I’ve been wanting to post for days, but nothing comes to mind. No fantastical dreams, no bread-shaped plants vying for my attention in the rain-sodden yards of my neighborhood. So I suppose this will be a post of the spontaneous sort, the type where I sit down and write and hope something good comes of it.
It’s been two days since I wrote that blurb above. Time to try again.
Lately I’ve been trying to play cello again. It’s been an uphill battle. My brain thinks it remembers the fingerings. In my sleep I can remember the strings vibrating underneath my fingers as the bow soars across the strings. Then when I sit down and set the horsehair to steel, all the years I once spent practicing melt away. The wood and strings beneath my fingers feel harsh and foreign, the bow clunky and heavy. My fingers scramble to find the positions they once knew so well. And a few screeching lines in, my shoulder blades begin to protest and my arms begin to droop.
My attempts to coax music out of my beloved instrument have been met by unyielding resistance.
Bread dough though, that’s a different matter. Perhaps there is a learning curve to baking bread. But it’s not the callused fingers and bitter tears kind of trajectory. The reward comes quickly when in as little as an hour, the magical smell of warm yeast unfurls in warm waves. And when your floured hand sinks poof into the soft dome, the gentle exhale and the light spring of the warm dough are almost as satisfying as the pitch-perfect resonance of a slow vibrato.
It may be a while before my stiff, rusty fingers are able to pull stirring melodies from my reluctant cello strings. Until then, there’s always the welcoming catharsis of punching down dough with the fury of a lover spurned.
肉鬆麵包 (Pork Floss Buns)
Makes 12 buns. Sounds weird but tastes good, I promise. This is my spin on a Chinese bakery classic. Bread recipe from here.
2/3 cup heavy cream, room temperature
1 cup + 1 tbsp milk, room temperature
1 large egg, room temperature
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup cake flour
3 1/2 cups bread flour
1 tbsp active dry yeast
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups pork floss (肉鬆, easily obtainable at a Chinese supermarket)
1/4 cup furikake
1/3 cup Kewpie mayo
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tbsp sugar dissolved in 1 tbsp hot water
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment, add the heavy cream, milk, egg, sugar, cake flour, bread flour, yeast, and salt in that order.
- On the lowest speed, mix the dough for 15 minutes until it comes together. It should be smooth but still slightly sticky. If it’s too sticky to handle, add some more bread flour.
- Cover the bowl with a damp towel and allow the dough to proof in a warm place for one hour. The dough should rise to about 1.5x its original size.
- After the dough has proofed for one hour, you have two options. One, you can enjoy the satisfying sensation of punching down the dough yourself and kneading it for 5-7 minutes. Or two, you can stick it in the mixer and let the dough hook go at it for another 5 minutes or so. Your choice.
- Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface if you haven’t already and divide into 12 equal pieces.
- Working with one piece at a time while the others rest under a damp towel, roll the dough out into a long oval. Spread the surface of the dough with 1-2 tsp of Kewpie mayo, then sprinkle about 2 tsp of furikake over the top, followed by about 2 tbsp of pork floss.
- Starting from the long side of the oval, roll the dough up until you have a cylinder. Pinch one end of the cylinder shut, then cut the cylinder down the middle, careful to leave about 1 inch uncut on the sealed end.
- Braid together the two strands of dough, twisting outward to expose the layers of dough and pork floss. At the end of the braid, pinch the two ends together to seal. Repeat this process with all 11 remaining pieces of dough.
- Place the buns on parchment-lined baking sheets and cover them with a clean towel. Allow them to rise again for 45 minutes to an hour.
- When the buns are almost done proofing, preheat the oven to 350˚F.
- Brush each bun with egg wash and bake for 15-17 minutes until golden. Remove from the oven and brush immediately with the sugar syrup to get that beautiful Chinese bakery sheen on your bread.