Monday, April 26, 2010


update: check here for flower buns.


It's very very hot (35 C!) and humid recently, perfect weather for making bread and anything that needs to be leavened, and so I made mantou.  In my post on Chinese buns (baos), a couple of readers commented that the dough was dry and the baos turned hard after they cooled. That bothered me because only true and tried recipes make it to this blog.

I too found that the dough according to my recipe was very dry and I had to add extra water to get a smooth dough. I checked the original recipe and found that the amount of water given was in grams, not ml and I had scribbled the equivalent of 120 ml next to the 100 gm of water, as informed by the chef I learnt the recipe from. Could that be wrong? It was. 100 g of water is about 140 ml when I measured it on my scale and in a jug (as pointed out correctly by a reader, 1 g  (pure) water at a warm room temp equals 1 ml--which I've always used in conversion for my cooking but not for this recipe since the chef instructed that the ml measurement is higher--but I used a non-digital kitchen scale so this amount is distorted. Whatever, the amount of water should be about 180 to 200 ml). On top of that, the original recipe used 100 gm of steamed sweet potatoes which had water and we were told that we can substitute the steamed potato with the same amount of flour. But then how did I make the baos in the photo? I can't remember, but I must've measured the water by weight and added extra water and forgot to note it on my posted recipe. In any case, I have amended the recipe for this post according to my latest attempt. Sorry for the mistake!

Mantou are steamed leavened buns that can be filled or not filled. According to this wiki piece, the origin of mantou was attributed to the much respected statesman Zhuge Liang (who lived 1800 years ago), a name I often hear my Hub speak of (and which I often mistaken for someone he knows, or some present-day politician in China) when he tells me about Chinese history (the only famous Chinese I read about in school was Confucious and Shi Huang Di):

This story originates from the Three Kingdoms Period, when the strategist Zhuge Liang led the Shu Army in an invasion of the southern lands (roughly modern-day Yunnan and northern Burma). After subduing the barbarian king Meng Huo, Zhuge Liang led the army back to Shu, but met a swift-flowing river which defied all attempts to cross it. A barbarian lord informed him that, in olden days, the barbarians would sacrifice 50 men and throw their heads into the river to appease the river spirit and allow them to cross; Zhuge Liang, however, did not want to cause any more bloodshed, and instead killed the cows and horses the army brought along and filled their meat into buns shaped roughly like human heads - round with a flat base - to be made and then thrown into the river. After a successful crossing he named the buns "barbarian's head" (mántóu, 蠻頭), which evolved into the present day mántóu (饅頭).

Most mantou are Northern Chinese in origin since wheat is the staple food of the northern Chinese.  The famous cha shau bao you eat at dim sum restaurants however is Southern Chinese. Flower rolls (hua juan) are mantou (buns) without fillings, to be eaten with meat stews and saucy dishes. The dough is cut into thin strips, and rolled and twisted into spiral mounds. Ying xi juan or silver thread buns (Chinese food and dishes often have very fanciful descriptive names) are also unfilled mantou and they are called such because inside the long bun are thin dough strips which with a bit of imagination and poetic flair look like silver threads.

While my mantou turned out very light and soft, a lot of improvement is needed to shape the flower rolls and silver thread rolls. I didn't cut the dough strips through or brush them with oil and when the flower rolls proofed, the dough strips fused together.  I did lightly oil the dough strips for the silver thread buns but on the upper surface only. The strips have to be well-oiled all around for them not to fuse together during proofing and steaming. I'm also not too sure how the rolls should be shaped because it's been a long time since I ate authentic flower rolls. I'll get some idea of  the real thing this October when we visit Shanghai for the Expo.

These mantou stayed soft even after they cooled. Mantou are usually left in the steamer and eaten hot.  I used bao flour and the mantou turned out soft, light, fine-textured and pure white, like commercial baos. You can use plain flour too and although the mantou aren't as fine-textured or white, they taste just as good.  Snow-white mantao are beautiful but too bleached for me. Like bread making, mantou are fun to make, especially if they turn out well. This is a fail-proof recipe now. I challenge you to try it.


An attempt at making silver thread rolls and flower rolls
Basic Mantou/Bao Dough

A Ingredients:
1 tsp dry yeast
2 Tbsp water
-mix A ingredients together.
(Sshh...if you know your yeast is active, just mix A and B ingredients together at once. I do that all the time)
B Ingredients:
350g Bao or HK flour or Rose (plain) flour
1 tsp double-action baking powder
50g (or less, say 30 g) fine sugar 
200 to 250 ml water* (amended)
1 Tbsp shortening (Crisco) or veg oil

*If you use 250 ml and you are kneading by hand, add 200 ml first and knead in the remainder slowly, 10 to 15 ml each time, so that the dough is not too sticky to handle. Depending on the type of flour you use, you may not need all the water.

1. Sift the flour and baking powder together (usually I don't bother if the flour is fresh). If using shortening, rub it into the flour evenly.

