam bun ever!By Yun Zhang JohnWant make steam buns but don’t want to spend time kneading dough?
Like flavour packed, meat and veggie filled buns but don’t have the folding technique needed to fold the baozi 包子?
Want an easy solution for a nutritious breakfast?
Then this is the Mantou 馒头 recipe for you!….But what is a Mantou 馒头?
They are plain steamed buns originating from China, and unlike its more colourful cousin, the Baozi 包子, Mantous are not filled. They are ubiquitous as rice or noodles and are eaten as a starch component to accompany other more flavourful dishes like stir fries or soups.
However, this is not your average mantou! It’s peppered throughout with ingredients that would normally be found in the filling. There’s meat, veggies and eggs…making this a balance hand held meal all on its own.
Plus, they are so easy to make because the dough doesn’t require much handling and kneading. No filling and the simplest shaping technique make these buns super doper beginners friendly.
The toppings can be whatever you have!
I used a type of Chinese sausage called Lap Cheong 腊肠 in this version. This is a wind dried cured sausage from Canton region. It has a sweet and salty flavour profile and contains quite a bit of fat. As we are not steaming the buns for too long, it’s wise to cook these sausages before hand according to package directions.
Though, do not fret if you don’t have this ingredient. I’ve used hot dogs, ham or even Spam in its place and the results are very similar.
Same goes for the veggies. Use peppers, spinach or even corn! Adjust to your preference and what you’ve got on hand! This dough is super accommodating.
So the next time you have bits and pieces to use up in the fridge and/or want a few hours of passive cooking, Make this! You’ll definitely be please with the results.
Looking for more savoury or sweet steam bun recipes? Check out:
Juicy Beef & Vermicelli Buns 牛肉粉丝包Healthy Veggie Steamed Buns 蔬菜包Pumpkin Steam Buns with Pumpkin FillingSaucy Meat Buns Saucy 酱肉包子Longevity Peach Buns 壽桃包Sesame Steamed Baos 黑芝麻包Chilli Garlic Noodles – An easy and tasty meal in 10min!By Yun Zhang JohnThe very first thing I’ve ever cooked on my own were noodles. A simple bowl of boiled noodles tossed in dressing. Since then, I’ve made countless bowls because it’s quick, easy, cheap and deeply satisfying.
So if you are a carbohydrate and spice lover like me, you will love this simple but delicious bowl of noodles tossed in a spicy chilli oil and garlicky dressing. It comes together in under 10 minutes and only requires a handful of Chinese pantry staples.
Make it your own
Both fresh or dried noodles will work and the toppings are completely customizable. However, I would not suggest using Italian spaghetti here, it just won't be the same.
And I highly suggest making it into a balance meal by including some greens and protein. And the one protein that I always have on hand are eggs. Whether poached or fired, an egg with runny golden yolk is the perfect accompaniment.
The chilli oil
One thing that I am going to insist upon is the chilli oil, use a good quality one that suits your spice tolerance. My homemade chilli oil is salt-free, but if yours has salt, I would decrease the amount of soy sauce added.
Want more tasty noodle recipes?
Two 10min cold soba noodlesDan Dan Noodles 担担面Braised Beef noodle soupWholesome homemade Honey Oat bread – 2 waysBy Yun Zhang JohnMy family go through a lot of baked bread every since week. Breakfast, lunch, snacks…bread is always a good answer. So I wanted a recipe that’s both delicious and full of nutrition to feed these hungry, growing bodies. This Honey Oat Bread has become a staple.
It’s easy to make, packed with whole grains, keeps well both on the countertop and in the freezer. And has a slight sweetness makes my kids happy.
And if you are going to the trouble of making homemade bread, it makes sense to do 2 loafs. One to eat fresh and one for the freezer for later. Better yet, dressed up one loaf and turn it into a speciality bread that eats and looks like a treat.
The classic honey oat bread loaf
For this recipe, I used half brown sugar and half honey because I like the caramel-ly flavour of the brown sugar. But feel free to substitute all honey if you want the honey taste to shine through.
Shaping the classic loaf is easy peasy. Just roll it out to a width that is around the length of your loaf pan (mine is 9x5 inches), and roll into a log. Once it has risen for the second time in the loaf pan, brush with milk and decorate with more oat flakes. Simple and beautiful.
