Thursday, December 29, 2011

Sourdough Pancakes

Thanks to this month's Daring Bakers' Challenge, I have been spending a lot of time teaching myself about the wonderful world of sourdough. As I mentioned in that post, once my starter really got going, I started bookmarking all kinds of recipes and ideas of ways to incorporate sourdough (or, sourdough starter, really) into my everyday baking.

My first non-bread use of my starter came in the form of pancakes.

One thing about cooking or baking with sourdough is that, with many of the recipes, it takes a little bit of advance planning. Luckily, it is nothing too complicated, it's just that these recipes need a bit of extra time. Such was the case with the pancake recipe I selected. It was actually no big deal at all - the night before I planned on making the pancakes, I mixed together a "pancake starter," which was simply made by stirring together some of my still-as-of-yet-unnamed starter, flour and water - kind of like giving the starter a feed, just in slightly different proportions.

Give this a stir, cover with plastic wrap and go to sleep. See? Not complicated at all, just needed a little bit of advance thought.

The next morning, all that was left to do was to mix together a few additional ingredients,

and then incorporate those into my pancake starter.

Then, well, it's pancake batter! You know the drill... onto the griddle...

wait a couple of minutes...

(yeah, the sourdough made these bubble extra cool...)

Then flip and eat and enjoy!

Yeah, we ate them right out of the pan and were so excited to try them that I didn't take a picture... oops.

BUT, both little miss and I agreed that they were just okay. I mean, they were decent pancakes, but not our favorites. They were missing something. The recipe that I was following was actually for blueberry pancakes, but, well, it's December in the Mid-Atlantic... blueberries aren't exactly in season... so I just made the pancakes as, well, pancakes. But as I said, they were missing something.

So for pancake number two for each of us, we improvised.

Chocolate chips.

All I can say is GOOD CALL.

I know what you are thinking, "of course chocolate chips, chocolate makes everything better!" But this was beyond that. The combination of the tang from the sourdough and the sweetness of the chocolate chips was exactly what this recipe needed. (you know, in place of the blueberries, which probably would be just as delicious...)

Little miss and I were very happy with our breakfast that morning.

And, in case you are curious, I covered the un-used batter with plastic wrap and put it into the fridge so that we could have fresh pancakes the next morning. This recipe does make quite a bit of batter, so we had pancakes for three days in a row. But I promise - no one was complaining!

Chocolate Chip Sourdough Pancakes
(only slightly adapted from Macheesmo)

Pancake Starter:
1 cup sourdough starter
1 1/2 cups water
2 1/2 cups flour (I used 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour and 1 cup whole wheat flour)

The night before you want your pancakes (or if you want them for dinner, just do this at least four hours in advance), combine the starter, water and flour in a large bowl or container. Loosely cover and set aside until you are ready to make the batter.

Final Batter:
1 egg
2/3 cup milk
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons butter, melted
Rested pancake starter
Chocolate chips

Whisk together all of the batter ingredients, except for the starter (and the chocolate chips...), until well combined. Add the combined wet ingredients to the pancake starter and fold everything together until everything is mixed together, and is approximately the consistency of thick gravy.

To cook the pancakes, heat your pan or griddle until it is hot (a drop of water will dance when it hits the pan or griddle when it is hot enough). Melt some butter on the pan or griddle and pour 1/3 to 1/2 cup of batter at a time (these make pretty big pancakes) onto the surface. I used a small pan and made one pancake at a time, but you can make as many as your pan can accommodate. Once the batter has been poured onto the pan or griddle, sprinkle chocolate chips on top. We were very liberal with our chocolate chip sprinkling... Within a few minutes, you will see the edges begin to dry and lots of bubbles on the surface. That means your pancakes are ready to flip, so carefully flip them to cook the other side. Wait just a couple of minutes, and your pancakes are done!

Serve as you like them best - butter and syrups, a sprinkling of powdered sugar - whatever works for you.

Happy breakfast!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

December Daring Bakers' Challenge - Sourdough

No beating around the bush in an intro this month... this challenge was awesome.

Our Daring Bakers Host for December 2011 was Jessica of My Recipe Project and she showed us how fun it is to create Sour Dough bread in our own kitchens! She provided us with Sour Dough recipes from Bread Matters by AndrewWhitley as well as delicious recipes to use our Sour Dough Bread in from Tonia George's Things on Toast and Canteen's Great British Food!