2. Mix A with all the B ingredients in a mixer bowl and knead at medium speed till very smooth, about 6-8 minutes. The dough should be quite soft. Never mind if it's slighty sticky. Continue kneading until it isn't sticky. If kneading with hands, put dough back into the bowl and cover with a cloth. Rest for 30 min or until doubled, depending on room temperature.

3. For flower rolls: Divide dough into 50g portions & roll into smooth balls without using flour.  Only if the dough is way too sticky, dust your hands and the work surface lightly with some flour. Flatten each ball, roll into a small rectangle as long as your hand (fingers n palm) and about 4 cm wide. Use a metal pastry cutter and cut the dough into strips. Brush veg oil all over the surface of the strips. Take the ends of the dough, one in each hand, and twist into a pretty roll. I've seen some photos of flower rolls that are twisted in and out, very pretty. Place the roll on a small square of baking paper, about 6 cm square. Let the rolls proof for 30-45 minutes or until doubled. Do not overproof or rolls will wrinkle when steamed.

Steam at high heat for 5 minutes in a bamboo steamer. Serve hot.

For silver thread rolls:  Roll a piece of dough about the length of your palm and about 1/3 cm thick. Cut into strips about the size of udon noodles with metal cutter and brush veg oil generously on both sides. Roll out a large thin piece of dough 'skin'. Lift half the strips, holding each end in each of your hands and stretch slightly, then place onto the center of the 'skin'.  Lift the remaining strips, stretch and lay on top of the  first strips and fold the sides of the skin over, pinching the ends to seal well. Lay the long roll on baking paper and let proof for 30-45 minutes or until doubled. Steam for 8 minutes. When cool, slice crosswise into 4 cm-thick sections. Serve hot with meat dishes.
For filled baos: Divide the dough into 50g (small) or 70 g (large) pieces. Roll each into a ball, then flatten into a circle, fill with your choice of filling (savory or sweet), seal the baos (pleated for savory n smooth top for plain), let it rise until doubled n steam about 6-8 minutes. If the filling is uncooked meat, steam for 12-15 minutes.

Note: Mantou can be re-heated by steaming. A bamboo steamer is best for steaming mantou because the gaps in the steamer let the steam out so that the steam won't condense on the mantou and damage their appearance.


Zurin said...

Oh I was just looking at my cookbook and planning ot make these! the flower rolls.....yours are beautiful.ill try my recipe and see how it works. Or not . :)

Anonymous said...

These mantaos look very soft. Thanks for the recipe!

Anonymous said...

"100 g of water is about 140 ml"

This is wrong. 1g of water is about 1mL. At 35C, 100g of water is about 101mL.

terri@adailyobsession said...

zurin: our weather now is perfect for making baos. waiting to see how urs turn out:0

anon: welcome:)

anon: i know, from practice (and form 4 science...)whenever i see a weight measuremt of water in recipes, i just equivalent amt of water in ml. but in this case, the recipe didn't work so i measured the water by weight n then poured it into the measuring cup. i was surprised to fine it wasn;t same. i think it's bc i don't have a digital scale so it's hard to get an exact amt. secondly, maybe i want so much to get a higher amt of water...i don't make a good lab researcher for sure. but could the purity of water make a big diff? i know, there's some but it won't be as much. whatever, the measuremt given in the recipe is the coorect amt.thnx for pointing out:))

La Table De Nana said...


Chocolate Cookies & Candies said...

I managed to find bao flour online here in the UK!! So excited! I'm going to order a couple of bags and try this. I love mantou so I can't wait to make this. Thanks, Terri!

Unknown said...

I love Chinese buns and dumplings. I have never tried them though. these look cute and delicious

Unknown said...

Hi Terri, this story is so darned interesting! Enjoyed this post! Keep it up!

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Jen said...

I just stumbled upon this recipe as I'm trying to find the best mantou in Hong Kong. We just moved here, and after being in London for the last two years I've turned into a toast junkie. Now, however, I think I'm going to have to embrace something more local. I'll definitely have to try this recipe. Looks fantastic.

QYZ said...

Hi there, can you explain to me what do you mean by ovenproof? Cause I usually leave my dough to proof in the oven with the lamp turned on but without heat...would that be considered ovenproof? Can you suggest another place for me to proof the dough then? Thanks so much

Judy said...

Hi, If I use All Purpose Flour instead of Bao/ HK flour, will the Mantou be as fluffy and soft? I don't mind being the whitest or not, I care about the texture most. Thanks!

Terri @ A Daily Obsession said...

qyz: am not sure what you mean bc i can't find 'ovenproof' in my post. if it's a hot day, i just cover the bowl of dough with a cloth (wet one if humidity is low). if it's a cooler day, i cover the bowl of dough with a cloth and leave in the oven, door closed. hope tt helps:)

judy: oh i use all-purpose flour all the time. not as white or even as soft but still, good enough for me:)

Terri @ A Daily Obsession said...

to all: my subsequent flower buns recipe is based on the same recipe but the shaping is diff. give it a try!

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