After a few too many new experiments gone awry, I came back to an old favorite – but with a twist – literally! I used a hua juan folding technique on these red bean buns, and you see the result before you: “pinwheel” mantou. Mantou are fluffy white steamed buns often filled or flavored with bean paste, scallion oil, pumpkin, or sweet potato. The clean backdrop of the tender yeasted bread is your canvas for any combination you please.
My mantou preference has always been for sweet rather than savory, and bean paste (“dou bao”) over all others. In first grade, I was given a homework assignment to write about my favorite food – honestly a very difficult question these days, but back then the answer was perfectly obvious. Dou bao! My first attempt at food writing has now come full circle. Back then, I attended school in a district where the only Asians were me and my sister; my teacher struggled with the unfamiliar syllables of my subject matter and resigned herself to trusting that I was not inventing nonexistent snacks.
While questioning whether a child’s five-sentence personal composition was written about a real food might seem a little too critical, the suspicion might’ve actually been warranted on her part. I was extremely prone to embellishments when I was little. Most were the typical innocuous fibs you tell at that age (of course I didn’t like-like Austin, I was throwing pieces of PB&J sandwich at him because boys were gross and didn’t everyone know that?). But occasionally I would veer into more dramatic tales. When adults asked my twin sister and me “Do you have siblings or is it just you two?” I sometimes would invent an older brother, mainly because I really wanted one but also partially because “just you two” seemed unimpressive and therefore wrong.
I may have just called into question the validity of all claims I make on this blog. But it’s not an exaggeration that these buns are entirely worthy of being a picky five-year-old’s very favorite food, and we know that this population is the hardest to please! Mantou are best a few minutes after being plucked from the steamer, although for those of us who lack self-restraint and dig straight in, a scorched mouth and fingertips is a small price to pay.
Red Bean Pinwheel Mantou Recipe (makes 8)
- 1 1/2 cups of flour, plus up to another ~1/4 cup
- 3/4 cups of water, warm to the touch – around 100 degrees F
- 1 tbsp sugar
- 1 tsp yeast
- 1 tbsp of neutral vegetable or corn oil
- 1 cup of smooth red bean paste, store-bought or homemade
Proof the yeast: dissolve sugar in warm water and add the yeast. Let sit until foamy, approximately 5-10 minutes. If the mixture doesn’t foam, then the yeast is dead (either from water being too warm or yeast being too old).
Make the dough: Add the yeast to 1 1/2 cups of flour and mix until a sticky dough forms. Turn out onto a lightly oiled or floured board and knead, adding extra flour 1 tbsp at a time (but no more than 4 tbsp or 1/4 cup) until the dough feels tacky and stretchy, around 8-10 minutes. Add the oil at this point, and knead to incorporate. Form the dough into a tight ball. Lightly oil a bowl and roll the ball in the oil so it won’t stick as it rises. Cover and let rise for one hour in a warm, draft-free location until doubled in size.
While you wait, cut 8 4x4 squares of parchment paper to put the buns on as they proof and steam.
Shaping: Punch down the dough to deflate it and divide into 8 equal sized pieces. To make simple red bean buns, form each into a sphere and make an indentation/pocket; add ~2 tbsp of red bean paste to the center and pinch the pocket shut. Place seam side down on a square of parchment paper. To make pinwheel buns, follow the collage above. Roll the dough pieces into a rectangular strip on a well floured or oiled board and cut slices vertically a quarter of an inch apart, not quite to the edges of the dough. Separate as best as you can and spread 1 tbsp of red bean paste across the strip. Re-cut the slices as needed, then twist and stretch the strip into a coil so that the red bean paste shows. Roll the coil into a bun shape and tuck the ends underneath. Place on a square of parchment paper.
NOTE: the smoother your red bean paste, the more photogenic the pinwheel buns will come out. If using store-bought, this shouldn’t be an issue, but homemade red bean paste may need to be put through a fine sieve or blender to get rid of large chunks or skins.
Let the buns proof for ~30 minutes in a draft-free location.
Steaming: Steam the buns in batches over lightly simmering water (not too high) for 15 minutes. They will rise quite a bit so don’t crowd the steamer baskets – I fit 3 in one layer. Low/medium heat is definitely preferred so the buns don’t deflate after cooling. When the buns are finished steaming, tip the lid of the steamer at an angle to release the steam very gradually (again to prevent deflation). Let sit for 2-3 minutes in the steamer as the steam releases and the buns cool to edible temperature. Then enjoy!