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Gastronomical ramblings

Food adventure @ Dumplings Plus, Highpoint

I’ve been to Highpoint maybe a handful of times since the opening of its new ‘high-end’ shopping area, and during each visit, it was impossible to miss the insanely long queues/crowding outside Dumplings Plus. Which got me wondering, why? Curiosity got the best of me during my last visit, and so I decided to check out the dumplings joint.   

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Still quite full at 9pm (closing time of the shopping centre). 

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The glass windows surrounding the preparation area offers diners and passers-by a full view of the hard work that goes into prepping the dumplings. 

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GIANT STEAMER BASKET OF PRAWN DUMPLINGS. So much NOM.
Sneak peak from Zhou Zhou Bar launch party.

Food adventure @ Oriental Teahouse, South Yarra

If there’s two things that Oriental Teahouse is renown for, it’s for their abundance of teas and their serving of YUMCHA at NIGHT. Mid-week cravings for yum cha have resulted in afterwork visits to the Melbourne Central establishment on several occasions. But with a recent invitation to visit the South Yarra restaurant, I saw and experienced Oriental Teahouse in a whole new light… I would like to thank Oriental Teahouse and Harvey Publicity for the opportunity to visit Oriental Teahouse South Yarra.

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Save for the location and the restaurant’s dimensions, the Chapel St restaurant looks similar to the one in Melbourne Central. 

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Some refreshing chilled teas to start. 

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Prawn Hash Browns - breakfast favourite of the Orient, with prawns and Asian greens. 

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The hash brown tasted like a variation of the deep fried prawn and bean curd dish typically served at yum cha, but with more flavour and less flaky crunch. The fried pieces of kale added to the dish’s crispiness. 

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Chicken Dumpling & Quinoa Salad - leafy greens with mixed quinoa, chicken dumplings, broad beans & red onion in tangy ginger dressing. 

This salad completely disproves the theory that you don’t make friends with salad. Hearty and full of flavour, as opposed to light or refreshing, the ginger presence in the oily dressing brought much aroma. My lips gradually became slick with oil, but this was easily forgiven thanks to the taste. Both the skin and filling of the chicken dumplings were soft and tender. 

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Chilli Wagyu Dumplings - wagyu beef marinated in kaffir lime, served with homemade chilli sauce. 

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Give me silky dumpling skin and chilli oil sauce, and I couldn’t care less about the filling. But for the record, the filling was very similar to the chicken dumplings in texture, with the natural taste of wagyu beef pairing well with the chilli sauce. 

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Main share dishes, served with rice. 

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China Fried Chicken Ribs - chicken ribs tossed in pepper, garlic salt & chilli.

Thanks to the abundance of seasoning, these ribs were packed with flavour. In fact, there were times when it seemed as though there was too much flavour, with the crispy crunchy batter coming across as very salty. Luckily we had some rice on hand.  

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Confucius Says, “Eat Your Veggies” - a wholesome bowl of stir fried string beans, carrots, barley, black fungus, bok choy, edamame & baby corn studded with with goji berries. 

While the variety of veggies looked sensational on the plate, the taste was fairly average. 

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Chinese Wonka Dumplings - fried sesame & sticky rice spheres filled with melted chocolate, served with vanilla ice cream. 

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I’m not the biggest fan of Asian desserts, but may need to revise that mindset given the amazing sweets we were served… 

There was a great contrast between the flavour and texture of the crunch from the sesame shell and the chewy doughiness of the sticky rice layer. The oozy, melted chocolate brought much of the overall sweetness. The creamy vanilla ice cream was the cherry on top, tying together all the elements perfectly. 

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Signature White Chocolate Dumplings - ‘amazeballs’ stuffed with white chocolate, topped with white chocolate & peanut praline. 

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While I was already blown away by the sesame dessert, critical levels were reached with this signature dessert. Picture this: a condensed ball of white chocolate with a nutty explosion of peanuts and coconut. Again, each component worked wonderfully with one another. I can’t help but agree with their ‘amazeballs’ description. 

With many of the dishes bringing something new to the table (here’s looking at you, quinoa salad and dessert balls), there’s now even more reason to visit Oriental Teahouse asides from the late night yumcha fixes. Seriously… amazeballs… get on them! 

Disclosure: the opinions expressed in this post are based entirely on my experience and observations made during the time of my visit.

Oriental Tea House on Urbanspoon

Oriental Tea House

455 Chapel St,

South Yarra, Victoria, 3141. 