Sourdough has actually been on my mind quite a bit recently. One of my bloggie friend (Hi, Jenni!) has been talking a bit about sourdough recently, and it really peaked my interest. I mean, I dabbled in wild yeast and levains once before, but I can't really call that an attempt at sourdough. And any research I have done about sourdoughs usually wound up confusing me - lots of talk about "hydration" and everything being carefully measured out by weight... it just seemed a bit overwhelming.

And then Jessica announced the challenge.

And I jumped in with both feet.

Me being me, I did a ton of reading about different methods of making sourdough starters. I mean, I fully intended to follow Jessica's recipe and methods very closely, but I wanted a better understanding of the whole process. Basically, the idea is to cultivate the wild yeasts and (healthy) bacteria that lie dormant in the flour. If you really dive into it, it is very scientific. But even if you don't, it is still pretty cool.

So we started out with some flour (whole wheat flour - less processed, more natural yeast to be activated) and some water. That's it. Just mix the two together.

Then cover it loosely and find a decently warm place for it to live for the next week or so...

Then, each day, as per Jessica's directions, we fed this. With more flour and water. Little miss helped.

Within four days, we were showing signs of life!

Yup, all those bubbles were exactly what I was hoping for. And it started smelling... well... yeasty. The best description I can think of for the smell was like a kind of sweet, kind of tangy beer-like smell. But that is a good thing. It means that everything was working like it was supposed to.

At this point, I noticed on the Daring Bakers forum that many of the more experienced sourdough bakers were discussing their existing sourdough starters. It seems that most folks maintain their starters for, well, ever. And, as it is a living thing that they maintain, they give their starters names. Hmmm... definitely something to consider.

Now, Jessica provided us with options. She provided with two options for starters and two options for breads to make with those starters. One option was for a rye-flour based starter, which would be used to make a rye sourdough loaf. As you may have noticed, I didn't go with that option. I followed the wheat starter process, and, now that my starter was alive and kicking, was ready to try my hand at the wheat based loaf recipe that was provided, for a French Country Bread.

The French Country Bread recipe is a little different from some of the other sourdough bread recipes I have seen. Generally, sourdough breads are made by combining sourdough starter (that has been "activated," or fed about four to twelve hours prior to beginning baking), flour, salt, and sometimes a bit of additional water into a dough, then allowing the dough to rest while the natural yeast does its job... yada, yada, yada, it's a very straightforward process. The French Country loaf had an extra step built into it - turning the sourdough starter into something called a "Production Leaven," then incorporating that leaven into a dough.

Creating the production leaven is basically just refreshing the starter, but in different proportions than a normal feed of the starter, and using a combination of both whole wheat and all purpose flour.

Jessica indicated that the leaven might be a bit stiff at this point. That it definitely was.

Then the leaven was set aside for a few hours. When it was done resting and ready to go, it was time to make the actual dough. Once again, this was a combination of the basics - flour, water and a bit of salt. This all comes together in a very sticky dough. Very. Sticky.

The dough is kneaded right on the counter, then the production leaven is placed right on top of it.

The whole thing is then kneaded a whole lot more (and I hand kneaded this - no KitchenAid used in this recipe. I really wanted to get a feel for the dough, and it is a very wet, sticky dough, so I really wanted to know what I was doing...), at which point it is ready to rest again. And this rest is achieved right on the counter, covered by a bowl.

This rest gives the natural yeasts time to activate and for the dough to aerate. At this point, the dough is ready to be shaped. Most sourdough breads are shaped in special proofing baskets (called a banneton), but I just used a round, plastic colander, lined with a very heavily floured dish towel.

And once again the dough rests. As you may have noticed, from start (or, well, starter...) to finish, the primary ingredient in sourdough bread is time.

So five hours later, we were ready to go. I turned the dough out onto a parchment paper covered baking sheet and scored it.

Then into the oven it went.

And then I got even more excited, because man did it smell good.

And 45 minutes, I saw something interesting. The bread rose kinda funny in the oven.

Looked a bit like a muppet, I thought...

But from a different angle...

Look! A rustic looking loaf of real sourdough bread!

The next morning, we cut into it.

Not too shabby. I was kinda hoping for more of those big, airy holes that you think of with these rustic loaves, but I am wondering if a more mature sourdough starter will help with that.

