MANTOU: STEAMED CHINESE BREAD

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This recipe is listed in the "Northern Asian" (Chinese-Dim Sum), "Dumplings" (Starchy), and "Breads" sections of the YaleCooks recipe collection.

Google search: steamed Chinese mantou (click on the three icons to see photos-videos and links to internet recipes)


Mantou made using recipe #3 and Gold Medal flour.

Sliced mantou (photos from 2013-01-05).

Mantou: (version #1: Aunt Jemima self-rising flour + baking powder + lemon juice)

First added: 2012-07-11; Last edited: 2013-01-05

Author: Stephen Chin-Bow (Yale College).

Background: I will convert this recipe to also use weights, when I buy an accurate digital balance.

If I remember I will take photos the next time I make "mantou".

Mantou is the steamed Chinese bread served with "Peking duck" and Momofuku-style pork buns.

I grew up in New York City, where my mother cooked "Cantonese" food at home.  During family trips to the Manhattan Chinatown for shopping and brunch-dinnner, we would occasionally order steamed buns filled with roasted pork.  Although I enjoy the taste of the savory pork filling I find the soft spongy texture of the hot white outer bread even more satisfying.

My mom makes great Chinese roast pork (which explains my appreciation of char siu), but her Cantonese cooking focuses on rice (and rice noodles).  Wheat products (breads and wheat noodles) are generally associated more with northern Chinese cuisines, which developed near the northern wheat fields.  My mother never served mantou as the "starch" component of meals.

I believe the dough to make "filled" steamed pork buns (including the buns with sweet red bean) is the same dough used to make plain mantou bread.  Therefore, the first step to learning to make steamed pork buns is to prepare plain mantou.

I hope learning to make mantou will also let me learn to make the sweet steamed "Chinese Sponge Cake" (click on the three icons) which I remember my father's mother cooking and serving whenever we would visit.

This recipe was developed using Aunt Gemima self-rising flour, which contains a "single-acting" leavening agent (monocalcium phosphate and sodium bicarbonate).

A small amount of lemon juice (an acid) was added as a way to increase the rate of leavening action.

Please let me know if you have suggestions for improving this recipe!

Essential Supplies & Ingredients: (makes enough dough for FOUR 2.5 inch mantou)

folding metal steamer (any "steaming" setup should work)
• 3 quart, 8 inch diameter, pot (with cover); a wider pot is better

• 3/4 cup self-rising flour (brands tested: Aunt Gemima)
• 1/2 teaspoon baking powder ("Clabber Girl" double-acting)
• 1 tablepoon sugar

• 1/4 cup water
• 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice ("bottle" reconstituted lemon juice was used, but fresh lemon juice should be better)

• flour for dusting (about 1 or 2 tablepoon)

• optional fillings:

sweet red bean paste
• savory roast pork

Instructions:

Your "steaming" setup will be different.  Add enough water to the pot to provide steam for at least 10 minutes (you do not want the pot to dry out before 10 minutes).  Insert the steamer and cover the pot.  Heat over medium-high heat.  Start making the dough.

Mix the flour, baking powder, and sugar.  Add the water plus the lemon juice.  Stir, until a smooth dough is formed, adding the extra flour to reduce stickiness (the bread will rise better and be softer if the dough is slightly moist).  Divide the dough into four pieces.  Optional: place each piece of dough on a small square of waxed paper.

When the water is at a full boil (a lot of steam is easily seen) uncover the pot.  Add the dough to the steamer.  Cover and steam for 10 minutes.  Enjoy!

Other Options:

Homemade mantou is probably best if eaten fresh, just out of the steamer.  However, if you are busy, or are bringing mantou to a party, they should microwave well.  When I have time I will try to freeze the steamed mantou and see if they microwave well.

Tricks and Other "Secrets":

For steaming some varieties of Chinese "dim sum" dumplings (eg siu maai) you do not need to be too concerned with the spacing of the dumplings in the steamer, because their size does not increase much during cooking.  However, mantou buns expand while they cook, so it is critical to not overcrowd the buns.  You want the buns to heat quickly and expand quickly.  They will stop expanding once they touch (partly because the steam cannot circulate between the buns when they touch), which results in buns which are smaller and therefore denser than desired.

The 8 inch diameter pot used to develop this recipe was too small to permit the folder steamer to expand completely.  This is the reason the recipe is only for four buns. If you use a steamer which is larger then you should be able to steam more than four mantou at the same time.

Remember, adding too many uncooked buns to your steamer may cause less satisfactory results, because there is more dough to "heat up".  The first time you follow this recipe you may want to cook only two or three (just to see how much they expand).  Good luck!