(03) 9824 0128

http://www.orientalteahouse.com.au/

Snaps from Chinese New Years Eve dinner. Plenty of meat… and one plate of greens! 

Happy Year of the Horse, folks! 

Food adventure @ Shandong Mama

With some remaining cravings for all foods Asian since returning home from my European adventures, the sister and I decided to hit up a dumpling joint for dinner one weeknight. Having made quite a splash with diners and dumpling lovers since landing in Melbourne some time last year, visiting Shandong Mama was an obvious choice. 

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Much like many of the restaurants in the same area, you take one look at the interior and know that you’re in the heart of Asia town. In other words, the interior was very simply decorated, with the occasional token red and gold Chinese trinket. 

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Spring onion egg roll pancake. 

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The edges were rather crispy, while the centre tasted like a cross between an Asian pancake and omelette. The let down of the dish was the flavour, which was quite bland and dull. Bring on the soy sauce and chilli! 

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Dill-icious pan-fried pork dumplings - pork mince with fresh dill, spring onion, ginger, dried shrimps and sesame oil. 

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There was such a strong lemon and dill presence in the flavouring of the overall dumpling that my taste buds expected the fishiness of salmon to follow. It took a while for my palate to adjust to the combination of pork, lemon and dill, but the playful flavour pairing was a refreshing change to the usual dumpling flavours. It may not be for everyone though; the sister didn’t enjoy this dish in the slightest.

With the wrapper left open, the juices from the filling are allowed to seep out, mix in the pan and consequently add to the flavouring of the dumpling wrapper. 

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Boiled pork and cabbage dumplings. 

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Expect a delicious blend of flavoursome pork mince and cabbage, wrapped in a silky light dumpling wrapper. What really won me over was the rich-flavoured soup inside the dumpling.

While noodles, rice and main dishes also make an appearance on their menu, it’s the dumplings that run the show at Shandong Mama. With no shortages of dumpling restaurants in Melbourne, Shandong Mama shakes up the game with their unique open fried dumplings and intriguing flavour combinations. 

Shandong Mama on Urbanspoon

Shandong Mama

Shop 7, Mid City Arcade

200 Bourke St,

Melbourne, Victoria, 3000. 

(03) 9650 3818

Food adventure @ Harbour Inn Chinese Restaurant

One thing that I hadn’t anticipated on getting out of my European travels was a massive craving for Asian food. After returning home, I spent my first day back with J, and in one of those spare moments where our food cravings actually synced, we found ourselves in Altona for a yumcha lunch at Harbour Inn. 

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Don’t expect a typical Melbourne yumcha experience here. Cosier than many of the yumcha establishments around Melbourne (Gold Leaf, Shark Fin House and Plume to name a few), there are no trolleys here. Instead, orders are taken using a pen-to-paper system. Efficient in some ways, but it also means that the food takes longer to come out…

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The fried…

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While the texture of the pan-fried bean curd with prawn filling was crispy, it wasn’t as delicate as usual. 

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The prawn rice roll wasn’t the steamed version I was expecting but came in the form of a crispy spring roll instead. I do love my steamed rolls (har cheong) but didn’t mind the fried version at Harbour Inn. 

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The skin of the pan-fried pork dumpling was light and soft. Its filling tasted quite sweet, and paired well with the equally sweet soy sauce. 

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The steamed… 

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The steamed prawn dumplings were very generously sized. The taste was no different to the har gows from other yumcha restaurants. 

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The skin of the steamed prawn and chive dumplings was spot-on gelatinous in texture, and again, the sizing was very generous. 

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Unfortunately, the best was not saved for last. There was no soup explosion when I bit into the xiao long bao, and there was also too much meat filling, deviating from the correct ratio of filling to soup to skin.  

Based on what I had spied whilst lunching at Harbour Inn, the restaurant has established quite a local fan base. While our experience was okay, the 40 minute wait for the food was just too long. Doing the quick maths, some of that wait time could have been spent on driving out a little further to the usual yumcha locations. 

Harbour Inn Chinese Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Harbour Inn Chinese Restaurant

52 Pier St,

Altona, Victoria, 3018. 

(03) 9398 3725

The staple of all yumcha meals: har gows (steamed prawn dumplings)

Pan-fried dumplings, served with chilli oil and soy sauce. 

Peking duck.

Food adventure @ Oriental Teahouse, take 2

Behold, the solution to dealing with the wintery cold hand we have been dealt: Oriental Teahouse’s ‘Fire in a Bowl’ experience. While the bowl itself isn’t actually lit on fire, nor will it set you alight, the heat in this spice-laden bowl will have you peeling off the winter knitted layers in no time. I was recently invited to attend a lunch to sample the dish, and I would like to thank Oriental Teahouse and Harvey Publicity for the invitation. 