Regardless of the (lack of) airiness of the loaf's crumb, it tasted delicious.

And it's just the beginning. As I mentioned at the beginning, I did a ton of reading, and bookmarked a ton of recipes to try now that I have an actual starter. I have tried a few so far that I will share in future posts.

So now the question remains, what do I name my starter?

Jessica, I can't thank you enough for this amazing challenge. You have been an awesome, patient and enthusiastic host, answering more questions than I've ever seen asked about a single challenge. I am so excited to now have my very own sourdough starter, and I look forward to years of delicious sourdough baking, all thanks to you!

To see the delicious breads and sourdough creations baked in the kitchen this month, check the out here.

French Country Bread (starter and loaf)

Wheat Starter - Day 1:

4 1/2 tablespoons whole-wheat flour
3 tablespoons water
(total: scant 1/2 cup)

In a tupperware or other plastic container, mix the flour and water into a paste.
Gently cover (put the lid on loosely or cover loosely with plastic wrap) and set aside somewhere warm.

Wheat Starter - Day 2:

4 1/2 tablespoons whole-wheat flour
3 tablespoons water
scant 1/2 cup of starter from Day 1
(total: scant cup)

Stir the flour and water into the mixture from Day 1. Cover and return it to its warm place.

Wheat Starter - Day 3:

4 1/2 tablespoons whole-wheat flour
4 teaspoons water
scant 1 cup of starter from Day 2
(total: scant 1 1/3 cup)

Stir the flour and water into the mixture from day 2. Cover and return it to its warm place.

Wheat Starter - Day 4:

3/4 cup plus 1 1/2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup less 4 teaspoons water
scant 1 1/3 cup starter from Day 3
(total: scant 2 2/3 cup)

Stir the flour and water into the mixture from Day 3. Cover and return it to its warm place. At this point it should be bubbling and smell yeasty. If not, repeat this process for a further day or so until it is.

(note: be sure that your container can accommodate not only the starter, but the growth that it will experience as the yeast forms.)

French Country Bread
Stage 1: Refreshing the leaven

2 cup less 1 tablespoon of the wheat leaven starter created above (or another wheat starter, if you have one, refreshed per the day 4 instructions above)
6 tablespoons less 1 teaspoon whole wheat flour
1 cup plus 2 teaspoons unbleached all purpose flour
1/2 cup water

Mix everything into a sloppy dough. It may be fairly stiff at this stage. Cover and set aside for 4 hours, until bubbling and expanded slightly. (note: mine was very stiff and didn't really bubble, but it did expand a bit.)

Stage 2: Making the final dough

3/4 cup less 1 teaspoon whole wheat flour (plus more for dusting)
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons unbleached all purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 1/4 cups water
1 3/4 cups production leaven from above step (this will leave approximately 1 cup of extra production leaven, which you can save, discard or re-incorporate into your starter the next time you feed it, or use in another recipe of your choice)

Mix the dough with all of the ingredients except for the production leaven. It will be a soft dough.
Knead on an unfloured surface for about 8-10 minutes, getting the tips of your fingers wet if you need to. Use a dough-scraper (or washed, expired credit card, if you don't have a dough scraper) to stretch and fold the dough, making the dough smoother and more elastic.
Smooth the dough into a circle, then scoop the production leaven into the center. You want to fold the edges of the dough up to incorporate the leaven, though this might be a messy process. Continue kneading for a couple of minutes until the leaven is fully incorporated into the dough.
Spread some water on a clean bit of your work surface and lay the dough on top. Cover with an upturned bowl, lining the rim of the bowl with a bit of water. Leave for an hour, so that the gluten can develop and the yeasts can begin to aerate the dough.
Once the dough has rested, you can begin to stretch and fold it. Using wet hands and a dough scraper, stretch the dough away from you as far as you can without breaking it and fold it back on itself. Repeat this in each direction, to the right, towards you, and to the left. This will help create a more 'vertical' dough, ready for proofing.
Heavily flour a banneton or proofing basket (or a tea-towel lined bowl) with whole wheat flour and rest the dough, seam side up, in the basket. Put the basket in a large plastic bag, inflate it, and seal it (I covered mine with plastic wrap, as I did not have a large enough plastic bag). Set aside in a warm spot for 3-5 hours, or until it has expanded a fair bit. It is ready to bake when the dough responds to a gentle to a gentle poke by slowly pressing back into shape.
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, then carefully invert the dough onto the sheet. Make 2-3 cuts on top of the loaf (to allow for expansion) and bake for 40-50 minutes, reducing the temperature to 400 degrees after the first 10 minutes.
Cool completely on a cooling rack.


