Charcoal Buns with Green Tea Matcha Custard Filling

It’s time for some oozy-gooey-flowy matcha.

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Ok so some people seem to get disgusted by the idea of a green sticky filling. Reminds them of snot or something. Well it’s time to open your mind and broaden your horizons because there’s a whole world out there waiting for you to explore. And some of that world consists of green custard, alright?

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The green custard is restrained by charcoal bread, which colour is more for dramatic effect rather than any health benefits, really. Charcoal powder is used quite commonly in Asian baking. I’ve used it before in my Charcoal Bread with Salted Egg Yolk Filling, but this time I’m going to be using a different recipe which I think yields a softer bun.

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Get some dramatic sunrise lighting on those buns.

Charcoal Buns with Green Tea Matcha Filling

If your ability to wrap a filling is better than mine, you’ll probably end up with more custard in your buns. And for those that haven’t eaten matcha before it’s like ground-up green tea, also commonly used in Asian cooking. It kinda has a mildly bitter, earthy taste, but I think it complements sweet things really well.

I used my standard Asian-style bread recipe originally used here, and just adjusted for the charcoal powder. I got the recipe for the filling from here.

Ingredients (makes about 12 buns)

Green Tea Custard

  • 1 egg yolk
  • 60g sugar
  • 10g flour
  • 10g matcha powder
  • 250ml milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla

Water roux

  • 75g water (1/3 cup)
  • 14g plain flour (1 1/2 tbsp)
  • 1/8 tsp salt

Bread dough

  • 300g bread flour (2 1/2 cup minus about a tbsp)
  • 14g charcoal powder
  • 1 packet instant dry yeast
  • 25g granulated sugar (2 tbsp)
  • 110g heavy cream (1/3 cup)
  • 100g sweetened condensed milk (1/3 cup)
  • 1 large egg white
  • 37g unsalted butter, softened (2 1/2 tbsp)

Method

Matcha Custard

  1. In a pot, whisk together the egg yolk, sugar, flour, and green tea powder.
  2. Add in the milk and set over medium-high heat. Heat until the custard thickens, stirring continuously.
  3. When the custard is thick enough that when you dribble a bit back in the dribble briefly retains its shape, take off the heat and stir in the vanilla.
  4. Divide up the custard into tbsp-sized portions and place on a lined baking sheet (making sure you have at least 12 portions, or however many buns you want to make). Freeze until solid.

Water roux

  1. Mix the water, flour, and salt together in a microwave-proof bowl until there are no lumps.
  2. Microwave on high at 15 seconds intervals, whisking the mixture until smooth every time you take the bowl out of the microwave. The mixture is ready when it is thick and leaves behind ribbons.
  3. Set aside to cool to room temperature.

Bread dough

  1. Mix together the bread flour, charcoal powder, yeast, and sugar. Then add the water roux, heavy cream, sweetened condensed milk, and egg white. Knead well until the mixture is smooth and elastic.
  2. Add the softened butter in 3 additions, adding a new addition after the butter has been well incorporated into the bowl. Keep kneading until your bread reaches windowpane stage.
  3. Cover with a piece of oiled clingfilm and let rise until doubled in size, about 1.5 hours.
  4. Knock down the bread dough and split the dough into 12 equal pieces. Shape each dough piece into a ball shape, and roll flat.
  5. Place a tbsp of the frozen matcha custard in the middle of the dough disc, and wrap the dough around the custard well, making sure to seal tightly.
  6. Let the buns rise until doubled in size, about 1.5h.
  7. After doubled in size, brush the tops of the buns with some oil and sprinkle some sesame seeds on top.
  8. Bake at 200ºC for 15-17 mins.

Notes

  • The frozen custard dough will retard the second rise of the dough, take that into consideration when planning the bake.
  • It can be difficult to judge when the bread is done since it is so dark, I just judged it by smell.
  • The times given for proofing the dough are a rough guide, since it is very dependent on temperature. Follow the visual cues (ie doubled in size) rather than the exact timing.
  • You have to use ground up matcha powder don’t use green tea leaves.
  • Make sure to seal the buns well!! The custard is super gooey and will seep out of any holes you’ve missed.
  • Use vanilla essence/extract whichever you prefer.
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Roasted Pork Belly Bao

I impulse-bought a steamer and it’s finally time to use it.