And for the other loaf
There are plenty of ways to dress up a basic loaf by adding extra flavours in the form of spreads and toppings. The classic being cinnamon raisin. If you don’t raisin on hand or want to keep it less sweet, simply omit the raisin. The cinnamon swirl bread will still delight.
And if you have a pullman loaf pan that’s got a tight fitting lid, use it that to get a fabulous brick shape that stands out from the norm. I got mine on amazon and I love it! A great tool for those of us who love baking bread at home.
Looking for more baked bread recipes? Check out my
Sweet Potato RollsPull Apart Garlic BreadRaisin Bread KnotsAsian Coconut BreadHomemade Butter CroissantsA guide to get perfectly steamed – Juicy Beef & Vermicelli buns 牛肉粉丝包By Yun Zhang JohnRipe into these buns and you will find juicy and fragrant beef filling lightened with vermicelli noodles through out. Take a bite and you will be instantly satisfied. A perfectly steamed bun can be both comforting and nourishing.
But have you ever put perfectly shaped steamed buns into the steamer and only to have them come out all wrinkled, flat or with “dead” spots through out?
Steam bun dough seems to be an easy bread to master, it’s basically flour, water and yeast. Yet so many of us has trouble getting them to come out from the steamer all white, fluffy and plump.
So what happened? How can you prevent collapsed dough or “dead” or un-risen spots from forming in the bun? I have 6 tricks and tips that will make sure that you are greeted with soft, pillowy, fluffy steamed buns every time you open that lid!
1. Give enough time for fermentation and resting
I stick by a double proofing process. This means a bulk fermentation until it’s doubled in size first and then a second shorter proofing after the buns has been shaped. Time is need to let the gluten network develop and rest after kneading.
2. Knead the dough until smooth, twice!
Yes this part is annoying but kneading the dough smooth before fermentation and then again after the 1st proofing is really important. Strengthening the gluten strands helps the buns to stay in shape during steaming.
3. Leave the buns to rise uncovered after it’s been shaped
A small but important detail, but by leaving the shaped buns uncovered, you are drying out the exterior and forming a crust. This helps the buns to retain its shape during cooking. Not essential but definitely helps.
4. Using the right steamer
I like bamboo steamers because it absorbs condensation during the cooking process, so no excess moisture is transferred to the buns during cooking. Excess water that falls on the buns can interfere with proper rising and result in “dead” spots or wrinkling. If you are using a metal steamer, it is useful to wrap a cloth or kitchen towel around lid to achieve the same effect.
5. Do not steam over high heat
Start on high heat and bring up the steam. Once the steam comes through the steamer, turn the heat to medium to cook the rest of the way.
6. Do not lift the lid right away after it’s done steaming
Once the buns has had their time, remove from heat but leave the lid on for a couple of minutes. Then open a quack and slowly let the steam escape before removing the lid.
Follow all or some of these tips and I promise you will not be disappointed again.
In this rendition, I am using a green leafy vegetable called Yu Choy or yu cai 油菜. This literally translates to Oil vegetable because it’s in the family of vegetable that produces canola oil. The taste is a cross between a Chinese broccoli and a Bok Choy, tender and sweet and perfect for our steamed buns. But of course, you do you and substitute with whichever greens that you prefer or have access to.
A tip for keeping the green colour vibrant after blanching is to add some baking soda to the cooking water.
Another umami bomb in this filling is the dried shiitake mushrooms. Not only do they add a deep savoury note, their texture adds a great meaty bite. Make sure to soak the mushrooms before hand and wash thoroughly.
A portable healthy meal or snack
The great thing about these veggie steamed buns is that they are super versatile. Eat them for for breakfast, lunch, snack or as part of dinner. The vegetarian filling is satisfying but not heavy.
Make a double batch and put half in the freezer for whenever you fancy a delicious and healthy bite. You’ll be happy that you did!Cumin Lamb Stir fry 孜然羊肉By Yun Zhang JohnGrowing up in Southern China, we didn’t eat much lamb. And when we did, they were often made into soups and stews. Lamb and beef are more readily eaten in Northern Chinese regions. Now I still don’t make lamb at home often because the taste of lamb can be too much for my young kids.