Saturday, December 24, 2011

Cookies for Santa (Peanut Butter Blossoms)

Is there anything better than creating holiday traditions with kids? Well, how about creating yummy holiday traditions with them?

One of the traditions in our house, as in many around the world, is making cookies to leave for Santa on Christmas Eve. To thank him for coming, and to give him a boost of energy for the rest of his trip.

This year, during a very fun horse-drawn carriage ride with Santa, little miss asked the big guy what his favorite kind of cookie was. The answer? Peanut butter. Hmm... Seems the jolly old fella has something in common with several of the folks in our house... So, of course, when I asked little miss what kind of cookies we were going to make today, she reminded me of Santa's request, and insisted that we make Peanut Butter Blossoms.

These are pretty easy to make, and are super delicious. And you know a recipe is going to be good when it starts out like this:

Yup, a whole stick of butter and a big ol' scoop of peanut butter. Some sugar, some vanilla, some flour, this cookie dough comes together really easily, and we were soon ready to shape the cookies.

The cookies themselves are just peanut butter cookies, shaped into balls and rolled in sugar.

The "blossom" comes as soon as the cookies are out of the oven.

In order to keep things moving along, we actually had a sort of assembly line going. I shaped the dough and rolled it in the sugar while little miss (with the help of wonderful Aunt D) unwrapped our Hershey's Kisses chocolates. Actually, little miss chose to make half of our cookies with Kisses, and half with Hugs, which are pretty much the same thing as the Kisses, just covered in white chocolate.

As soon as the cookies come out of the oven, a Kiss (or Hug) is carefully pressed into the middle of each cookie. The heat melts the bottom of the chocolate, adhering it to the cookie, and the pressure of pushing the candy into the cookie makes the cookies "crackle."

Pretty festive, isn't it?

We soon had our cooling racks full of delicious treats, all ready for Santa.

And maybe for someone else, as well.

Little miss carefully selected the two best cookies for Santa, and set them out with milk and a letter.

I think he'll be delighted.

Merry Christmas to all who celebrate, and I wish you all a wonderful holiday season!

Peanut Butter Blossoms
(from Hershey's)

48 Hershey's Kisses chocolates (though I usually only wind up with about 36 cookies...)
1/2 cup shortening (I use unsalted butter, at room temperature)
3/4 cup creamy peanut butter
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1 egg
2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
granulated sugar (for rolling the unbaked cookies)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and unwrap the chocolates.
Beat the shortening and peanut butter in a large bowl until well blended (I use my KitchenAid mixer). Add 1/3 cup granulated sugar and brown sugar, beat until fluffy. Add egg, milk and vanilla and beat well.
In a separate bowl, stir together the flour, baking soda and salt. Gradually beat the dry ingredients into the peanut butter mixture.
Shape the dough into 1-inch balls. Roll each ball in granulated sugar and place onto ungreased cookie sheet.
Bake for 8-10 minutes or until lightly browned.
Immediately press a chocolate into the center of each cookie. The cookie will crack around the edges.
Remove the cookies from the cookie sheet to a wire rack and allow them to cool completely.
Makes around 4 dozen (though I usually get about 3 dozen from this recipe...)


Saturday, December 17, 2011

Sweet Potatoes and Apples in Caramel Sauce

I know Thanksgiving was a couple of weeks ago, so everyone is probably all turkey-ed out, but in our house, we decided that there is no better time than, well, now for a Thanksgiving dinner repeat. Okay, it's partly because the grocery store had turkey on really, really good sale this week, and also partly because I'd been marveling recently as to how I have never actually cooked a turkey myself... whatever the reason, we had a pseudo-repeat-Thanksgiving last night, and it was delicious.

Now, if you ask little miss what her favorite part of the Thanksgiving meal is, she will always, always tell you that it is the yams. I'd like to think it is because sweet potatoes are, in and of themselves, so delicious, but in reality, it's because it's the only side dish that allows her to have marshmallows with her dinner. And, seriously, who can blame her...

