We had a somewhat underwhelming experience at Buddha's Day last month, with the steamed custard buns least whelming of all. They were packaged ones, took half an hour to receive, and weren't vegan. Our friend Bec reminisced that custard bao were a pre-vegan favourite of hers, and I got to wondering whether I might be able to make them myself.
A few weeks later, we invited Bec and her family over for lunch and I embarked on a bun-steaming bonanza. I pulled some home-made seitan out of the freezer, sauteing it with onion and spices to make a mock-BBQ pork filling. Then I set about making a thick vegan-friendly custard filling, taking inspiration from China Sichuan Food. I made a double batch of yeasted bun dough, fashioning massive BBQ bao and slightly daintier dessert buns, and Michael stir-fried some Chinese broccoli while I supervised the bamboo steamers.
We took on the buns with gusto, and I had to remind everyone (myself included) to leave room for the custard ones. They were a worthy first effort, with hot, tearable white dough and a sweet, yellow centre. I couldn't help wishing that they were just a little sweeter outside, and a little fluffier, with a less floury flavour inside. But all that cornflour is what has the thick custard filling behaving so well, and I'll be reluctant to reduce it. Best of all, Bec seemed to get a kick out of them - mission accomplished.
Steamed custard buns
(based on this BBQ bun recipe by ErinWiko,
and a custard filling recipe on China Sichuan Food)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon caster sugar
1 x 7g packet instant dry yeast
1 cup warm water
3 cups plain flour
1 1/2 tablespoons custard powder
1/2 cup cornflour
100mL soy milk
1/3 cup caster sugar
3 tablespoons margarine
In a large bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder and salt. In a small bowl, whisk the sugar and dry yeast into the warm water. Give it a minute or two to check that it's foaming and live. Pour the yeasty water into the flour bowl and mix it all together thoroughly to form a dough. Knead the dough inside the bowl or on a clean lightly floured bench for 5-10 minutes, until smooth. Spray a clean bowl with oil, place the dough in it and roll it around to coat it in the oil, then cover the bowl with a tea towel. Leave the dough in a warm place to rise to double the size, about an hour.
In a small-medium saucepan, stir together the custard powder, cornflour and sugar. Whisk in the soy milk until it's as smooth as you can achieve. Set the saucepan over low-medium heat and add the margarine, stirring it as it melts. Gently cook and stir the custard, scraping the bottom and sides of the saucepan to prevent it from burning. Continue until the custard is thick and gluey, about 10 minutes, and turn off the heat. Beat out any lumps with some vigorous stirring, then set the custard aside to cool.
When the dough is ready, divide it into 12 equal portions. Lay out some baking paper to work on. Use a rolling pin to roll each portion into a circle, slightly thinner around the edge than in the middle. Spoon a rounded tablespoons of custard into the centre, then gather up the dough edges to fold it around the filling, pinching it together to close. Cut a small square of baking paper and set the bun seam side down on it and score a cross on the top, transferring the bun to a steamer. Repeat with the remaining dough and filling. Steam the buns for 10 minutes and serve them immediately.