Many childhood breakfasts, for me, involved mantou (饅頭). The little soft pillows of steamy goodness cycled in and out of my eating rotation, but mostly appeared during weekends. My family never made them (my mother and my grandmother were never interested in cooking anything that seemed complicated). So, we always bought them frozen in Chinatown made by a local company. I always ate them the same way: first by removing the outer skin, and then slowly unrolling with every bite. This ritual was never broken until my mantou stopped being produced in a rolled form.
Last weekend, when I was in Chinatown, I came very close to buying a package (I’m unsure if the local brand is still in existence – I suspect that it is not) when I had a food epiphany: “Why don’t I just try making them myself?” I make bread almost every weekend, without the aid of a stand mixer or a bread machine. It couldn’t be any more difficult, right?
Over the week, I’d been eying a few bao recipes. They are all similar, but the ratios of liquid, oil, and flour are slightly different.
I decided to start with a recipe on the Almost Bourdain blog. The flavor is right, but the texture is a little different from the mantou of my childhood. The center was nice and fluffy, but the outer layer of the bread was more of a “hard-chewy” instead of a “soft-chewy” consistency. I made no changes except to add a couple for tablespoons of water to really get the dough to come together.
So close and not quite, I’m ecstatic over results anyway. There was no reason for me to skip out on this, none whatsoever. Attempt #2 will happen when I’m doing eating this batch of bao.