So in looking for recipes in the run-up to this weeks pseudo-Thanksgiving, I knew candied yams had to be on the menu. Little miss loves the ones we have every year at my in-laws' house, so I almost just asked for that recipe, but did a quick bit of searching to see what other options I had.

And what I found spoke to me so loudly and so clearly, that I knew I'd be giving it a try.

This is a recipe for candied yams that includes apples, and rather than a fruity sauce, it is a caramel sauce. If marshmallows with dinner is good, think how good marshmallows and caramel would be with dinner! Winner.

I started by baking my sweet potatoes. Once they were cooled, I cut them into chunks and scattered them in my casserole dish along with chunks of apple. The recipe called for tart apples, but all I had were Gala, so I used those.

So far, pretty healthy looking, right?

Not for long.

Next? Take brown sugar and whisk it together with some cornstarch.

Add a tablespoon of butter and a pinch of salt, then pour boiling water over everything.

Transfer this to a pot, and cook the whole mixture until it starts to thicken and the liquid starts turning clear, you know, the way gravies do when they are done.

Pour the syrup over the sweet potatoes and apples, and bake.

I don't have pictures of this whole middle part, because by this time I was also working on stuffing and green beans, so the camera was all but forgotten for a few minutes...

But once the apples are tender, it is time for little miss's favorite part - the marshmallows. The recipe calls for mini-marshmallows to be scattered over the top. I used my homemade marshmallows, which I'd cut to the size of mini marshmallows.

A couple of minutes under the broiler, and voila:

Yummy ooey gooey goodness that we couldn't wait to taste.

And let me just tell you, it did not disappoint. It was so delicious, it was like dessert right next to the turkey and cranberry sauce.

Seriously, I told daddy that I want to turn this into a pie. And I think I may just play around with that idea, to be honest. This was so good, you absolutely have to give it a try. Soon.

Sweet Potatoes and Apples in Caramel Sauce

5 medium yams or sweet potatoes (I used 3 very large ones)
(or you could use 2 cans of canned yams or sweet potatoes, drained well)
3 tart apples (though I used Galas, and it worked beautifully)
2 cups boiling water
1 cup brown sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1 pinch salt
1 tablespoon butter

Cook the yams until they are just about done. Skin them and cut them into chunks. (If using canned, just drain them.) Layer the sweet potatoes with chunks of apple in a 9" x 13" glass dish/casserole.
To prepare the sauce, mix the brown sugar with the cornstarch and blend well. Add 2 cups of boiling water, slowly, along with the salt and the butter. Cook this over medium heat until the sauce has turned clear in color. (It will still be brown, but it will turn shiny and nice, you will know it when you see it.)
Pour the glaze over the yams and apples. Bake at 300 degrees for 1 hour, until the apples have softened.
Sprinkle the top with mini-marshmallows and melt them under the broiler. Watch it very closely, as they brown very quickly and you don't want them to burn.

Make this soon. I bet you'll love it!!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

December Daring Cooks Challenge - Char Sui Bao (Cantonese BBQ Pork Buns)

As you may have noticed, we love Asian cuisine around here. And I am seriously excited by trying to learn to prepare more of it at home. Not only is it cheaper and healthier than the take-out variety, but it is a ton of fun, too.

So you can imagine how excited I was when I saw the announcement for this month's challenge.

Our Daring Cooks' December 2011 hostess is Sara from Belly Rumbles! Sara chose awesome Char Sui Bao as our challenge, where we made the buns, Char Sui and filling from scratch - delicious!

This challenge involved two aspects - first, the Char Sui (Cantonese BBQ pork), then preparing the Boa, the buns (which, in itself, involved two aspects - the filling and the dough!). The whole challenge had my mouth watering from the get go, and had me very excited to pay a nice visit to the local Asian grocery. See, the actual list of ingredients for the marinade for the pork was pretty long, and involved a few specialty items. And even the not-so-specialty items, well, I knew I could save a buck or two if I got them at the Asian grocery. So off we went, list in hand, and came home with all kinds of fun ingredients, all ready to prepare our marinade.

