Karl’s California Fusion Baozi (包子)

I love pocket breads. I have recently been experimenting with bierock, the Volga German pocket breads. I have settled on the right proportions of bread to filling and I have decided to start branching out. What other fillings could I put in my “pockets?” Today, the answer is Chinese pork.

Karl’s California Fusion Baozi (包子)

Karl’s California Fusion Baozi (包子)

When we lived in Sichuan, China, in the late Eighties, there was one dish that we really loved: guo kui, helmet bread (literally “pot helmet”). Guo kui is a Sichuan version of a shaobing ( ; roasted pastry)—a stuffed, unleavened, baked flatbread.  This was the best street food you can imagine, a savory pocket of warm bread stuffed with meat and vegetables, brown sugar, or “empty”— just plain with a pocket to be cut open and stuffed with whatever you had on hand.

Note: This video gives a good representation of the China we knew in the ’80’s—at about one minute into the video there is a woman making guo kui.

I have tried to replicate the original recipe with limited success. While I was able to recreate the flavor of the filling, I was never able to get the pocket bread just right. The closest thing to the texture of a guo kui is a good NY bagel. A Western oven cannot simply be substituted for a traditional Chinese oven (see video above) for making this bread.

Note: Many New Yorkers come to California and complain about how you can’t get a good bagel here. Even as a Californian, I am afraid I must agree with them. A good bagel should be about 3½ inches in diameter, have a clear hole, have a hard glossy crust, but still have a distinctive chewy interior. Most of the things sold as bagels in California are 4-5-or even 6 inches of  round, regular bread or even square, steamed bread, which may or may not still have a hole after they have been baked. These are not necessarily bad breads, they are simply not bagels.

While most Chinese baozi (包子; wrapped thing) are made with rice flour and steamed, they are sometimes made with a milk bread (牛奶麵包) and baked. Bierock are made with a European butter and milk yeast dough that is very close to the Chinese version. This is a good bread and I decided not to struggle with learning a new technique today.

Karl’s California Fusion Baozi (包子)

Ingredients

Dough

2 tsp. active dry yeast
½ cup warm water
2+ Tbs. sugar, separate uses

4+ cups flour, AP
½ tsp. salt
½ cup butter, separate uses

1 cup milk
1 egg

Filling

1 lb pork, coarsely ground

Marinade

4 cloves garlic, finely grated
1 Tbs. ginger, finely grated
1 Tbs. light soy sauce
1 Tbs. light soy sauce
1 Tbs. Xaioxing  rice wine
1 tsp. sesame oil
⅛ tsp. chili oil
⅛ tsp. sugar

1 tsp. baking soda mixed with 1 Tbs. hot water

Peanut oil, for frying

6 cloves garlic, sliced into thin coins
1 cup green onions, sliced finely, white and green parts kept separately

1 tsp. Dried Sichuan Chiles flakes (Heaven Facing chilies), or red chili flakes
2 tsp. Sichuan Peppercorns, ground to a powder

½ lb. Chinese chives, sliced finely (about 1½ cups)
1 Tbs. ginger, cut into small shreds
1 Tbs. light soy sauce
1 Tbs. light soy sauce
1 Tbs. Xaioxing  rice wine
1 tsp. sesame oil

Directions

1. Put the yeast in the warm water with a good pinch of sugar. Stir and let it proof for 10 minutes.

Tip: If your yeast is good there should be a good head of foam covering the mixture after this time. If there is not, discard and buy new yeast.

2. Sift the flour, salt, and two tablespoons of sugar together several times to get an even distribution of the ingredients.

3. Add ¾ of the stick of butter into the flour and mix it into the flour.

Tip: This is six tablespoons of butter. You may melt it before adding it to the flour or—what I have been doing lately—freeze the butter and grating it into the dry flour.  Freezing the butter beforehand makes grating the butter easier and less sticky.

Note: The butter binds the proteins in the flour preventing some of it from forming gluten and produces a softer bread.

4. Warm the milk slightly and scramble the egg into the milk.

Tip: You do not want the milk hot enough to start cooking the egg, you just do not want it to be cold from the refrigerator.

5. Make a “well” in the flour and add the yeast water and milk/egg mixture.

6. Pull the flour from the sides of the “well” into the wet ingredients.

7. When the flour in the bowl is mostly incorporated, turn the dough out onto a well-floured smooth surface.

Tip: Put about half a cup of flour on the board.

Note: The butter tends to make the  dough less sticky and your will need only a little extra flour to knead the dough.

8. Knead the dough for 10-15 minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic.

Tip: If your dough has just a touch too little liquid it will become very difficult to knead after five minutes. If this happens, put the dough in a bowl covered with a damp cloth and let it rest for ten minutes.