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The bao (buns) here are more like sliders rather than the enclosed packages you’ll see more often in dim sum restaurants. In this recipe roasted pork belly is used, rather than the fattier, softer braised pork belly which I usually get in Singapore (kong bak bao/扣肉包). Still tasty! Just in a different way.

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I thought this was a really good recipe for bao and will definitely use it again for future attempts. So soft! So tender! So fluffy!

I think this was because of the almost scary amounts of animal fat that went into the buns. Sorry, vegetarians. I’m sure you all can use shortening or something instead.

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My balls of dough with the marginalised runt of the litter.

pork belly bao process

And here’s a picture of a lonely bao getting shaped.

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And then after you steam the buns any small imperfections you make disappear as they poof up to steamy, fluffy goodness.

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I guess bao are kind of like Asian burgers? In that they’re both carbohydrate vehicles of fillings which common destination is your mouth. Except bao’s steamed.

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Garnish with some slightly crunchy cucumber pickles to lighten up the flavour (and provide some greens for your diet you unhealthy pig). Usually I eat these types of buns with some Chinese cabbage (生菜) or pickled vegetables (梅菜) but cucumbers are a lot easier to come by in London. The sweetness of the hoisin sauce and the savouriness of the scallions also complements the salty-sweet umami of the pork belly to deliver one heck of a fat-filled bite-sized package to your mouth.

Pork Belly Buns Bao (2)

Pork Belly Buns Bao (1)

I got the recipe from from here, which adapted the recipe from the Momofuku cookbook, which y’know, is famous for their pork bao. The recipe was a little lacking though – should definitely have read the comments before starting. For one thing the pork belly turned out wayyy too salty. Turns out you’re supposed to wash the brine off the meat first before you roast it.

Also, David Chang (of Momofuku) later posted the pork belly recipe on lucky peach with DIFFERENT TIMINGS. WHO DO I TRUST. Ended up listing temperatures and timings somewhere in the middle below, but go with your gut man.

In the recipe below I also changed when to add the fat into the bao (see notes), and made the cucumber pickle more sweet because again, I thought it was too salty. I also converted some of the ingredients to grams.

Ingredients

Pork belly (makes 12 portions, each portion being a palm sized bao)

  • 6 pieces sliced skinless pork belly, about 600g in total
  • 1/8 cup salt
  • 1/8 cup sugar
  • Some freshly ground black pepper

Steamed buns (makes about 22, halve if you want to have the exact(ish) number of buns but they freeze easily and it’s difficult to halve this recipe due to the tiny amounts of some ingredients so I made the full 22)

  • 6g yeast (about 1/2 tbsp)
  • 270g bread flour (about 2 cups)
  • 38g sugar (3 tbsp)
  • 3 tbsp skimmed dry milk powder
  • 1/2 tbsp salt
  • 1/4 rounded tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 177g water (about 3/4 cups)
  • 40g rendered pork fat/shortening/oil in the liquid state, room/body temperature (see notes)
  • Vegetable oil to oil surfaces

To assemble

  • Hoisin sauce (you use about 2 tsp per bao so 24 tsp I guess?)
  • About 6 stalks scallions, cut diagonally for a e s t h e t i c s
  • 1 long cucumber, cut into 1/8-inch slices (yes, I know that the cucumber in my pictures are a lot thicker than that but I don’t have a mandolin give me a break)
  • 3 tbsp sugar
  • 1/2 tbsp salt

Method

Pork belly

  1. Place the pork belly in a roasting pan that holds it snugly, fat side up.
  2. In a bowl, combine the salt and sugar. Rub the mixture all over the pork. Grind some black pepper all over the pork and rub that in too.
  3. Cover the pork with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight (no longer than 24h).
  4. The next morning (or whatever), preheat the oven to 230°C (450°F).
  5. Discard any liquid that has accumulated in the pan. Give the meat a wash to get rid of the excess salt.
  6. Place the meat back in the pan, making sure the meat fits snugly. It’s important that it’s snug so it stays moist (I think)! Use a ramekin or some other oven-safe thing to crowd the pork belly if your pan is too big.
  7. Put the pork belly in the oven for about 40 mins, basting it with the rendered fat halfway through, until the meat is golden brown.
  8. Turn the oven temperature down to 120°C (250°F) and cook until pork is tender, about an hour more.
  9. Let the pork belly cool to room temperature before wrapping it tightly in cling film and refrigerating it, so it’s easier to cut to size.
  10. To reheat the pork belly, brown it again in oil or warm it up in a little water in a covered pan.

