Monday, June 9, 2014

Taiwanese taro steamed buns... two divine ways

Steamed bread is definitely a northern Chinese invention. But like all things that are too good to stay in one place, mantou and bao made their way south and took on local flavors, turning into delicious reflections of whatever food culture was in the area. 

Hakka people stuff them with preserved mustard greens and pork, for example, while in Sichuan they are filled with spicy bean sprouts and beef.

In Taiwan the tropics take over. I quickly fell in love with these homey, comforting buns filled with creamy taro and sought them out for early breakfasts on the go. 


Sliced & julienned taro
I would walk down Songjiang Road at a fast clip, often with a bun in one hand and a cool drink of some sort in the other, as I raced to class, dodging scooters and careening buses while happily stuffing my face.

Two of my favorite taro buns are these: one is smooth and striped, while the other is chunky and polka-dotted. 

Both are delicious and easy. Just have the dough ready before you start, and this recipe will be done before you know it.

Taro striped buns
Not only adults will like these buns... kids go bonkers for them. 

And so, be aware that this recipe can easily be doubled or tripled so that you can freeze the extras for a quick snack later on in the month.


Taro steamed buns (two ways)
Yùxiāng mántóu 芋香饅頭
Southern Fujian & Taiwan
Makes 16 buns (each version)

Mashed taro on the dough

Striped buns:
8 ounces mature taro, peeled
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon rendered lard or white shortening
1 recipe for Fast Steamed Bread, prepared up through Step 4
Spray oil, as needed
16 pieces of steamer paper

1. Put on gloves if you are at all allergic to taro. Cut the taro into thin slices. Place the taro in a heatproof bowl and steam it until tender, about 10 minutes. Remove the bowl from the steamer. Add the sugar and lard (or shortening), and then mash the taro into a paste with a potato masher or a fork. (If you would like this layer really smooth, heat the paste until warm and then pulse it in a mini food processor.) Do not refrigerate the taro, as you want it soft and spreadable.

Pinch the roll closed
2. Roll out the rested dough on a lightly floured board to make an even 16 x 12 inch rectangle. Let the dough rest for about 10 minutes. Use a silicon spatula to spread the mashed taro over the dough, leaving a 1-inch along both of the long edges. Starting from one of the long edges, roll the dough up gently so that the filling does not get squeezed out. When done, pinch the long edge of the dough into the cylinder to seal it. Gently roll the length of dough to even it out. Cut off the two ends (you can steam these two raggedy pieces and reserve them as a cook’s treat), and then slice the dough crosswise into 16 even pieces.

Sliced pin wheels
3. Spray the steamer paper with some oil. Place each piece on a round of oiled steamer paper with the seam-side down so that the stripes can be seen on both sides. Set these buns in the steamer baskets, cover, and allow them to rise for around 30 minutes.

4. Steam the buns over medium heat for 15 minutes. Turn off the heat, but leave the buns in the covered steamer for another 10 minutes so that they do not deflate, and then remove. Serve warm. Refrigerate or freeze any extras in a resealable plastic bag.


Chunky taro buns:
8 ounces mature taro, peeled
1 recipe for Fast Steamed Bread, prepared up through Step 4
Spray oil, as needed
16 pieces of steamer paper
Fold taro into dough

1. Put on gloves if you are at all allergic to taro. Cut the raw taro into thin julienne and lay it in a single layer on a clean paper or tea towel. Let it slightly air dry for about 4 hours, or until the taro feels a bit hard; this will keep the taro from falling apart when it is kneaded into the dough.

2. Place the rested dough on a lightly floured board. With your gloves on, gently knead in the taro so that it does not mash up, but stays chunky. When the dough and taro are evenly mixed, roll the dough into a 16-inch long rope and cut it into 16 even pieces.

Nubbly round buns
3. Spray the steamer paper with some oil. Place each piece on a round of oiled steamer paper. Set these buns in the steamer baskets, cover, and allow them to rise for around 30 minutes.