The marinade was very easy to prepare. The hardest part for me was grating the fresh ginger root, something I have never actually done. My first attempt resulted in me, well, juicing it more than grating it, but I finally wound up with what I needed and was ready to proceed with the rest of the recipe. Which consists of a tablespoon or two of each of the ingredients you see above, all dumped into a bowl. Kind of like this.

A little whisking later, and all that was left to do was to pour it over the meat.

This then went into the fridge. I actually prepared the marinade and meat before bed one night, and let it rest in the fridge until I was ready to pop it in the oven the next evening, so it had plenty of time to really flavor the meat.

The result of all of that time was a really juicy, flavorful cut of meat.

This made for an outstanding dinner. Seriously, we had to stop ourselves from eating both pieces that we'd prepared, since we knew we needed the second piece for the second half of the challenge.

Daddy, little miss and I all absolutely loved it. Little man had to miss out on this one, since one of the ingredients in the marinade is hoisin sauce, for which I used the homemade hoisin sauce recipe that I'd provided to the Daring Cooks during the Moo Shu challenge, which happens to contain peanut butter. Next time I make this, I'll find a substitute, because I know he'd have loved this, too.

After that delicious dinner, we were all eagerly anticipating the next part of the challenge, the buns.

Sara provided us with two options regarding the buns - we could steam them or bake them, depending on preference and availability of kitchen tools (for steaming). I was so excited by this challenge that it was just the motivation I needed to finally purchase a bamboo steamer. Sara provided two dough recipes, too - one for each cooking method. I chose to follow the recipe given for the steamed buns, but, out of curiosity, decided to steam only half the buns and bake the other half. Call it a science experiment if you like, we just really wanted to see what the differences would be.

The dough is a sweet yeast dough, made with scalded milk, sugar, oil, salt and flour. A pretty basic dough and very quick to come together. I started the dough first.

Then I proceeded to prepare the filling, which mostly involved chopping the reserved Char Sui pork.

And chopping a couple of onions.

The onions and meat were tossed into a pan to be heated, and then a few sauces (oyster sauce and dark soy sauce, as well as some sesame oil) were added for extra flavor.

The resulting deliciousness was then thickened with a basic slurry (cornstarch whisked into chicken stock).

Then set aside to cool, while the dough finished resting.

At this point, it was time for the hands on part, the actual construction of the buns.

The dough recipe indicated that it would make 20 buns, but I divided it up into 16 portions, which worked really well. Each portion was hand-rolled into a ball, then flattened into a disc with a rolling pin.

Into each portion, I spooned a tablespoon or so of the prepared filling.

I then tried like heck to seal each bun using the process shown in this video, provided to us by Sara. It is not as easy as it looks, but I wound up with some buns that, well, kinda looked something like they were supposed to...

I cut little squares of parchment paper to go under each bun in the steamer to make the steamer easier to clean, also. Half of the buns went into the steamer baskets, and the other half (which, luckily, didn't need to have those cool pleats), went onto a baking sheet.

Funny enough, both sets of buns cook, via their own method, for about the same amount of time. Very convenient! So fifteen minutes later, dinner was ready!

I am so glad that I tried both cooking methods simultaneously, because comparing them side by side was really interesting. The steamed buns expanded more during the cooking process, and the baked buns retained more of the sweetness of the dough. The steamed buns both looked and tasted more authentic, but the baked buns were a bigger hit with little miss (no surprise there!).

But they were both absolutely delicious.

Sara, thank you so much for this amazing challenge. I will definitely be making everything again, both the delicious Char Sui and the awesome Bao. I can't wait to try all kinds of different fillings for those buns, too, and to play with my new bamboo steamer, as well!

You can check out the work of my fellow Daring Cooks here.

And here are the recipes I used, as presented in Sara's challenge (and the changes that I made are noted), which I highly recommend trying out for yourself!

