Sparky’s interest in adventurous eating waxes and wanes; some of his friends aren’t really adventurous eaters at all. Since I LOVE to explore the world through food, I am always thrilled when the troops come along for the ride. One day, Sparky, myself and Dr. Lasergonapus were exploring Chinatown, and, to my delight, we all enjoyed something new: fried mantou at Sweet Station, served with condensed milk as a sauce. Since it went over so well at the restaurant, I resolved that they would be the subject of our next cooking experiment.
These fried buns are kind of like a Chinese doughnut; they start with a crustless steamed bread – you might be more familiar with the BBQ-pork-stuffed version, called Bao or Baozi. It can also be eaten on its own as an either sweet or savory side dish and can be made into all kinds of different shapes. The key to a good mantou is an incredibly fluffy crumb that reminds me of a marshmallow.
First, we made the dough, which really isn’t too different from an ordinary bread dough. You can make it entirely from wheat flour, and leave out the baking powder, but I decided to add some rice flour and baking powder to ensure the buns were extra-fluffy.
1/2 cup warm water
1/2 tsp instant yeast
1 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp oil
1 cup AP flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/3 – 1/2 cup rice flour
At that point, we mixed in about half of the rice flour and checked the texture. More rice flour was added and we continued to knead with the mixer until the dough was springy and not sticky (the amount will vary.) One recipe makes about 8 fried buns, or 12 rose buns.
The dough was set under a warm, wet towel for 10 minutes. I prepped my cast iron casserole to steam buns by putting an overturned shallow ramekin in the bottom and setting a springform pan on top, covered with parchment paper squares to put the buns on. I poured in enough water to come to the top edge of the ramekin and checked to make sure I could still put the lid on the casserole tightly. Since we had doubled the recipe, we divided our dough in half and began to shape our two different kinds of buns.
When the mantou are almost finished steaming, get a small saucepan and pour in some vegetable oil, about half as deep as your mantou are tall. Bring it to 350 degrees (use a frying or candy thermometer.)
When your mantou are steamed, remove them from the steamer to a plate and allow them to dry off a bit, then carefully place them curved-side down into the hot oil. Cook until they are golden brown, and then flip them with tongs and cook on the other side until they are crusty, golden, and delicious.
Serve hot, drizzled with or dipped in sweetened condensed milk. Keep going – there’s more!
While our first batch steamed, we shaped our dough for steamed rose mantou. We divided the batch of dough into six parts, and then divided each sixth into eight little blobs.
The boys flattened each blob into a small circle of dough with the palm of their hand, and then lay them on the table in an overlapping line, dipping each one in a bit of water to make sure it sticks where it touches the previous one.
After pinching the bottom so it sits flat, the roses were set under a towel to rise for 15 minutes, and then popped onto the squares of parchment on the prepared steamer to steam, as above, for 20 minutes.
Dr. Lasergonapus and Sparky declared the fried mantou to be acceptable tummy-fillers. Mmmmm….