If you’re in New York City on any given weekday morning, on any given street, someone is walking with bagel in hand. If you’re in Paris, it’s a baguette. In Beijing, you can bet it’s going to be mantou, that ubiquitous fluffy white bun and most simple of the street foods. Seldom eaten on its own, mantou is often enjoyed as a starchy staple in the company of warm soy milk, a steamy cup of green tea, or a hearty rice porridge. At times, particularly later in the morning to early afternoon, mantou meets the grill, is sliced open, and is filled with all kinds of goodies as in the Paocai Kaomantou. That’s one popular barbarian head!
One winter’s morning in Beijing, the winds out of the north were brutal, as we were venturing out to show a filmmaker friend of ours, Tim, a good time on the Great Wall. “It’s not cold enough, let’s go up a mountain!” Crazy. We were shooting a web series we produced for Asia Society called China in Plain English. Look it up. Anyway, before heading out, we decided to carbo-load and sat for a wonderful warming breakfast of Mantou, Egg-Drop Soup, Tofu “Brains”, and crispy, thick Fried Dough Sticks. We highly suggest it and the Great Wall in winter. Brrr.
- Total Time: 2 hours, 45 minutes
- Serves: 4–6
- 3½ cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
- 2 tsp rapid rise yeast
- ½ tsp salt
- 2 Tbsp granulated sugar
- 1 cup warm water, plus more for steaming
- 1 Tbsp vegetable oil
- In a large mixing bowl or the bowl of stand mixer, whisk together flour, yeast, salt, and sugar. Using clean hands or the dough hook of the stand mixer, incorporate water and oil until a smooth dough forms.
- Dust the counter-top or work surface with additional flour and transfer the dough onto the flour. Dust the top of the dough, knead, and form the dough into a ball. Transfer the dough to a large, clean, lightly oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Allow the dough to double in size, about one hour to 90 minutes.
- Uncover the dough, dust the work surface with flour, transfer the dough atop the flour, and evenly hand-roll it into a 2-inch-thick log. Cut the dough into 2-inch pieces. Roll each dough piece into a ball. Prepare steamer baskets by lining them with cheesecloth or parchment paper. (We prefer to cut individual 3-inch x 3-inch squares of parchment paper for individual buns.) Place the dough balls atop the lining, about 2 inches apart. Cover the steamer basket(s) with their matching lid. Let the dough balls rest for 20 minutes.
- Place a skillet or pot over medium heat, fill with 2 inches of water, and bring to a boil. Carefully place the steamer baskets atop the pot of boiling water, cover, and steam the buns for 12 minutes.
- This dough and a similar process is used for a variety of recipes in this book, including Steamed Eggplant or Pork Buns and Pan-Fried Buns.
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