Monday, November 20, 2017

Heavenly double pineapple buns

Like we discussed a while ago, pineapple buns are an iconic part of any good Taiwanese style bakery, but the fact that there is never any pineapple inside them has puzzled and, to be frank, annoyed the heck out of me for years and years.

I decided recently that it was high time I did something about this. And I have to admit, this was a no-brainer, and in fact is totally easy. All you really need to do is make some pineapple filling.

Now, as it’s getting close to the holidays, I thought some ginger would be really good in there. No cinnamon or nutmeg, thank you… I have had enough of the uber-prevalent pumpkin spice that insinuates itself into just about everything nowadays from early October until someone just after Thanksgiving decides to sub in oodles of sinus-clearing peppermint. 

A nice blob of pineapple jam
Instead, we have in here a good pinch of my favorite spice, a dribble of honey in both the filling and the bread, some freshly ground black pepper to add a touch of mystery, and a dollop of butter to keep things really luscious.

You can, of course, use ready-made pineapple filling or even pineapple preserves here. I just find those a bit too sweet. However, use what’s available and what you like—that’s always most important. Plus, you can always tweak them with lemon juice and spices to (literally) tart them up. It’s your call.

Do note that I've updated that previous recipe here. Just some little tweaks in the ingredients and directions, but the results are really fantastic, especially if you can enjoy them right out of the oven. 

Pinch the bun closed
Like all the Taiwanese breads I’ve been promoting lately, these are fantastic to keep on hand for whenever friends pop by or you get a tad hungry. They really freeze well and don’t stick together. Just be careful not to stack anything on top of them, as the brittle cookie dough might get crushed. Not the end of the world, but still.

Heavenly double pineapple buns
Fènglíxiàn bōluó bāo 鳳梨餡菠蘿包
Taiwan, kind of
Makes 16 buns

2 (20 ounce | 600 g) cans unsweetened crushed pineapple
2 teaspoons ground ginger
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
The correct "fried egg" shape
½ teaspoon sea salt
¼ cup | 60 ml honey
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1½ cups | 300 ml warm water
½ cup | 50 g powdered milk
1 tablespoon bread yeast
¼ cup | 85 g honey
1 large egg, lightly beaten
4 cups | 600 g Chinese flour, plus about 1 cup | 150 g more for kneading
1½ teaspoons sea salt
2 tablespoons | ¼ stick unsalted butter, softened

Cookie dough:
2 sticks (1 cup | 120 g) unsalted butter, softened
Cook the pineapple down
6 tablespoons | 80 g sugar
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1½ cups | 240 g unbleached bread flour

1 large egg, lightly beaten with 1 teaspoon water
Water, as needed

1. First make the filling: Empty the cans into a medium saucepan, preferably stainless steel so that you can keep an eye on the color of the pineapple. Cook the pineapple and juice down over medium-high heat until almost all the liquid has evaporated. As the liquid recedes, be sure to stir and scrape the pan so that the natural sugars in the juice don’t burn. They will begin to caramelize, though, which is really nice, so lower the heat as needed. Once the pineapple is a golden color, add the spices, salt, honey, and butter, and continue to stir over medium-low heat until the pineapple mixture is thick. Let the filling cool while you prepare the bread and cookie doughs. This will give you about 2 cups | 475 ml of pineapple jam, and you can prepare this step far in advance, if you like; just refrigerate or freeze it for later.

Flatten the cookie dough with bags
2. Now make the bread dough: Place the water in a medium work bowl, add the yeast, powdered milk, and honey, and let the yeast soften and bloom while you prepare the rest of the ingredients. Using a food processor, stand mixer with a hook attachment, or just a bowl with a wooden spoon, stir in the egg, flour, salt, and butter, and then knead to form a sticky dough, adding more flour as needed, until it is soft and tensile. Clean and dry a work bowl, form the dough into a smooth ball, and place it in the bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough rise in a warm place until it is double in bulk. Punch it down, turn it over, and cover again until it is again double in size.

3. Now for the cookie dough: As soon as the bread dough is getting its first rise, use a food processor, stand mixer, or hand mixer to beat the butter and sugar together until light. Add the egg and flour, and then mix until smooth. Scrape the cookie dough into a smaller container, cover, and chill for at least an hour. 

4. Line two baking sheets with Silpat or parchment paper. Divide the bread dough into 16 balls. Flatten each ball into a disc and fill every one with about 2 tablespoons of the pineapple jam. Pinch the dough around the jam as if you were making a baozi. Smooth the pinched area, making sure that the jam is securely sealed inside the dough. Turn the filled bun over so the smooth side is on top and shape it into a slightly flattened ball about 3 inches | 7.5 cm wide. Arrange 8 buns on each of the baking sheets. Brush each of the buns with the egg wash.

5. Prepare 2 small plastic sandwich bags and set one of them (if the bag has a fold, put that side on the bottom) on a wet washcloth on your work surface, as the cloth will help prevent the plastic from sliding around. Divide the cookie dough into 16 even pieces and roll these into balls. Try to use only your fingers and the heel of your hand, rather than your palm, as these will not warm up the dough.  

Dabbed with water
6. Place a ball of cookie dough on the plastic bag, cover it with the other bag, and press down on the dough with the heel of your hand to form a wide disc about 3 inches | 7.5 cm wide. Drape the disc over one of the balls of bread dough and pat the edges against the bread. Repeat with the rest of the cookie dough until all of the buns have been covered..

7. Dip a plastic pastry scraper in flour and make 4 even lines across the top of a bun, then crisscross these with 4 diagonal lines. (Don’t cut all the way down through the cookie dough, but rather mark them clearly, about halfway down the cookie dough, as otherwise the cookie bits will drop off into little diamonds, which would be sad.) Wipe your scraper often on a wet towel and dip the edge in flour, as otherwise it will stick and make raggedly edges. Repeat this with the rest of the buns. Use a pastry brush to dab water over the cookie topping on each bun. Let the buns rise for about 20 minutes.

8. Arrange 2 racks in the oven toward the center and then heat the oven to 350°F | 170°C. Just before you place the buns in the oven, brush that last beaten egg over the top of each one, hitting the whole cookie, so that it will brown evenly. Bake the buns for about 30 minutes, rotating the sheets top to bottom and front to back halfway through the cooking time, until the tops are a golden brown. Slide the sheets with the buns onto a counter so that they stop cooking on the bottom, and nudge them free once they have cooled. Eat warm or cooled. Store in an airtight container or freeze in resealable bags.

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