But when we go to Chinese restaurants, a dish that we order every time is the Cumin Lamb 孜然羊肉. We love the earthy flavours of the combination of cumin and chilli along with the strong flavoured meat. The dish is aggressively seasoned with spices and yet not assaulting on the taste buds. It’s a dish that, myself ( a spice queen) and my husband ( a spice novice) can both agree on.
Now whenever I see a good piece of lamb in the grocery store, I pick it up to make cumin lamb at home. Because I’ve developed an easy to do recipe that hits the spot and yields the most tender meat morsels.
The star of the dish is obviously the lamb. And it’s cooked fast over high heat, so it’s wise to choose a cut that doesn’t require long cooking. I find that leg is really great for this as it’s got lots of lean muscle without too much fat and/or connective tissues.
Few other ingredients needed
It’s also easy to do at home because for a stir fry, there isn’t too much chopping involved. While some recipes calls for aromatics like garlic and ginger, my recipe focuses on the main flavours of the cumin and chill powders.
Other supporting characters that brings this dish together include plenty of onions and fresh cilantro. I understand that not everyone is a fan of cilantro, if that’s the case, skip it and increase the amount of onions. Just cut the additional onion into slices instead of dice.
And there you have it…a super speedy way to making Cumin Lamb that is healthier and equally as tasty as the one from your local Chinese restaurant. Try it yourself!
Because it takes just one bite to fall in love with these amazing little breads. The buttery crunchy caramelized exterior give way to a soft and chewy interior. There is a richness that comes from the condensed milk in the filling but it's balanced with the fruitiness and slight bitterness from the caramelized raisins. It's decadent without being too opulent.
They are also easy to make! Cheap, everyday ingredients that you probably already have in your pantry. Simply dump all the ingredients into a bowl and knead...and knead...and knead.
All in all, a 10 out of 10 recipe that is worth making.
- Bread flour is better choice if you want a chewy bread, but all purpose flour will also work very well if that’s what you have.
- The long kneading process is essential as it develops the necessary gluten in this high hydration dough. Either by hand or in a stand mixer, 10mins of kneading is needed.
- Put the filling mixture into the fridge to stiffen up as it’ll help it stay in place when it comes time to shape the knots.
- The shape of the knots is super forgiving. As long as you manage to wrap it all up...it's a knot!
- Finally, when it’s cooked, you will want to scrap up ALL the caramelized filling that has leached out and now surround the bottom of each bread. It is SO GOOD.
So get the recipe below and try it out! You will be shocked at how much you’ll like raisin breads again.
Want more amazing bread recipes? Why not try my:
Asian Coconut BreadSweet potato rollsPull apart garlic bread loafKid-approved veggie sides that the whole family will loveBy Yun Zhang JohnHow to get kids…or anyone to eat more vegetables?
That is the elusive question. As a parent of young kids, I find it difficult to get nutritious, balanced meals that’s easy to make for me and easy for picky eaters to accept on the table day in, day out. So when I find something that ticks both of those boxes, I tend to go back to it again and again.
2 easy kid-approved veggie sides
I promise, these are 2 proven ways of getting cooked veggies into my kids. They are not so much recipes, but more like easy ideas to prepare new and/or familiar veggies that you can incorporate into your daily meals.
Stir fried Kohlrabi
Kohlrabi is a root vegetable in the cruciferous family. It’s packed with fiber, vitamin C, potassium and even some protein. It has the sweetness of carrot and the texture of radishes. A super versatile ingredient, it can be eaten raw as a salad or cooked in stews and stir fries.
My favourite way to eat it is to thinly julienne the root into match sticks. This is a very important detail as the way it's cut helps break down the fibres and bring out the sweetness of the kohlrabi, no sugar needed! Then stir fry it some some Sichuan peppercorn scented oil, season to taste with some salt and the job is done. The Sichuan peppercorns provides a citrusy, floral fragrance that contrasts the natural sweetness of the Kohlrabi.
Broccoli in an Asian dressing
Another cruciferous vegetable that is packed with wholesome goodness. Available year round, this is definitely a super food. There’s of course a myriad of ways to enjoy broccoli, but if you’ve not tried the combination of light soy sauce, Chinese black vinegar and toasted sesame oil, then get on it!