Steamed buns

  1. Stir together the yeast, flour, sugar, milk powder, salt, baking powder, and baking soda. Then add in 177g of water and knead until soft and elastic.
  2. Add in the fat and knead the fat into the dough. It might seem like too much fat at first but woah let me tell you dough can really tolerate a lot of fat. Makes you think about how much fat is in the bread you usually eat. Fat.
  3. Knead until the dough is super soft and elastic. Then cover with clingfilm and let it rise until doubled in size, about 1 hour 15 mins.
  4. When the dough is doubled in size, punch the dough down. Weigh out 25g portions of dough and shape each portion into a ball. Set each portion down on an oiled baking sheet.
  5. Cover the balls with oiled cling film and let them rise for 30 mins. While they are rising, cut out 22 pieces (or however many dough balls you got) of 10x10cm (or 4″) squares of baking paper.
  6. After 30 mins, use an oiled rolling pin to roll each ball into a 10cm long oval (or 4″, you don’t have to be too exact).
  7. Brush the top lightly with some vegetable oil, and place an oiled chopstick horizontally across the centre of the oval. Fold the oval over itself to form a bun. Gently pull out the chopstick, leaving the bun folded, and transfer the bun to a square of baking paper (see notes about giving your buns an overbite).
  8. Cover the buns with oiled clingfilm and let them rest for 45 mins.
  9. Set a steamer on top of a saucepan of water at a rolling boil. Working in batches so you don’t crowd the steamer, steam the buns on the parchment squares for 10 mins.
  10. To freeze the buns, allow them to cool to room temperature and freeze for up to 2 months. Reheat them in a steamer for 2-3 mins until warmed all the way through.

To assemble

  1. To make a quick cucumber pickle, combine the sliced cucumbers with 3 tbsp sugar and 1/2 tbsp salt in a bowl and toss to coat. Let it sit for 5-10 mins. Before use, dab the cucumber slices on some paper towels to get rid of some excess fluid.
  2. Open a warm bun and spread about 2 tsp of hoisin sauce on the inside (see notes).
  3. Add a piece of pork belly, a couple of slices of cucumber pickle, and some sliced scallions.

Notes

  • I kneaded the fat into the dough after kneading the flour and water together (as compared to the original recipe which just kneads everything together in one step) because I found that doing it this way usually results in softer, fluffier bread (or in this case bao).
  • I definitely did not get enough rendered fat out of the pork belly to put in the bao as some iterations of this recipe claimed to be able to achieve, so I’d suggest buying some lard or shortening to top up. I got about 10g of rendered fat, and topped up with some tallow and rendered lamb fat that my housemate had lying around in the fridge, as well as some vegetable oil. Make sure to melt your fat down to liquid first, and cool to body temperature before using in your bao.
  • I found that when shaping the bao it might be better to give the bao a bit of an overbite (ie the top half hanging over the bottom like this) just so it can stretch over your fillings better at the end.
  • If, like me, you have a bit of a sweet tooth (or if your pork belly turns out too salty) mix some honey into your hoisin sauce to spread on the bun.
  • I think my pork belly turned out a little too black so I’ve reduced the timings listed in the recipe above (probably because I’m using less meat and my pork belly was already sliced).
  • Overall though I still prefer steamed baos with braised pork belly rather than roasted pork belly. I subsequently made a batch of braised pork belly with this recipe and was really pleased with how it tasted with the bao. Here’s a pic (I ate it with some shiitake mushrooms that were stewing together with the pork).

Braised Pork Bun Bao

Salmon and Pak Choi Quiche

For when you think to yourself “you know what, I think this quiche needs to be more Asian”.

Which is never.

Salmon and Pak Choi Quiche

But just like eating pasta with chopsticks, coating mac and cheese with panko, and dipping everything in Kewpie mayo, sometimes combining the East and West in my kitchen is just better.

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Cutting the pak choi this way looks aesthetic but it makes the quiche really difficult to cut. I lost like half my filling trying to saw my way through the leaves for this cross-section shot. If you’re not going to show anyone your quiche just cut the pak choi up into small pieces man. Also the quiche might cook more evenly since I found that the quiche filling around the pak choi tended to be more runny.