Assessment and Possible Improvements:

I have made this recipe twice, and I am very happy with the results.  The texture is very soft.  The color does not match the pure white appearance of the Chinatown buns, but Aunt Jemima flour is not bleached flour.

Sifting the flour (aerating the flour and possibly reducing the size of the flour grains) may improve the texture.

Substituting white vinegar for the lemon juice should also work.  Most mantou recipes suggest rolling the dough into a rectangle before rolling it into a log before slicing and steaming.  This is why some internet photos show mantou as more cylindrical and less spherical.

The hope is that the additional "acid" will provide a leavening boost. I developed this recipe while visiting a friend who did not have any vinegar.  I will retest and evaluate this recipe when the lemon juice is replaced with white vinegar.

Making larger, but still soft, mantou may be possible if your pot/wok makes really good steam.  I imagine the problem with making large mantou is that more heat is needed to penetrate to the center of the bun and cook the dough.

Adding yeast to the dough may improve the fluffiness of the buns.  I will report back on using yeast (or a "starter") if I have any useful insights to share.

Mantou: (version #2a: King Arthur cake flour + baking powder + vinegar)

First added: 2012-07-16; Last edited: 2012-12-04

Author: Stephen Chin-Bow (Yale College).

Background: I will convert this recipe to also use weights, when I buy an accurate digital balance.

If I remember I will take photos the next time I make "mantou".

This recipe is based on Mantou: Version #1.

This recipe was developed using "low protein" King Arthur cake flour.

Instead of using lemon juice (an acid) white vinegar was substituted (and the volume was doubled).

Please let me know if you have suggestions for improving this recipe!

Essential Supplies & Ingredients: (makes enough dough for TWO 2.5 inch mantou)

folding metal steamer (any "steaming" setup should work)
• 3 quart, 8 inch diameter, pot (with cover); a wider pot is better

• 3/8 cup "low protein" cake flour (brands tested: King Arthur)
• 1/2 teaspoon baking powder ("Rumsford" single-acting)
• 1/2 tablepoon sugar

• 1/8 cup water
• 1/2 teaspoon white vinegar

• flour for dusting (about 1 or 2 tablepoon)

Instructions:

Follow the instructions for Mantou: Version #1.

Assessment and Possible Improvements:

This recipe was tested at the same time as Mantou: Version #2b (all four buns were steamed at the same time).  The results are described below (see Mantou: Version #2b).

This recipe has not been tested without addition of the liquid acid (white vinegar).  This recipe has not been tested using other low protein flours such as the "Purple Orchard Brand" Hong Kong-style flour.

Mantou: (version #2b: Gold Medal self-rising flour + baking powder + vinegar)

First added: 2012-07-16; Last edited: 2012-12-04

Author: Stephen Chin-Bow (Yale College).

Background: I will convert this recipe to also use weights, when I buy an accurate digital balance.

If I remember I will take photos the next time I make "mantou".

This recipe is based on Mantou: Version #2a (but uses a higher protein self-rising flour instead of cake flour).

Although this recipe was developed using Gold Medal self-rising flour, which already contains a "double-acting" leavening agent (sodium bicarbonate, sodium alumimun phosphate, and monocalcium phosphate) a single-acting baking powder was added to the flour (as if the Gold Medal flour used were not self-rising).

Instead of using lemon juice (an acid) white vinegar was substituted (and the volume was doubled).

Please let me know if you have suggestions for improving this recipe!

Essential Supplies & Ingredients: (makes enough dough for TWO 2.5 inch mantou)

folding metal steamer (any "steaming" setup should work)
• 3 quart, 8 inch diameter, pot (with cover); a wider pot is better

• 3/8 cup self-rising flour (brands tested: Gold Medal)
• 1/2 teaspoon baking powder ("Rumsford" single-acting)
• 1/2 tablepoon sugar

• 1/8 cup water
• 1/2 teaspoon white vinegar

• flour for dusting (about 1 or 2 tablepoon)

Instructions:

Follow the instructions for Mantou: Version #1.

Assessment and Possible Improvements:

This recipe was tested at the same time as Mantou: Version #2a (all four buns were steamed at the same time).

Both mantou recipes #2a and #2b yield very satisfactory results.  However, the buns prepared using recipe #2b were at least 20% larger (which may result from adding the extra single-acting baking powder).  The buns prepared using the unbleached Gold Medal Flour (recipe #2b) were also whiter than those prepared using King Arthur cake flour (recipe #2a), because the Gold Medal self-rising flour is bleached.