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The ‘Fire in a Bowl’-dubbed Szechuan hot pot is a recent addition to the yumcha-based menu at the Melbourne Central Oriental Teahouse restaurant. *Note. the Szechuan hot pot is only available at the Melbourne Central location. 

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David Zhou’s Oriental Teahouse restaurant chain is not only renown for their yumcha (particularly because it’s the ONLY restaurant that continues to serve yumcha after the sun goes down) but also for their extensive selection of teas. And if anyone should know about tea, it’s the man behind the making of the restaurant and its menu. The very friendly and charismatic David Zhou joined us for lunch on the day, and I was given a brief lesson on teas whilst tossing up between a few different ones. Wow, free lunch AND a tea lesson. Going by his recommendation, I ended up with a very fragrant white tea. 

Onto the most important aspect of this post: the Fire in the Bowl. The dish is available in three different levels. Well four, if you decide to leave out the spice altogether. All bowls are made up of pork and chive dumplings, sweet potato noodles, tofu skin, black fungus, cabbage, pieces of fish and chicken, and varying amounts of hua jiao Szechuan chilli peppers. 

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Exhibit A: Level 0. 

No signs of red = no spice. 

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Exhibit B: Level 1. 

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Exhibit C: Level 2.

Possessing some tolerance for spice and feeling somewhat daring, I decided to go with the midrange amount of spice. My eyes almost popped out when I saw the amount of redness in my bowl! 

It’s a shame that no one ordered the level 3 dish; I would have been interested in seeing both what the dish looked like and the consumer’s reaction to the spice…

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It’s hard to avoid slurping when it comes to eating noodles, but I learnt the hard way that the move is a no-no with this dish. The chilli oil from the peppers swept through the soup, and slurping will lead to spice going up the wrong pipe… The szechuan spice was subtly numbing at first, resulting in a pleasant tingle, but continued to grow as more of the dish was consumed. Spice factor, tick. The best part of the dish easily came in the form of the pork and chive dumplings. The skin was perfectly gelatinous and yet delicate, and the sweet pork filling was well-flavoured from the ginger and chive additions. The lusciously tender pieces of fish were also quite enjoyable, and provided a welcome distraction from the fiery, spicy presence. 

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Some pointers I picked up in dealing with the spice:

1. Ask for the chilli peppers on the side, and then add the amount you wish to add. 

2. If the chilli is already in your bowl, there’s no shame in conceding defeat and fishing out the chilli. I may or may not have resorted to this strategy…

3. Have a nice cold and refreshing drink on standby to douse out the fiery hotness. This raspberry cordial-like ice-cold tea was a godsend… 

Whether you’re interested in playing ‘spicy chicken’, a fan of spice, or just after a tasty, CHEAP (a mere $12.50 for such a large serving) and hot bowl of soupy noodles to combat the cold, there’s something in every ‘Fire in the Bowl’ for everyone. 

Disclosure: the opinions expressed in this post are based entirely on my experience and observations made during the time of my visit. 

For other reviews from the lunch, check out The World Loves Melbourne and Gastro-logy.

Oriental Tea House on Urbanspoon

Oriental Teahouse

GD 068/69, Melbourne Central Shopping Centre

(Closest to the corner Elizabeth St, La Trobe St entrance)

Melbourne, Victoria, 3000. 

(03) 9066 0208

http://www.orientalteahouse.com.au

Masterclass adventure @ Chadstone - Shanghai Shu Mai

Presented by David Zhou (Oriental Teahouse/David’s)

Saturday 16th February, 12-1pm

Every so often, the fashion capital of Victoria (otherwise more widely known as Chadstone Shopping Centre) temporarily takes on the title of fashion AND food capital when it hosts a series of hands-on cooking demonstrations. Taught by experts and renown chefs in the food industry, these classes teach you how to whip up a variety of dishes: from soft shell crab po’boys to shu mai dumplings. The cost of each class ranges from $10 to $20, with all proceeds supporting a wonderful charity called Streat.

Hailing from the westside and with my go-to major shopping centre being Highpoint, I was not aware of the masterclasses held at Chadstone until I received a email invite from the lovely folks at Chadstone. I would like to thank Chadstone - The Fashion Capital for the wonderful opportunity to observe and partake in a few of the masterclasses.

The following post sums up the Shanghai Shu Mai masterclass and also includes a recipe for the dumplings. 

