Monday, August 27th, 2007...7:19 pm

Muffiny Buns

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The one awesome thing I took away from my brief trip to Vietnam was a renewed love for bread. On most occasions, I categorically disagree with the saying “man cannot live by bread alone”. (Supposing my bread is filled with a variety of sausages, bacon, eggs, and spreads, of course.) Bread’s also something I love to make, and on the flight back from Vietnam, aka Asian land of the baguette, I happily jotted down various types of bread I wanted to bake upon my return.

One of the types, high up on my list, was brioche. I’ve made brioche only once before, and the stickiness of the uncooked dough quite surely scared me. Further, I was following a recipe that called for fresh yeast, which is impossible (or at least ridiculously difficult) to find in Singapore. Having checked my larder and fridge for all the necessary ingredients, I set my butter out to soften only to realise that the new recipe I was intending to try took almost 24 hours to make, start to finish. I ran for my well-worn copy of Baking Illustrated, and instead found a recipe for Parker House Rolls, whose components are not dissimilar to brioche, albeit in different proportions. It also only took 2 hours to make, from start to finish, thanks to the first rise being performed in a slightly warmed oven, and proved to be a good choice.

Parker House Rolls are butter, milky, soft bread rolls. Their shapes are a little reminiscent of the white chinese steamed buns used to house Kong Ba Bao, in that they’re flattened ovals, folded over, (and this is where they differ), brushed all over with melted butter, then baked to a golden-brown heavenliness. They were a huge success the first time round, so I decided to vary the recipe a little, and make breakfast buns for bunny to bring to work for the next couple of days.

One problem I found with the first batch of rolls that I made were that they were a little too flat. This was really only a problem because my favourite part was the fluffy, pale golden interiors, and it made sense that if I baked them in muffin tins this time, they’d spread less and leave a higher buttery-insides to thin crust ratio. Instead of baking them in the generic form, I filled them with a little melted butter and some jam or ham, then rolled them back into a tight ball and baked them in muffin tins. The result was heavenly.

Breakfast Buns
(adapated from Baking Illustrated’s Parker House Roll recipe)

1 1/4 cups full cream milk
2 heaped tbsp caster sugar
2 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
1 large egg, lightly beaten
4 cups unbleached all purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
1 1/2 tsp salt
14 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
24 tbsp jam or 12 paper-thin slices of ham (or a combination of the two) for the fillings
about 1-2 tsp mild-tasting oil

Adjust an oven rack to the lowest position and heave the oven to 100°C. Once the oven reaches 100°C, maintain the oven temperature for 10 minutes then turn off the heat.

Heat the milk and sugar together in a small saucepan until the mixture is lukewarm (about 45°C). Whisk in the yeast and the egg, and set aside for 5 minutes.

Combine 4 cups of the flour and the salt in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the dough hook and mix on low speed to blend, about 15 seconds. With the mixer running, drizzle the liquid mixture in a steady stream and mix until the flour is moistened, about 1 minute. With the mixer still running, slowly add 8 tbsp of the butter, one tbsp at a time, until incorporated into the dough. Increase the speed to medium and beat until the dough is thoroughly combined and scrappy, about 2 minutes. Continue kneading on medium speed until smooth but still sticky, about 6 minutes, adding more flour in 1 tbsp increments, if necessary for the dough to clear the sides of the bowl. (Both times, it took me about 2 tbsp of extra flour to reach this texture.) Scrape the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead by hand for an additional minute, until very smooth and soft, but no longer sticky. Transfer the dough to a very lightly oiled large bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and place in the warmed oven until the dough doubles in bulk, about 45 minutes.

Once the dough as doubled, press it down and replace the plastic wrap, and allow the dough to rest for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, melt half the remaining butter, and with a pastry brush, liberally butter 24 muffin tins (I use 2 x 12 capacity tins). Divide the dough into 24 pieces (each should be roughly 50-55g in weight), and with a cupped palm, roll each piece into a smooth tight ball then loosely cover with plastic wrap. It’s better to use an un-floured work surface, which will stick a little to the dough and help form a tighter ball. Repeat with the rest of the dough until you have 24 balls, ensuring that all the completed balls and remaining dough are always covered with plastic wrap so as to prevent them from drying out.

Beginning with the ball rounded first, use the palm of your hand to flatten it into a 1cm thick circle. Lightly dust both sides with flour, then roll out until it is a circle twice the diameter. Spread a little of the remaining butter in the middle, place a dollop of jam, or some shredded ham, in the middle, then gather up the edges and squeeze together to seal. (You might find it easier to use a little water/egg wash to help the edges to adhere to each other.) Round again into a tight ball using a cupped hand, and place in a the muffin tin. Repeat with the rest of the balls. Cover the trays loosely with plastic wrap, and place in a warm, draught-free place for the second rise, about 45 minutes.

Towards the end of the second rise, preheat the oven to 175°C. Brush the tops of the dough with whatever remaining melted butter you have, and bake for 12-15 minutes, rotating the pan once midway through, or until golden brown and crusty. Remove from the oven, and transfer to a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes. Serve immediately, or keep in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days, and toast to reheat before serving.

Makes 24.