Sunday, 7 April 2013

Coconut Swirl Buns aka Little Miracles

Coconut Swirl Buns aka Little Miracles

I’m not very good at following directions.  Even when baking, I just blast off and do my own thing.  Some voice in my head nudges me to add a bit more of this, and some of that, and the next thing I know, my recipe is wildly different from what’s printed in the directions.  Craving the taste of the fabulous coconut buns at the Chinese bakery, I intended to save my last package of yeast to pull off something like those fluffy but not too sweet confections.
Originally I’d planned to use the dough recipe from last week’s cinnamon buns, but then I came across Radhika’s recipe for Hokkaido Milk Bread.  Hokkaido is a Japanese term, but the secret in this dough is tangzong, a Chinese word, so that got me to wondering if this dough is the secret behind those light fluffy sweet clouds at the Chinese bakery.  Radhika’s pictures show breads that look very airy and light.

Perhaps if I’d actually followed directions, I might have made them.  But no, that would be too logical, and I prefer the theological route to baking: prayers.  In a very Chinese way, I invoke all my ancestors who might know a thing or two about baking, I include recently departed strangers who loved the kitchen and are kind hearted, and whatever Goddess may be willing to help me out. 
Radhika’s directions advised me to constantly stir the tangzong, keeping it on a medium heat.  Well, I had to adjust my camera settings, and when I finished, my tangzong was stiffer than setting concrete.  Thus I had to pray, adjust, pray more earnestly, and hope for the best.  Here goes:

My Tangzong (apparently different from everyone else’s)
1/3 cup white flour
2 cups water
1/3 cup milk powder

My Dough
Left-over sugar from Candied Ginger
1 ¼ cup white flour
1 ¼ cup whole wheat flour
4 tablespoons vanilla scented sugar
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons milk powder
2 teaspoons active dry yeast*
¼ cup cream
all the tangzon*
1 tablespoon softened unsalted butter

Extra butter to grease a large bowl 

My Filling
1 tablespoon softened butter
½ cup ginger scented sugar*
1 cup shredded dried coconut

Extra butter to grease an 8x8 inch loaf pan

Tangzong is basically a cooked flour slurry that is supposed to make the dough swell and get very airy.  I think it works a bit like the mashed potato I used in last week’s cinnamon bun dough, a concoction of broken down starch for the yeast to feed on.  Anyway, every recipe I eventually googled advises one to make up this entire amount, and then use only half of it.  Why make so much to use only half? I don’t know, but every recipe I found insisted on this practice, without explanation.  

Whisk the flour into the liquid, cook on medium heat stirring constantly.  (As I mentioned earlier, I originally used half the liquid, but my slurry wasn’t stirred, so it got too thick too fast, without being properly cooked, so I added more liquid and turned my heat to medium from high, and whisked till I appeased the cooking  Gods, and properly cooked off the flour, knowing I’d have to reduce liquids later.)

When it thickens to the consistency of a pudding, take it off the heat, whisk a few more times and let cool.

The Dough
Using the dough hook setting in your stand mixer, blend half the tangzong, flour, sugar, salt, milk powder, butter, cream and yeast.  Set the rest of the tangzong aside.

*The yeast… 
I have never added dry yeast to a dough.  Usually yeast is mixed with warmish water and left to wake up and get frothy.  When I went to research other recipes, I discovered all the other recipes advised using instant yeast.  Yikes.  Too late for me, but not for the next time I try this recipe, or for you!

Put the mixer on and the mix will become dry and crumbling.  Because I knew I needed more liquid, and am a firm believer in waste not want not, I added the rest of the tangzong.  Ha!  Now I’ve gone and shown the whole InterWeb what to do…
Anyway, after lots more prayers and invocations, I put the mixer onto a higher speed, and let the hook do my mixing and kneading.  In about fifteen minutes I had a nice, soft and sticky dough.  After greasing a large bowl, I put the dough into that, turning the dough around till a thin sheen of butter protected the dough from drying out. 

Put in a warm and protected spot and let rise till double.   Mine never quite got to double, wrong yeast and all, but it did proof fairly well, so when it had proofed for about an hour, I gave it a good punch, and the air wheezed out of it.

I then rolled it out on a lightly floured surface, to about a half inch thick, into as rectangular a shape as I could manage. 
The Filling
Hands work best for spreading butter and filling, so use them.  The warmth of hands spreads the butter evenly, and it feels good to spread the coconut and sugar around, knowing you have a fairly even sprinkling.  I didn’t want these too sweet, as I was aiming for the taste of Chinese Coconut Buns, but you can use more sugar if you like.  I used ginger scented sugar. 
This one isn’t listed with my other scented sugars, but it gets automatically created when you make my glorified candied ginger.  The extra falls off the candied ginger, and as it’s the culinary equivalent of flaked gold, I gather it up and use it for adventures like this one.  I intend to rim cocktail glasses with it too, one day, soon…
Anyway, never mind the looming cocktail, focus on this recipe for now.  You can use any kind of sugar you like if you don't have a fancy scented one on hand.

Once the filling is spread evenly over the dough, begin rolling at the long end of the rectangle.  Roll as tightly as possible. 
Grease a loaf pan, slice the dough roll into half inch pieces, and place swirly side up in the pan.

Because of my yeast and rising issues, I let the rolls proof a second time, for another thirty minutes.  They rose adequately. 
Bake at 350 F for about thirty minutes, or till they look golden.  Cool on a rack for about ten minutes.  Invert and shake out of pan and let cool another ten, and then serve.

I will keep trying this recipe till it is as light and fluffy as the Tangzong breads in everyone else’s blog.  I would have preferred to stick with just white flour, as that is traditional, and more cloud like, but I ran out this morning, and had to use half whole wheat.  I’m sure the tangzong is best when properly measured and stirred on the right heat.  Instant yeast has to increase the rising results as well, although Radhika’s pictures show the cloud-like puffs that I am trying to emulate, and the non-instant yeast was her idea.  

So thank you to Radhika, as well as all the other bloggers who have attempted this bread.  And above all, thank you to my ancestors, helpful recently departed bakers, and my favourite Goddess from the Ganges River.  While my first attempt was full of failures and prayers, at least it tasted quite lovely, which is after all, a little miracle.  

She took pity on me and helped out.

Adjust, Pray and Hope...


  1. Replies
    1. Yes, Apu, they are delicious. Next up is another version of these, but with coconut milk powder and cinnamon bun filling. I can't wait! Thanks for your comment.