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The Masterclass arena, situated outside Zara and Diana Ferrari on the lower level. 

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Several classes were held over a period of three days. 

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A heads up for the next Masterclass series: be sure to make a booking early to avoid disappointment because these classes sell out fast! 

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David Zhou. 

I haven’t met many chefs, but David is definitely one of the most charismatic and friendly chefs I have had the privilege to meet yet! When I hear the words ‘Asian chef’, my mind conjures up an image of a cranky and always-in-a-rush chef who barks orders around the kitchen. But David was nothing like that… not even close! His smiley and humorous nature was infectious and his passion for dumplings and Asian cuisine clearly showed. He spent a good 2 minutes talking about rice and even managed to squeeze in a small lecture on the medicinal properties of ginger. We learnt more than just cooking!  

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Ingredients 

(Makes 60 dumplings)

4 to 6 dried shiitake/black mushrooms

1 tablespoon soy sauce

2 tablespoon dark soy sauce

2 tablespoon sesame oil

1/2 teaspoon sugar

2 tablespoon vegetable oil

500g minced pork

3 chinese sausage

2 cups cooked glutinous rice (at room temperature)

100g small dried shrimps

1 pack siu mai wrappers 

1/4 cup frozen edamame, thawed and with no shell

Optional: cabbage leaves to place under the shu mai

Method

1. Cook the rice according to the instructions given on the packet. 

2. Soak the dried mushrooms in a bowl filled with warm water, ensuring that the mushrooms are completely covered. Soak for approximately 20 minutes or until the mushrooms are soft. Drain the water. 

3. Remove the mushroom stems and chop the mushrooms finely. 

4. Do the same for the chinese sausages, dicing them into small pieces. 

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5. Heat a wok over high heat until hot. Add the oil and swirl around to coat the sides of the wok. 

6. Add the minced pork, chinese sausage, dry shrimp and mushroom. Stir fry the ingredients until the pork is crumbly and cooked through (approximately 2 minutes). 

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7. Add the rice, soy sauces, sesame oil and sugar. Stir to combine and cook until heated through (approximately 1 minute). Remove the wok from the heat and set aside to cool. 

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*When preparing the dumplings, ensure that the dumpling wrappers are covered with a damp towel to prevent them from drying out. 

8. Take a wrapper and place one tablespoon of the dumpling filling onto the centre of the wrapper. 

9. Gather up the sides that surround the filling, squeeze the sides at the half way point, and gently twist to form a ‘waist’, leaving the dumpling open at the top. 

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10. Place an edamame bean onto the top of the dumpling. 

*Note. keep the prepared dumplings covered with a damp cloth while preparing the remaining dumplings. 

Steam the dumplings:

11. Add water to a wok, reaching a depth of approximately 2 inches, and bring to the boil. 

12. Line the inside of a bamboo steamer with cabbage leaves or parchment paper. Place the dumplings into the steamer and then set this over the water (steamer should not touch water). For optimal results, leave enough space between the dumplings so that adjacent dumplings do not touch. 

*A piece of wood can be used to prop the steamer up and away from the water. 

13. Steam the dumplings until the wrapper is cooked and tender (approximately 3-4 minutes). 

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14. Serve with chilli paste and soy sauce to taste. 

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David Zhou with his finished product. He picked it up almost soon after it had come off the steamer, which next resulted in an “OUCH! HOT!” 

I was quite surprised to find that the textures from the rice and mince combined together seamlessly. The blend of the aromatic and well-flavoured mince+rice (I was already salivating whilst the filling was being cooked on the wok) was given a further flavour boost by the chinese sausage, mushrooms and crunchy pieces of shrimp, making each bite (or mouthful if you can fit in a whole dumpling in one go) an explosion of the tasty Asian flavours. David’s version of the Shanghai Shu Mai takes the typical shu mai dumpling to the next level! 

The steamed egg custard bun

What do you get when you put together three avid bakers for an afternoon in the kitchen that falls exactly one week before Chinese New Year? A decision to make Asian desserts, a few too many mishaps but some decent steamed egg custard buns and a pandan sponge cake! The following post details our (with themacarondiaries and pamoola) custard bun adventure thanks to the folks at HKF Co. for their bao premix (instructions comes in Chinese, Vietnamese and English) and the custard filling recipe from a post by Jessica Gavin.

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Ingredients

Egg custard filling:

10g custard powder

50g cornstarch

50g sugar

100ml milk

50g butter, at room temperature

1 large egg

Bun:

1 packet 400g steamed bun cake premix (we used ‘Rooster’)

1 cup milk

1/2 cup sugar

1 tablespoon cooking oil

2 tablespoons white vinegar (for steaming)

The custard filling.