4. Steam the buns over medium heat for 15 minutes. Turn off the heat, but leave the buns in the covered steamer for another 10 minutes so that they do not deflate, and then remove. Serve warm. Refrigerate or freeze any extras in a resealable plastic bag.


Tips

If you like, mix 2 tablespoons powdered milk into the yeast mixture in Step 1 of the recipe for Fast Steamed Bread. This makes the bread even more luscious.
Soft, fluffy texture


These buns are perfect with some condensed milk on the side for dipping. If you really want to go all out, fry the steamed buns on all sides over medium heat until golden, and then dip them in the condensed milk. Guaranteed to make you swoon.

Taro is a lavender tuber with a rich, almost milky aroma. It is found in most seaside provinces from the Yangtze River on down to Hainan because these are tropical areas that offer both the heat and heavy rainfall that taro demands. It is treated as a sort of potato in some places, but most people in the south use it to season other ingredients. The Hakka, for example, sandwich fresh pork belly between slices of taro and then steam it with a savory, slightly sweetened sauce, while the folks in Zhejiang might add it to rice porridge or cook it into a smooth sauce as a background for tender napa cabbage.
Mature taro

Select mature taro roots that are heavy and solid. There should be no squishy areas on the skin, as those indicate bruising and rot. Lots of times grocers will cut off the rotted areas and wrap the rest of the tuber in clear plastic wrap; there’s usually nothing wrong with these except for a bit of age, but I like to root through the bin until I find an intact one. Reject any with sprouts, as they are too old and the taro’s energy is being converted into leaves. Store taro in the refrigerator in a drawer, preferably unwrapped so that any moisture will evaporate. If you have more than you need, cut the peeled taro into chunks and freeze them in resealable bags.

6 comments:

  1. This looks delicious!! I can't wait to try it!

    On a side note, I am making the Bocai Huasheng and the link to your fried peanuts in the recipe is not working. How do you fry your peanuts for the recipe?

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    1. Thanks! Here's the link to the fried peanuts recipe: http://carolynjphillips.blogspot.com/2011/05/beijings-aged-vinegar-peanuts.html

      I will make sure that the link in the recipe works. Appreciate the heads up.

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  2. Thanks for the recipes and tips. Since I have tried milk instead of water for taro mantou, I would next like to try with powdered milk. Can you recommend a brand?

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    1. You know what I really love in mantou? Powdered goat's milk. It has a barny undercurrent that works really well with the slight sweetness of the bread. Meyenberg is a good brand. If you prefer a milder flavor, get any organic brand, something non GMO, which always tastes so much nicer to me.

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  3. Thanks for the info.

    I noticed a few things about the taro bought in southern California. It took more than 10 minutes for the taro to become tender the first time. Steaming the taro longer the second time and then leaving it in the steamer (I left it too long) accelerated the process. Maybe it has to do with the taro quality - it was a 2 lb. mature taro.

    I made the striped taro bun without omitting sugar as well as lard and not processing into a smooth paste. After steaming the mantou, the mantou does not stand up but fell down during steaming. Mine do not look like yours in picture #3. I followed the fast mantou recipe using Korean Daehan's Gompyo AP flour + pastry flour substitution (Gompyo AP + corn starch) but can't understand why.

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    1. Hi Sam. Taro does vary in quality - age, variety, moisture, etc. all affect the tenderness of the taro. I just read a Chinese cookbook that said "red" taro was more tender than "white" taro, and I'm trying to figure out which is which! Maybe try a smaller taro next time - look at the base where the root was cut off, and then see if there is any shrinkage around the cut, as that usually tells me it's started to desiccate.

      Again, don't use pastry flour or cornstarch with Korean flour. Just use plain Korean bread/noodle flour. The reason is that the Korean flour already has a much lower gluten content than American flour. Try this again with ONLY Korean bread/noodle flour, and you will be delighted!

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