Char Sui

1 pork filet/tenderloin (roughly 1 - 1 1/2 pounds)
4 large cloves of garlic, crushed
1 teaspoin (3 gm) ginger, grated
1 tablespoon peanut oil
1 1/2 tablespoons maltose (a sweetener. You can substitute honey for this, which is what I did)
1 1/2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
1 tablespoon light soy sauce
1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
1 teaspoon oyster sauce
1 tablespoon shaoxing cooking wine
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
pinch of salt
1/2 teaspoon five spice powder
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon pillar box red food coloring (I omitted this)

Trim the pork loin to remove the fat and tendon and slice the meat lengthwise so that you have two long pieces. Then cut each piece in half. By cutting the pork into smaller pieces to marinate them, you will end up with more flavorsome char sui. If you want to leave the pork in once piece, you can do that as well. Place the meat into the container in which it will be marinated.
Combine all the other ingredients in a bowl and mix well to combine
Cover the pork well with 2/3 of the marinade mixture, reserving the remaining 1/3 covered in the fridge for use in basting the meat while cooking. (I actually poured all of the marinade over the pork and it worked out very well.) Marinate at least four hours or overnight.
When ready to cook, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Cover a baking dish or tray with foil. Place a cooking rack onto the prepared dish or tray on which to cook the pork. (I do not have an oven-appropriate rack, so I cooked my pork directly on the foil, which I'd sprayed with non-stick cooking spray.)
Transfer the meat from the dish in which it was marinated to the baking dish or rack.
Bake for ten minutes at 350, basting and turning the meat.
Raise the oven temperature to 400 degrees and cook for 20 minutes more, until the meat is cooked through.
I used bigger pieces of pork, so I cooked my meat at 350 for 15 minutes, then at 400 for 40 minutes. I then turned the oven to the broil setting and cooked each side for just a couple of minutes to help char the outsides.
If you would like, you can also grill the meat (rather than oven baking it), or you can sear it in a pan prior to putting it in the oven.

Char Sui Bao

for the dough:
1 cup milk, scalded
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon oil (I used canola, but the recipe didn't specify)
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 teaspoons dried yeast (I used active dry)
3 cups plain flour (I used all purpose)

Scald the milk, then stir in the sugar, oil and salt. Leave this mixture to cool until it is lukewarm. Once the temperature is right (around 105-110 degrees), add the yeast, then let it sit until the yeast is activated and the mixture becomes frothy, about 10-15 minutes.
Sift the flour into a large bowl.
Add the milk/yeast mixture to the flour. Bring the flour mixture together with your hands, then knead on a lightly floured surface for approximately ten minutes. (I sifted the flour into the bowl of my KitchenAid mixer, then used the dough hook and incorporated the milk/yeast and did the kneading all in the machine, which worked out great.)
Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl (I kept it in the KitchenAid's bowl, just gave it a little spray of oil on top) and cover with a damp cloth. Leave it to rise until it doubles in size, 1 - 2 hours, depending on the temperature of your kitchen.

for the filling:
12 ounces prepared char sui, finely diced
2 shallots, finely diced (I used onions as I did not have shallots in the house)
1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1/4 cup chicken stock
1 teaspoon cornflour (corn starch)
1/2 tablespoon vegetable oil

Heat the vegetable oil in a wok or pan. Add the diced char sui to the pan and stir, then add the onions. Cook for one minute. Add the soy sauce, oyster sauce and sesame oil and stir fry for another minute. Whisk the cornflour and stock together, then add to the pork mixture in the pan. Stir well and keep cooking until the mixture thickens, about one or two minutes. Remove the mixture from the pan and place into a bowl to cool. Set aside until ready to use.

To prepare the buns:
Once the dough has doubled in size, gently deflate it and divide it into 20 portions (I did 16 and the sizing worked great). Roll each portion into a round ball.
Use a rolling pin to roll each ball into a circle approximately two inches in diameter. Using your hands, gently pull the edges out to enlarge the circle to about three inches in diameter (mine were a little bigger) (this makes the edges thinner than the center, keeping the center of the bun stronger for the filling, and keeping it from cracking).
Place a good sized tablespoon of filling into the middle of the circle of dough.
Gather the edges of the dough and seal the bun.

If baking the buns:
Place the bun on a parchment covered baking sheet, seam side down.
Preheat your oven to 392 degrees F (200 degrees C, converted exactly, is 392. Close to 400 on your dial, for those of us whose ovens aren't quite that precise...).
Brush the top of each bun with egg wash (if desired).
Bake for 15 minutes, until golden brown.

If steaming the buns:
Place the bun on a square of parchment paper inside the steamer basket, seam side up (you can attempt the pleating method in the video above, if you are so inclined). Set your pan of water on to simmer.
Place your steamer basket(s) over the pan of water, covered, and steam for 12-15 minutes.

I promise, it's actually quite a simple process, and is absolutely delicious.

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