Monday, April 2, 2012

Hom Bao Heaven

Hom Baos are delicious Chinese pastries, commonly filled with a bbq pork filling.  They're all over the carts at dim sum restaurants and all over Asia with hometown variations.  In Japanese they are called niku-man (meat bun) or an-man (read bean bun).  The bread part is pretty crucial, in that it has to be super fluffy, white, and slightly sweet.  They are steamed so they also have a different consistency than regular pastries that are baked in a conventional oven.  Up until very recently, the secret to this heavenly white dough was a mystery to me.

Until last month.

My sister, who works with a handful of Asian nurses, is exposed to a lot of various home-made Asian deliciousness on a regular basis.  One of these nurses happened to have home-made hom bao with her and my sister could not help but ask her the secret.  It turns out, there really is no secret, you can buy the mixture for the dough at any Asian market, much like you would get pancake mix at the regular grocery store.

So we made some.  Alice made a mushroom, oyster sauce, tofu, and bok choy filling and I made a black sesame and red bean filling.

I don't know what exactly she put in the mushroom filling, but I can tell you about the sesame paste that I made.

1 cup black sesame seeds
1/4-1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup hot water
2 teaspoons sesame oil

First you need to toast the seeds.  This is done best in a dry frying pan over medium low heat.  You have to stir constantly and keep a good eye and nose on it so that they don't burn, which happens very quickly.  As soon as the seeds start smoking the slightest bit and smelling toasty, they're finished.  While that's going, dissolve about a 1/4 cup of sugar in the hot water and set it aside.  Place the toasted seeds and the rest of the sugar (1/4 cup) into a blender or food processor and add a tsp of the sesame oil.  Start pureeing and add the hot sugar water and more sesame oil until the desired consistency is reached.

Gimme a spoon.
This is a basic sesame paste that can be modified and used in a lot of desserts.  I've also eaten it as a porridge which was delicious.  But to take it a step further, I added red bean paste to it to make it even better.  (I saved half of it and added the red bean to the rest, so I could have both.)

(These and other good hom bao filling ideas can be found here.)

 Ok so once the fillings were made, it was time for the dough.  That was easy peasy.  You just dump the entire contents of the bag into a bowl, add the correct amount of milk and oil listed on the back of the bag and knead for 10 minutes.  Then let it rise in a warm place for about a half hour.  Take out the dough, knead for a minute or so then take large spoonfuls and flatten them out with your hands or a rolling pin.  Use lots of flour for this process because this stuff is super sticky.  Fill it with goodness, pinch it closed and place on a small piece of parchment paper and place in your classic bamboo steamer.  Steam for about 25 minutes and bam!  You will find yourself in hom bao heaven.

Really good to take for lunch the next day!

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