Others are just plain pretty, like today's dish, Lotus Leaf Buns. Made from basically the same recipe for steamed bread that appears throughout most of North China, these are split half-moons that are as gorgeous to look at as they are delicious to eat.
The name comes, obviously, from their shape. And though they look impossibly beautiful, they are a snap to make. All you need to do is whip up some Chinese steamed bread dough and shape it. A quick steam and you're done. They also freeze perfectly, so consider making extra for another meal down the road.
|Fully risen dough|
Use good Korean noodle flour here, as always, because you will notice the difference as soon as you take a bite. In Chinese restaurants, these buns are generally made with low gluten flour, which makes them rise quickly and saves time, but these breads turn out sticky and gummy. On the other hand, regular American all-purpose flour is too hard, so the buns become tough. Just like Baby Bear's things in The Three Bears, this flour is juuuuust right.
|Oil one half of the oval|
Offer plum sauce and shredded green onions, if you like, as these add more flavors and textures to this beautiful way of transporting good food from plate to mouth. Then, show your guests how to open up a bun, dab a bit of the sauce and onion in there before tucking in a piece of the main attraction. Use your hands or your chopsticks to then pick up the sandwich and enjoy.
Lotus Leaf Buns
Heye juan 荷葉卷
Makes 20 buns
1 cup warm filtered water
|Very foamy yeast|
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon sea salt
3 tablespoons powdered milk (any kind, see Tips), optional
2 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil (see Tips)
2¾ cups Korean noodle flour
Extra flour, as needed
Peanut or vegetable oil, as needed
1. Pour the water into the bowl of a food processor (or a medium work bowl). Sprinkle the yeast over the warm water and add the sugar. Allow the yeast to wake up and foam, which will take at least 15 minutes. Add the salt, optional powdered milk, oil, and flour, and use the metal blade on your processor to beat the ingredients together until they form a nice, smooth ball. (Or, mix the ingredients together by hand.) Cover the dough and let it rise until double. It will be ready when you insert your fingers into the dough and the impression stays there.
|Shaped & ready for rising|
3. Use a small rolling pin to roll a piece out into an oval that is around 4 inches by 3 inches. Paint one half of the oval with some of the extra oil and then fold the other half of the oval on top to form a half circle. Lightly mark the moon with radiating spokes so that it looks like a leaf. (See the picture on the right.) You can even pinch the middle of the folded edge so that it has a bit of a stem. Place the finished bun on a clean tea towel and cover it, and then allow it to rise for around 15 minutes. Repeat with the rest of the dough until you have 20 finished buns.
4. You will most likely have to steam these in batches, as most regular steamers will hold around 5 of these buns (see Tips). Steam the buns for about 15 minutes until they are completely risen and puffy. Remove the steamer from the heat and place the buns on a clean towel to cool off a little bit if you are not serving them immediately. These can be made ahead of time and frozen. Just place the steamed buns on a lined cookie sheet in a single layer and freeze solid before transferring them to a resealable freezer bag. To serve, just steam them again until hot.
|Cut into even pieces before rolling out|
Use whatever oil you like. Do note that peanut oil will give a slight peanut flavor to the finished buns, so use a more neutral oil if you think this might conflict with whatever you are using as the filling.
A bamboo steamer works better here, since the steam drips off easier and gets absorbed by the basket. Metal ones, though, tend to collect water around the edges and on the buns; this will make some of the buns wet on the bottom. If a metal steamer is the only kind you have, use a steamer liner of some sort -- paper or cloth -- and then remove the steamed buns to another clean towel, flipping them over so that the wet bottoms are on top; they will dry out quickly as they cool.