Note: Several things will happen in that resting time. The strands of gluten that have already formed will relax and become more flexible. The yeast in the dough will do its thing of turning sugar into carbon dioxide. A by-product of that process is alcohol—which will evenly moisten your dough ball and make it easier to continue kneading.

9. Add one tablespoon of melted butter to the bowl you mixed the dough in and rub the top of the dough ball in the butter.

10. Turn the dough over and cover the bowl with a smooth, clean, damp, kitchen towel. Place the bowl in a warm place for one hour.

Tip: If you use a terrycloth towel, the dough might stick to it as it rises and be hard to remove.

11. Put the pork in a medium mixing bowl and add all of the marinade ingredients. Mix well.

Note: If you plan to marinate your meat for more than 30 minutes, leave the baking soda out until the last 15 minutes of marinating. While the baking soda will help keep the meat more tender and help it retain moisture, it will also make your meat mushy if left in too long before cooking.

12. Put the oil in a pan and set it over a medium high heat.

Tip: How much oil you add depends on how fatty your pork is. Fatty pork will quickly render enough grease to properly fry the patty. Lean pork may need a bit of assistance.

13. Form your pork into a single large patty and fry it on one side until a dark crust forms, about 6-8 minutes.

Note: This is a Cook’s Illustrated browning technique. If you brown the meat in small bits you ended up with hard pebbles when they finally became browned enough to enhance the flavor. By browning the meat in a large patty you get the flavor provided by the Maillard reaction, but still leave most of the meat tender and juicy.

14. Flip your patty and fry on the second side until crispy brown.

Tip: If your patty is too big to flip easily, cut it into quarters and turn them separately.

15. Transfer the meat to a plate or bowl to cool.

Tip: When the meat has cooled a bit, use two forks to break the patty into bits.

16. Deglaze the pan with two tablespoons of water and, after the liquid is reduced by half, pour it over the meat.

Tip: I would normally use the moisture released by my vegetables to deglaze my pan, but the vegetables in this recipe are fairly dry.

17. Add one tablespoon of oil and fry the garlic and white parts of the green onion for one minute, until fragrant.

18. Add the chili flakes, Sichuan Pepper to the pan and cook for 30 seconds more to bloom the spices.

19. Add the pork, chives, green onion, soy sauces,  xaioxing, and sesame oil and stir to mix well.

Tip: Pre-measure the sauce ingredients into a small cup before hand to add all at once.

20. Remove the pan from the heat and set it aside to cook for 10-15 minutes.

Tip: The chives and green onions cook very quickly, but you are not actually trying to cook them in the pan. You want them to wilt a bit, but they will finish cooking inside the buns as they bake.

21. Punch down the dough and divide it into portions.

Tip: How many portions you make with your dough is your choice. I found that dividing the dough into many small portions produces a lot of snack sized buns, but they are thin walled and not enough to be a meal by themselves. I  have found that dough—made with four cups of flour—is perfect for making 12 “full meal” buns.

22. Divide the dough into 12 portions and pull in the sides into to make 12 dough balls.

Tip: This is a raised dough that depends on gluten sheets for its “lift.” When you cut your dough, there will be an outside surface—smooth—and several “cut” surfaces—covered in bubble holes. Stretch the outside surface around and push the cut sides into the center of the balls. Lay the balls down with the crimped side down.

23. Take a dough ball with the “crimped” side up and roll it into a disk about 7 inches in diameter.

24. Place a third of a cup of filling in the center of the disk.

Tip: The meat mixture in the pan is fairly loose. I found that by using a spatula and a ⅓ cup measure I could pack the filling down and place it in a tight packet in the middle of the dough. This made it easier to wrap the dough around the filling.

25. Pull the edges of the dough over the filling and twist then together.

Tip: Pick up the two opposite edges of the dough and pinch them at the top with one hand. Pick up the other two edges and bring them to the top. You will have four folds of dough sticking out from the sides. Pull each of these to the top, in turn and pinch and twist them together. Lay the bun on the counter sealed side down and cup your hands around it and gently rotate the dough to further twist the seal. Use your hands to gently form the dough into an even “bun” shape.

Note: Video

26. Lay the finished bun on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper.

27. Let the buns rise for 20 minutes.

28. Bake for 30 minutes in a preheated 375º F oven.

Tip: Rotate the tray after 15 minutes, so that they cook evenly.

29. Transfer the buns to a wire rack for 10 minutes to cool and eat warm or cold.

2 Comments

Filed under bread, California Fusion, Chinese, Main Dishes, Pork

2 responses to “Karl’s California Fusion Baozi (包子)

  1. Pingback: Karl’s Pocket Tacos | Jabberwocky Stew

  2. Pingback: Karl’s Chicken Curry Hand Pies | Jabberwocky Stew

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