I got this recipe from the Great British Bake Off! I really liked the flavour of the quiche. The filling itself was really soft and delicate, and the sesame seeds in the pastry added some aroma and complemented the Asian flavours of the filing.

Ingredients

Pastry

  • 250g plain flour, sifted
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp toasted sesame seeds
  • 150g unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten

Filling

  • 400g salmon fillets, skinned
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 3 eggs
  • 300ml double cream
  • 2 pak choi, sliced in half lengthways

Method

Pastry

  1. Mix the flour, salt and sesame seeds in a medium bowl and make a well in the centre.
  2. Beat together the butter and half the beaten eggs in a small bowl and gradually mix into the flour mixture to make a soft dough. Lightly knead the dough on a floured board until smooth then wrap in cling film and chill for at least 20 minutes.

Filling

  1. Season the salmon with salt and pepper and bake at 180°C for about 20 mins or until just cooked through. Let the fish cool a little before flaking into small pieces.
  2. Turn the oven up to 190°C.
  3. Roll the pastry out on a floured board and line a greased 23cm loose-bottomed tart tin (although I used a 20cm cake tin it’s cool). Chill for 15 minutes then prick the base with a fork, line with aluminium foil and baking beans and bake for 15 minutes.
  4. Remove the foil and baking beans, brush the base of the tart case with the remaining beaten egg from the pastry ingredients and bake for five more minutes.
  5. Remove the tin from the oven and turn the temperature down to 180°C.
  6. Arrange the salmon over the base of the tart case and drizzle over the soy sauce.
  7. Mix the eggs with the cream in a jug, season with salt and black pepper then pour three quarters of the mixture over the salmon. Arrange the pak choi on top, cut side up, and pour over the remaining egg mixture. Bake in the oven for about 35 minutes or until the filling is golden brown and just set.

Notes

  • I’ve tried this recipe two times and both times I’ve undercooked the filling. I think either cutting up the pak choi to ugly-but-practical small bits or just letting it bake much longer than you expect should solve this.

Peach Nerikiri (Japanese Sweet Bean Paste Confectionery)

Or how to waste 1.5 hours of your life mashing beans.

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It’s Hina-Matsuri today in Japan! Or Girls’ Day/Doll Festival.

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I’ve always wanted to try making wagashi, or traditional Japanese confections. And since Hina-Matsuri is also called Momo-no-Sekku (Peach Festival), I thought it’d be perfect to start off simple with some basic nerikiri shaped like a peach.

This is a really dumbed-down recipe and the technique is probably not traditional in the slightest. But hey gotta start somewhere.

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Don’t mind this awkwardly placed ball of clingfilm.

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Nerikiri is made of shiro-an (sweetened white bean paste) mixed with some shiratamako (mochi flour, see notes). If you’ve tried red bean paste before, I feel like shiro-an has a bit of a more delicate flavour, and is less earthy.

Also although mochi flour is mixed in, it really does not have the texture of mochi. It legitimately tastes like sweetened beans mushed together, which is a common motif in Asian desserts. If you’ve not tried sweetened bean paste before I recommend giving it a try, it opens up a whole new world of dessert.

If the peaches at the back looks uglier, that’s because they were made by me and not my more artistic housemate.

peach-nerikiri

This peach nerikiri is also cute because it looks like a butt.

I combined the recipes from here and here.

Ingredients (makes 3)

Shiro-an (sweetened white bean paste)

  • 1 can cannellini beans (235g dried weight)
  • 75g granulated sugar

Nerikiri

  • 150g shiro-an
  • 12g shiratamako (mochi flour/sweet glutinous rice flour, see notes)
  • 20g water
  • Red food colouring
  • Leaves for decorating (I used watercress, lol)

Method

Shiro-an

  1. Drain the beans thoroughly and mash through a strainer. Apparently this step is easier if you skin the beans first but it was honestly a pain and it was easier to just start mashing and pick out the skins as you go. I ended up with about 190g of strained beans.
  2. Put the strained beans in a saucepan and add the sugar. Stir until thickened. The paste will cool down as it cools.

