Monday, March 14, 2016

Peanut butter sandwiches just got a whole lot better

I seem to be on a bit of a homemade bread streak here, so I’ve created another family favorite for this week’s offering: flower rolls. I’ve made these for decades now, and they never fail to please the eyes, the nose, and (of course) the mouth.

For one thing, they are incredibly pretty. People tend to go gaga over them whenever I serve these at a dinner party, but they are so simple to make that you just do NOT want to reveal that they require very little effort at all. Suggest instead that your guests were completely worth the extra effort and bask in the applause.

These are also incredibly versatile, and you can make different types of filling to match your entrée and substitute white Chinese flour for the whole wheat if you are aiming for a delicate crumb.

Spread filling almost to upper edge
They are definitely extraordinarily easy to prepare ahead of time and can be frozen either already steamed or just already shaped. Either way, they end up delicious.

I’ve admittedly gone with a slightly off-kilter filling here: peanut butter instead of toasted sesame paste. My husband is bonkers for peanuts in any shape or form, and so this was a special Monday gift for him. These are slightly sweetened here for breakfast, but for dinner I’d probably reduce the sugar as shown below. I adore ground Sichuan peppercorns in this, as they add a lovely but subtle layer of extra aromas for the nose to play with as your mouth is busy with the delectable taste of the bread and peanut butter.

Consider this a gateway drug.

Peanut butter whole-wheat flower rolls
Huāshēngjiāng quánmài huājuăn 花生醬全麥花捲
Makes 16 (2 inch/5cm) flower rolls

1¼ cups/295 ml warm water
2 teaspoons yeast
Roll this up aided by a pastry scraper
2 tablespoons sugar (use around 2 teaspoons if you are serving these with a savory dish)
2½ cups/320g whole wheat flour, plus extra for kneading
2 teaspoons peanut or vegetable oil
2 teaspoons baking powder

1 cup/230g natural peanut butter, salted or unsalted, chunky or smooth
¼ cup/60ml sugar (coconut sugar, white, or packed dark)
4 teaspoons ground toasted Sichuan peppercorns, optional
2 teaspoons sea salt, or to taste

1. First make the dough: Dissolve the yeast and sugar in the warm water. Allow the yeast to expand for about 10 minutes; if it is not foaming at this point, discard and get some fresher yeast. 

No extra flour should be needed at this point
2. Use chopsticks or a wooden spoon to mix the flour into the yeast solution until flakes form. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured smooth surface, and then use a pastry scraper in one hand and your other hand to scrape and knead the dough. When it is elastic and no longer sticks to the board, check the texture: a pinch of the dough should feel like an earlobe. Form the dough into a ball. 

3. Clean the work bowl, dry it, and lightly oil both the bowl and the ball of dough. Transfer the dough to the bowl, cover it tightly with some plastic wrap, and place in a warm place to rise until double in size. Punch down the dough and fold the edges in on the ball. Cover the bowl again and let it rise until it is once more double in size. 
Pinch the roll closed
4. Turn the dough out onto a clean, smooth work surface and sprinkle with the baking powder. Lightly knead the baking powder into the dough, cover the dough with the plastic wrap and let it rest for around 10 minutes. At this point it should be soft enough to shape easily, but not so sticky that it will adhere to your board.

5. Line two Chinese basket steamers with either steamer paper or cupcake liners; spray the cupcake paper with oil. Set the baskets and cover over a pan of boiling water for a couple of minutes to heat them through, and then turn off the heat.

6. Make the filling by mixing together the ingredients, adding more oil from the peanut butter as needed to make it spreadable but not loose – it ideally should have the texture of cream cheese ready to spread on a bagel. Adjust the seasoning as desired.

Evenly divvy up the roll
7. Cut the dough in half and keep one half covered. Roll the other half of the dough out into a rectangle about 16 x 10 inches (use imperial measurements here, as they’re easier!), with a longer edge parallel to you. Spread half of the filling over the rectangle, leaving about ½ inch/1cm along the upper edge (the one furthest away from you) clean so that you can seal up the roll. Starting on the edge nearest you, use your pastry scraper to gently turn the dough up and over itself to form what looks like a jellyroll. This should not be a tight roll, as the dough still needs to rise, and you don’t want the filling to squish out. When you get it all rolled up, pinch the unfilled edge into the roll to seal it. Line the roll up against your ruler and mark it at 1-inch intervals with your pastry scraper, and then use it to cleanly cut the roll into 16 even pieces. Repeat with the other half of the dough and the rest of the filling.

Squoosh the layers together
8. To shape the flower rolls, have a clean, smooth, thin chopstick ready; the best kind to use have lacquer or paint on them so that they don’t stick to the dough, but if you don’t have one, simply oil the chopstick. Place one piece on top of another one as shown to the right. Set your chopstick lengthwise atop the pile. Press firmly down on the pair so that they fan out on either side of the chopstick.

9. To make a regular flower roll, use your pastry scraper to lift it up, and then slide out the chopstick before transferring the roll to your warmed-up steamer. To make a round roll that is slightly more decorative, once you remove the chopstick, pinch the outer edges together under the roll to form a ball before setting this down in the steamer. Repeat with the rest of the dough until you have 16 rolls, leaving at least an inch between the rolls. (You may have to steam them in a couple of batches, depending upon the size and number of your baskets.) Whichever way you make them, cover the baskets and let the dough rise for around 15 minutes. Steam the rolls over high heat for about 15 minutes, turn off the heat, and leave them covered for around 10 minutes so that they don’t suddenly deflate. Serve hot or warm.

Raised & ready to steam
To freeze these, you can set the shaped rolls on a baking sheet lined with plastic wrap, freeze them until firm, and then store them in resealable bags. Steam them as directed above. Or, you can steam the rolls before freezing them; in this case, simply steam them for about 5 minutes to heat them through before serving. As with all breads, these do not take kindly to microwaving.

Vary the filling as you like. In Taiwan, the preferred seasoning is finely chopped green onions, peanut oil, and salt. North China traditionally uses toasted sesame paste instead of the peanut butter and no sugar. They’re all very good!


  1. These look wonderful. I love these made with sesame paste. We are peanut free household and I cannot wait to try your recipe with sesame paste.

  2. The addition of the Sichuan Pepper is an inspired addition!

    The only thing I'd do differently next time is add a bit of salt to the dough. It kinda tastes a bit flat at the moment.

    1. Sounds like a plan. Every palate (and every peanut butter) is different! Glad you like the peppercorns in there. They make the flavors in these buns much more layered.