Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Green Onion Bread Buns 蔥花麵包

Green onion (or scallion) bread is a popular bread in Chinese bakeries. I remember it is especially well-liked in Taiwan - they are everywhere and a comfort food for many people. Think of aromatic Chinese green onion pancakes (蔥油餅) and you know this can't go wrong. Green onions and eggs are always available in my house so this is a bread I bake quite often. Freshly-baked green onion bread fills the house with a wonderful aroma.

Always keen to experiment with different methods, I decided to try one which my sister recommended. She kept the entire dough under refrigeration overnight, and was very pleased with the end results. The bread was springy, chewy with a light texture.

This is very similar to the direct method, except the dough is fermented overnight for the first rise under very low temperature, which increases the elasticity and improves the flavor of the bread. This is also a good method to use when you prefer to split up the bread-making process over 2 days. Mix and knead the dough the night before, and enjoy freshly-baked buns the next day.

Makes 8 buns


300g (2 cups + 1 tbsp.) bread flour + some flour for dusting
5g (1.5 tsp) instant yeast
30g (2 tbsp) sugar
6g (1 tsp) salt
150g (1/2 cup + 2 tbsp) milk
1 large egg, lightly beaten

* cup and spoon measurements are based on scoop and sweep method.
example: scoop measuring cup directly into flour bag, sweep off excess and level with a knife

Green onion topping
6 stalks green onion (or scallion)
2 eggs
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
2 tbsp. melted butter (or olive oil)

a) Mix & Knead
Add the dry ingredients - bread flour, instant yeast, sugar, and salt in a large bowl. Make a well in the center and add milk and beaten egg. (note: I did not include butter in the dough since we are adding butter in the green onion topping.)

Using your hand or a large spoon, stir quickly in one direction to gradually incorporate the flour into the liquid. Mix till the ingredients are well-integrated. Dust work surface with some flour, turn the dough onto the work surface and start to knead. This dough feels quite sticky initially.

You will feel the dough become smoother and more pliable after some time of kneading. In addition to kneading, I also incorporate the "throw the dough" technique - every few minutes, hold the dough up and throw it onto the work surface, then fold it over itself. Do this about 10 times each time. This helps to develop the gluten and speed up the kneading process. Watch this video for the technique. (Note: combining "knead & throw" will create a more refined and even crumb structure with good gluten development.)

Knead and throw the dough until it is smooth, elastic and passes the window-pane test. This should take about 15-20 minutes. To do the window-pane test, stretch the dough and if it forms a thin membrane which allows light to come through and does not tear easily, it is done. 

b) First rise
Shape the dough into a ball. Place in a greased container with lid or covered with plastic wrap, and place it in the fridge for 12-16 hours.

The next day, the dough should increase in size. Remove the dough from fridge and allow it to come to room temperature (still covered).

c) Shape
Lightly dust the work surface, and turn dough out. Deflate dough by gently pressing down with your hands. Divide dough into 8 portions, shape them into balls, cover with plastic wrap and rest for 15 minutes.

After 15 minutes, roll out each piece of dough with rolling pin into an oval shape. Then roll-up the dough like a swiss-roll. Seal the open ends by pinching with your fingers. The sealed side will become the bottom part of the bun.

d) Second rise
Arrange the buns on a parchment paper lined baking tray. Using a razor blade or sharp knife, make a slit on each bun to allow green onion topping to sit on later. Put the tray in the oven (do not turn it on) for second rising till dough doubles in size. If the weather is cold, I also place a cup of hot water in the oven. Second rising should take about 30-50 minutes depending on weather. Remove it 15 minutes before rising is complete to preheat the oven.

Green Onion Topping
While waiting for second rise, make the green onion topping. Add eggs, salt, sugar, butter together and mix well. Chop up the green onions and set aside - do not add to the egg mixture yet (as it will release water if added too soon and become wilted later)

e) Bake
Preheat the oven to 355 deg F (180 deg C) about 15 minutes before dough is ready. Right before baking, add the chopped green onions to the egg mixture, and place a heap of green onion topping onto each bun. It is fine if the mixture overflows onto the tray. Bake for about 15-20 minutes until the buns turn a nice golden-brown color. Remove from oven and cool bread on rack.

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