Nerikiri

  1. Mix the shiratamako with the water in a saucepan, and heat over medium heat until dissolved and well heated.
  2. Add in the shiro-an and mix until thickened to a mouldable consistency. If it’s still not mouldable after a while gradually add more shiratamako until mouldable.
  3. Separate 2/3 of the dough and set aside. Add some food colouring to the remaining 1/3 of the dough until it’s a light pink.
  4. Place a piece of clingfilm onto a work surface. Add a piece of white dough onto the clingfilm, and a smaller piece of the pink dough next to it. Gather the loose ends of the clingfilm into a ball and mould into a peach shape (or if you suck at crafting like me, get your housemate to do it). Use the clingfilm and a back of a spoon to help smooth the surface out.
  5. Use the back of a knife to indent the dough midway, creating the seam of the peach.
  6. Use any appropriate leaves for decoration. You should probably not eat them together with the nerikiri it’s just to look pretty.

Notes

  • I used a Chinese type of glutinous rice flour, and did not reach the desired mouldable consistency with the amounts recommended. Just needed a bit more to reach the right texture. It’s probably because mochi flour may be slightly different and more appropriate, so I’d recommend going for that if it’s available.
  • If you like sweet beans like me, here are some green tea buns with sweetened red bean filling that I’ve made before.
  • I actually made twice the amount of shiro-an as listed in this recipe (for an upcoming recipe!), that’s why I took 1.5 hours. I was also watching some serious anime so you’d probably take less time than me don’t be alarmed.

Hōjicha and Honey Ice Cream (Roasted Green Tea Ice Cream)

The smokey, lightly tannic flavour of hōjicha is tamed by the mellow sweetness of honey and the richness of cream. A lot of cream.

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Let me start off by showing off how fresh my egg yolks were.

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Hōjicha is basically roasted green tea, and this roasting process gives a slightly toasted flavour to the tea. It tastes less bitter, and is also overall lighter on the tongue.

It also supposedly has less caffeine than regular green tea but eh.

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I’ve wanted to make hōjicha ice cream ever since my trip to Hokkaido. I thought that green tea would be the default tea served there, but turns out hōjicha seemed to be more popular.

Also, who needs a whisk when you have a chopstick. Just the one.

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You end up with a beautifully rich ice cream – luscious, creamy, and smooth. The overnight cold infusion of the tea leaves also results in a more delicate flavour, so you get an intense flavour without the bitterness of over-steeped tea.

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The base recipe is the same as the one in my Matcha Ice Cream, which was based off one of icecreamscience‘s recipes.

Ingredients

  • 417g double cream (see notes)
  • 319g semi-skimmed milk
  • 46g skimmed milk powder
  • 120g sugar
  • 78g egg yolks (about 4 eggs)
  • 6 hōjicha tea bags
  • 1-2 tbsp honey

Method

  1. Mix yolks, sugar, skimmed milk powder vigorously together in a large saucepan. This is to stop the yolks from curdling.
  2. Mix in the cream and milk.
  3. Heat the mixture over medium heat, stirring constantly. You’re aiming to hold the mixture at about 71°C for about 20 mins to reduce the mixture by 15% by weight. If you don’t have a thermometer, you can just try to hold the mixture at the point when it’s steaming slightly (not too much and DEFINITELY not at a boil) and reduce it till it coats the back of your spoon. If you overheat your mixture you will get an eggy hydrogen sulfide taste.
  4. Transfer the ice cream mixture to a large container and add in your hōjicha tea leaves (if using tea bags cut open the bags). Add in the honey, and mix.
  5. Cool the mixture down as fast as you can, preferably by cooling it in a container in an ice bath. Once it’s cool put it in the fridge to age overnight. This is to reduce the bacteria growing so the ice cream keeps for longer, as well as to allow the flavour of the tea to infuse.
  6. The next day, sieve the mixture. Press the remaining tea leaves against the sift to get the last bits of flavour out.
  7. Put the sieved ice cream mixture into your ice cream machine.
  8. When the ice cream reaches the texture desired, stop churning and immediately store your ice cream in the freezer set at the lowest temperature (orrr you could just eat it straight away).
  9. To eat, allow to thaw for 10 mins first.

Notes

  • If you know the fat percentage of the cream you’re using, you can use other cream. Go to icecreamscience’s original blog post to calculate the adjusted recipe amounts (he has an excel sheet).
  • Holding the ice cream at 71°C makes the proteins in the milk undergo reversible unfolding which contributes to the creamy texture of the ice cream.
  • If your freezer can’t go as low as -18°C (like mine), I recommend eating the ice cream within a day or two. It can get icy if you can’t store it at low enough temperatures.