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Vegan Chinese New Year: sweet bean and custard buns (nai wong bao and dou sha bao) recipe

28 Jan 2017

So yeah, sweet bean buns are often vegan anyway but here I’ve made a rich, almost milk bread dough, and also veganised nai wong bao, or steamed custard buns. The only difference between these guys is the filling so I’d recommend getting some sweet red bean paste from your nearest Asian supermarket and whipping both up in the same batch. As with the char siu bao, you’ll need a steamer for this recipe. They should be available at your nearest Asian supermarket too for around a tenner and are a great investment. 

Begin making your dough 2 hrs before you want your buns to be ready. Because it’s a rich dough it’ll take longer to rise so factor in that time.

Combine all the dry ingredients in a big bowl. Put the water, coconut oil and coconut milk in a microwaveable dish and microwave until the coconut oil has melted and the liquid is warm. You just want warm to the touch of your finger: anything too hot will kill off your yeast and stop your dough from rising.

Flour a surface then tip the warm liquid mix into the dry ingredients bowl and roll up your sleeves and get your hands in there, mooshing everything together. Tip out the dough onto the floured surface.

It’ll be quite sticky but don’t worry. Scrape out any bits still stuck to the bowl. Now it’s time to knead. If you already know how to knead dough, go you! If you don’t, that’s fine. I think it’s easiest to learn if someone else shows you so here is an instructional video for you.

This dough is quite sticky which is why you floured your surface before. Feel free to add a little more flour if you’re finding the mixture not getting any less sticky as you go along. Your dough is kneaded when you can hold it up to the light, stretch it, and see light through it without it breaking.

Now press the dough into a rough circle with your finger tips and then bring the outer edges into the middle bit by bit before turning the whole thing upside down and forming into a ball. Put this ball back in its bowl.

This is when, if you have a cold house like me but are blessed with a hot water bottle, you use the hot water bottle to sub in for a proving drawer. Fill up your hot water bottle about half full with boiling water and grab a big blanket. Now wrap up your hot water bottle in a few layers of blanket, place your bowl of dough on top of it and wrap the whole thing in a few more layers of blanket. This will keep it warm and insulated so the yeast gets cosy and the dough can rise. GBBO eat your heart out.

Leave the dough for an hour/hour and a half or however long it takes to get to the stage where, when you prod it with a finger, it bounces back. The time this takes will depend on the temperature the dough is at. In the meantime, get on with making your filling.

Your sweet bean paste filling is already made and in the can. So open that can.

To make the custard filling mix 6 tsp each of custard powder and sugar with the coconut milk to a paste in a small pan over a low heat. Stir it quickly and keep stirring quickly as you add the remaining 3 tsp each of custard powder and sugar. Keep going until it thickens to an almost putty like consistency. Take off the heat and leave to cool.

Take your risen dough out and pull it in half, then half again until you have 16 equal pieces. Cut 16 squares of baking parchment/greaseproof paper about 4×4 cm.

Taking one piece at a time, roll it into a ball before flattening that ball out into a circle. Take a teaspoon of your filling and, using another teaspoon, scrape it off into the centre of the circle. Then take up opposite sides of the dough circle and pull them up to meet each other around the filling. Do this until you have a closed ball around the filling and pinch to secure it. Shape the bun a little with your hands so it’s smooth(ish) and then turn it so the seam is on its square of paper.

Put your buns in the steamer with six in each level to give them the space to expand as they cook. Stack your steamer up and put the lid on. Now fill the pan or wok you are using with a few inches of water, put the steamer on top and leave for 15 minutes to prove.

After the 15 minutes, turn the heat on and set it to high. Leave for 20 minutes. During this time the water will slowly boil and then cook the buns. After the 20 minutes turn the heat off but leave the lid of the steamer on to stop the bao just deflating when you suddenly expose the to cold air.

After those 5 minutes you’re ready to serve them warm. Enjoy!