Stuffed buns, bought at tea houses, specialty shops, or from street vendors, are the familiar snack food of China, and from region to region one finds different stuffings, different techniques for wrapping the dough around the filling, and the occasional bun that is baked instead of steamed. This is one such baked bun: a small puff of honey-glazed dough that is filled with either minced ham or minced roast pork and topped by a crusty layer of sesame seeds. They are terrifically good with soup or as a tea snack, and are wonderful for brunch.
Cube the ham, cut the scallions into 1-inch lengths, and mince coarsely in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel knife, using on-off turns. Or, mince by hand. Toss in a bowl with soy to taste, adding 2–3 teaspoons finely minced fresh lard if the ham is dry. Seal airtight and refrigerate until use, overnight if desired. The flavors will develop as the mixture sits. Bring to room temperature before using. If you are not working in advance, make the filling while the dough is first rising.
Cube the pork, chop the coriander coarsely, and mince until coarse in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel knife, using on-off turns. Or, mince by hand. Toss in a bowl with vinegar to taste, adding 2–3 teaspoons finely minced fresh lard if the pork is dry. If the pork needs it, also add a dash of soy. Seal airtight and refrigerate until use, overnight if desired. The flavors will enlarge as the mixture sits. Bring to room temperature before using. If you are not working in advance, make the filling while the dough is first rising.
Follow the instructions for proofing the yeast and making the dough, letting it rise and punching it down, and incorporating the baking powder.
Line two baking sheets each with a layer of silicon (no-stick) parchment, or parchment or wax paper greased lightly with solid vegetable shortening. Put the honey mixture in one shallow saucer, and the sesame seeds in one or two others (two if you’re using both black and white seeds). Put the saucers, baking sheets, 2–3 dry kitchen towels, and the fillings alongside your work surface.
Roll out the dough and shape and fill the buns, beginning with rolling a 10-inch log of dough and ending with twisting the first bun shut in a topknot. Up to this point, the baked bun is made exactly as if it were a steamed bun.
When the first bun is shaped, place it pleated side up on the board, and press gently with joined fingers to flatten it slightly. Dip the smooth underside of the bun into the honey mixture, then press the wet dough into the sesame seeds so the face of the bun is completely encrusted. Turn the bun seed side up on the parchment-lined baking sheet, then cover with the towel to prevent drying.
Continue to shape, fill, seal, and coat each bun in the same manner, putting the finished buns about 1½ inches apart on the baking sheet. Be certain the buns are fully covered with the dry towel, then leave them to rise for 30–60 minutes, or until they look proudly round on top and the dough on the side springs back slowly when pressed lightly with your finger.
While the buns are rising,
Transfer the baked buns to a heated platter of contrasting color, a pretty tray, or a basket. Serve hot, accompanied by your choice of dipping sauce.
Leftovers are excellent for breakfast or snacks. Seal airtight in tin foil and rewarm in a hot oven.
© 1982 Barbara Tropp estate. All rights reserved.