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*note. must get myself a set of kitchen scales… On another note, the measurements given on the side of the butter packaging is very accurate.

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1. Add the dry ingredients for the custard filling to a saucepan followed by the milk.

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2. Stir over low heat until the ingredients are fairly combined and gradually add the butter (a quarter to a third at a time) until completely melted. Remove the saucepan from heat.

3. Gently beat the egg. Whilst continuing to stir the mixture (off the heat), slowly add the beaten egg and mix until combined. (It helps when you have three people in the kitchen!)

Our mixture was still quite runny at this point but we figured that it would thicken after being set aside to cool. After 45 minutes and no such luck, we decided to put the mixture back onto the stove but this step can be done immediately after step 3.

4. (If your custard mix is runny) Continue to stir the custard filling over low heat for 5-10 minutes until the mixture has thickened to the consistency shown below. Set aside to cool.

*Note. Constant attention is required during this step whilst the custard is on the stove. Do not leave the mixture alone to avoid overcooking or lumps.

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The bun.

When the custard filling is done, get started on the bao. There are plenty of recipes to do this from scratch but being our first time making bao (without the supervision of our mamas who have long been making them since before we were born), we decided to go with a premix. No mucking around with yeast!

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5. Follow the instructions on the packet. In a nutshell:

a. Remove two tablespoons of flour from the packet. *THIS IS IMPORTANT since you’ll need the flour during the kneading process and when the dough is being rolled out.

b. In a large mixing bowl, combine the remaining flour with the sugar and milk.

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c. Thoroughly bring together the ingredients with a wooden spoon.

d. Get your hands dirty and knead the dough for 10 minutes.

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The dough will get quite sticky at times and this is when the flour that has been put aside comes into use. Grab a pinch of the flour and rub the flour between your hands. In doing so, the sticky dough on your hands will come off in clumps and the dough mixture becomes less stick. Do this whenever necessary.

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e. Add a tablespoon of cooking oil to the dough and knead until combined. Set aside to rest for 30 minutes.

Instead of playing the waiting game, we spent this 30 minutes prepping the pandan sponge cake mixture (post to come soon).

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6. Roughly break the dough into four portions and for one portion at a time, roll the dough into a rope (about the size of a rolling pin) on a floured surface.

7. Break the rope into 6 equal portions by hand.

*Note. we used a knife and learnt the hard way that the ‘sharper edges’ created by the knife made it harder roll into a ball.

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8. Roll the dough into a ball and flatten into a circle using your palm and the floured surface. Use your fingers to press the dough into a ‘cup’.

9. Add 1 to 1 1/2 teaspoon of the custard to the middle of the cupped dough. Working your way around the edges and in one direction, pinch the dough together to seal the custard filling inside.

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WORK FAST. The dough is quite elastic-y and will start to retract as soon as you remove it from the floured surface in step 8. It continues to do so as you fill it with custard and pinch the dough together. Aside from being nimble, flattening out the dough into a larger-sized circle will also help.

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10. Continue to pinch the dough together until a relatively smooth surface is attained. This side becomes the ‘bottom’ of the bun. Place the bun onto baking paper. Continue to fill the rest.

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11. Once assembled, allow the buns to set for 10-15 minutes.

The first few were duds but we got better at putting the baos together as we went along. You can see a clear difference between our earlier and the later ones.

Steaming.

12. Bring water to boil in a steamer and add 2 tablespoons of white vinegar to the water (this will help whiten the buns). On high heat, steam the buns for approximately 10 minutes.

*Note. Despite the probable temptation of wanting to check on the progress of the buns during the steaming process, do not open the steamer whilst the buns are cooking!

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The duds. I like to think that the imperfections give them a bit of character… We definitely meant for these ones to turn out like this…

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The non-duds.

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I thought we’d end up with some cute mini custard buns but was surprised to see how much they had expanded in the steamer.

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An egg tart version of the custard bun!

We ate the uglier ones first (they still tasted GREAT) to hide the evidence of our failed ones. So it makes complete sense that I’d be putting up photo evidence of them onto the internet for the whole world to see!

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Considering the fact that none of us had ever made bao before, we were quite pleased with how they turned out. The dough was consistent in texture, fluffy and light, and the egg custard filling was delicate and velvety smooth. We weren’t the only ones who thought they were tasty… I came home from uni after nine hours to find my share of buns completely devoured.

Enjoy and happy Chinese new year!