Possible conclusions: Low protein flours (such as cake flour) are not automatically superior to wheat flours with higher protein content (although the lowest protein flours are probably important for the successful production of Chinese "hand-pulled noodles").  Adding extra leavening agent and the addition of a wet acid may be keys to successful mantou production.

This recipe has not been tested without the addition of the "extra" leavening agent (baking powder).  This recipe has not been tested without the addition of the liquid acid (white vinegar).  This recipe has not been tested using other low protein flours such as the "Purple Orchard Brand" Hong Kong-style flour.

Mantou: (version #3: Aunt Jemima self-rising flour vs Gold Medal self-rising flour)

First added: 2012-07-16; Last edited: 2013-01-05

Author: Stephen Chin-Bow (Yale College).

Background: I will convert this recipe to also use weights, when I buy an accurate digital balance.

If I remember I will take photos the next time I make "mantou".

This recipe is based on Mantou: Version #2b (but this recipe compares two self-rising flours).

Although this recipe was developed using two self-rising flours, which already contain a leavening agent (one a single-acting and one a double-acting) a double-acting baking powder was added to both flours.

Please let me know if you have suggestions for improving this recipe!

Essential Supplies & Ingredients: (makes enough dough for TWO 2.5 inch mantou)

folding metal steamer (any "steaming" setup should work)
• 3 quart, 8 inch diameter, pot (with cover); a wider pot is better

• 3/8 cup self-rising flour (brands compared: Aunt Jemima and Gold Medal)
• 1/2 teaspoon baking powder ("Clabber Girl" double-acting)
• 1/2 tablepoon sugar

• 1/8 cup "acidified" water mixture (2 teaspoon vinegar + 1/2 cup water: enough for "four" recipes)

• flour for dusting (about 1 or 2 tablepoon)

Instructions:

Follow the instructions for Mantou: Version #2b.  To improve the accuracy of the vinegar measurement, a mixture was prepared by combining vinegar with water before 1/8 cup of this mixture was used for each recipe.

Assessment and Possible Improvements:

Using recipe #3, both the mantou prepared using self-rising flours from Aunt Jemima and Gold Medal yielded very satisfactory results.  The buns were very soft.  The buns prepared using the Aunt Jemima self-rising flour appeared slightly whiter than those prepared using the Gold Medal self-rising flour.

Conclusion: Most stores do not sell both Aunt Jemima self-rising flour and Gold Medal self-rising flour, so unless you shop around your choice of flour may be decided for you.  You will be happy with the mantou you prepare using either flour.

This recipe has not been tested without the addition of the "extra" leavening agent (baking powder).

Mantou: (version #4: Aunt Jemima self-rising flour plus some kneading)

First added: 2013-01-05; Last edited: 2013-01-05

Author: Stephen Chin-Bow (Yale College).

Background: I will convert this recipe to also use weights, when I buy an accurate digital balance.

If I remember I will take photos the next time I make "mantou".

This recipe is based on Mantou: Version #3 (but this recipe adds a few minutes of kneading).  In previous attempts to increase the fluffiness by increasing the leavening action (by adding baking powder plus a liquid acid) the dough was not kneaded much, but rushed into the steamer for fear of losing the CO2 produced by the chemical reaction.

Please let me know if you have suggestions for improving this recipe!

Essential Supplies & Ingredients: (makes enough dough for TWO 2.5 inch mantou)

folding metal steamer (any "steaming" setup should work)
• 3 quart, 8 inch diameter, pot (with cover); a wider pot is better

• 1 1/2 cup self-rising flour (brand tested: Aunt Jemima
• 1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder ("Clabber Girl" double-acting)
• 1 1/2 tablepoon sugar (actually, I used 5 teaspoons instead of 4 1/2 teaspoons)

• 1/2 cup water
• 2 teaspoon white vinegar

Instructions:

Follow the instructions for Mantou: Version #2b.  Knead dough for about 5 minutes before making making six buns.  Steam for 10 minutes.

Assessment and Possible Improvements:

The mantou prepared with the knead way seemed a lot softer than when kneading was not used (in recipe versions #1, #2, #3) where it was assumed the flour's protein concentration or the amount-type of leavening action were the critical factors.

Conclusion: The next time I make mantou I will take some of the dough and not knead it while the remainder is kneaded.  It will be interesting to compare the texture of dough which is not kneaded and dough which is needed for just five minutes.

This recipe has not been tested without the addition of the "extra" leavening agent (baking powder).

Annotated Internet Links:

1)

Recommended Cookbooks:

1)

 


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