The simple yet flavourful dressing will make this everyday vegetable more interesting. My son loves using the broccoli florets to mop up the sauce with every bite.
So if you are looking for ways of prepping vegetables that the whole family will love to eat, give these a go! Simple ideas that show cases all of goodness of these humble, wholesome foods.
For more kid-approved recipe ideas? Check out my fast, easy and healthy meals to feed the family!Sichuan “Shui Zhu” Pork – Spicy and numbing water poached pork 水煮肉片By Yun Zhang JohnThis Shui Zhu Rou Pian 水煮肉片 or “water poached pork slices” recipe is one to remember! It’s packed to the rim with pungent yet balanced flavours. The original of the Shui Zhu series of dishes, this will send your taste buds on a journey around “mala” town.
For those not familiar with the “Shui Zhu” or water braised series of dishes in classic Sichuan cuisine, you will be surprised to know that this seemingly mild sounding dish is quite the opposite. The generous use of aromatics including ginger, garlic, fresh and dried chillies, Sichuan peppercorns and fermented broad bean chilli paste creates a flavoursome and lively soup base that meat and vegetables are cooked in. This Shui Zhu Rou Pian or Shui Zhu Pork recipe is very similar to my SHUI ZHU FISH recipe .
But this dish is also about the pork! The star of if the ultra tender slices of pork as one of the key characteristic of a good Shui Zhu Pork is the melt-in-your-mouth slices of pork. The meat should be very succulent with a smooth mouth feel.
How to make succulent Shui Zhu Rou Pian
1. Pick the right cut of meat. Use loin or tenderloin of pork because it’s mostly lean with little connective tissues. Be sure to trim off any excess fat as well.
2. Cut the meat across the grain to break up the meat fibres.
3. Massage the meat slices with your hand as you marinate. And to really lock in the flavour and moisture into the meat, make a paste with egg white and potato or corn starch and rub that into the sliced pork. This method will ensure that each slice of meat is properly seasoned and covered with a slippery coating that protects the meat as it cooks.
4. Finally, cook it just right! That means simmer in the broth in slowly, not stirring until the pieces are 80% done and taking it off the heat as soon as it’s cooked through.
That final sizzle
Although the dish is good to eat once it comes out of the wok, to get the signature fragrance and look, it’ll need to be flash fried with additional aromatics on top of the cooked meat and vegetables.
This means layering generous amounts of garlic, dried chilli flakes, Sichuan peppercorns, sesame seeds and green onions on top and then pouring hot oil all over. Get ready for that whiff of fragrant chilli and garlic all through your house...sizzle sizzle! One of the best Shui Zhu Rou Pian recipes you'll find out there!
Super doper soft and fluffy bread rollsBy Yun Zhang JohnMy family eats bread every single day, it's a staple in my house and nobody seems to get sick of it, ever. And for me, my favourite breads are soft, tender and fluffy like a cloud.
These sweet potato bread buns definitely fall into that category. Before you say…potatoes? In bread? Hear me out.
A special role for the sweet potatoes
You won’t actually taste the sweet potatoes. If you use the yellow fleshed Japanese sweet potato like I did, you won’t even see it in the bread. The dense, starchy and candy like sweetness from the Japanese sweet potatoes lend a subtle sweetness that has more complexity than sugar.
But don’t fret if you can’t find Japanese sweet potatoes, regular orange flesh sweet potatoes will do just fine. You will just end up with more orangey buns.
I also think that the potatoes act as an agent for retaining moisture, because this bread keeps really well. Store them in plastic bags or containers, and you’ll have soft moist bread rolls for days!
Bread Flour Vs. All Purpose
The choice is yours. With a higher protein bread flour, you will end up with a slightly chewier bun. But I wouldn’t stop myself from making these if all I had was all purpose.
Machine Vs. Hand
Again, the choice is yours. While I like to use my stand mixer when the kneading time is around 10min. I also like to get my hands dirty. Sometimes, I think mixing dough by hand gets the job done faster than a machine would.
So, please don’t talk yourself out of making these amazing sweet potato bread buns at home! No complicated techniques or special equipment needed. They are truly fantastic!
Want other soft and fluffy bread recipes? Check out
Pull Apart Garlic Bread LoafHoney Oat BreadShokupan: Japanese Milk Bread