I decided to make a Chinese bread bun that is filled with a meat and vegetable filling. To make the buns I had to make bread from scratch. That is an old Nebraska way of saying that I sifted flour and added it to a bubbling yeast mixture to make the bread the old-fashioned way. Just sifting the flour three times as the directions said to do was exhausting. Sifting flour is done with a flour sifter, a kitchen gizmo that your Grandma knew how to use but probably isn’t even in a modern kitchen. Anyway let’s just say that my thumb, palm, and muscles up to my elbow got a great workout sifting the flour three times. It took about twenty minutes to sift the flour and by that time my yeast was bubbling well in the luke-warm water and dissolved sugar mixture. After the flour was ready and the yeast mixture was ready it was time for them to meet and mix together. Then came more water to form the dough and once all was mixed well and a rough dough formed it was time to let it rest for three hours while the dough was to rise in a bowl with a damp cloth over the top.
Resting, for me, was recuperation after all that sifting! Three hours later the dough had more than doubled in size and it was time to punch it down and knead it until it was nice and smooth and shining. After I had my son attack it with karate chops and I folded it and worked the dough to knead it well, about ten minutes later, we were both pooped! We got it to smooth but gave up on making it shiny and we pronounced it done! Then came the task of cutting the dough into equal sized pieces, the recipe said to make ten. I made twelve and if I ever do this recipe again I will make at least sixteen if not twenty pieces.
Each piece was to be rolled out into a little circle and a good-sized portion of the meat and vegetable filling was to be placed inside the circle. The dough was to be brought up around and pinched so that it is completely closed around the filling. For those who make cabbage burgers also known as runzas it is the same concept only we don’t bake them in an oven, we steam them over boiling water.
The recipe to make the meat filling called for pork but I used beef instead, that was my first mistake. It also called for napa or Chinese cabbage and I used spinach and that was my second mistake. It also called for fresh slices finely chopped of ginger root steeped in Chinese wine and I didn’t have any so I substituted five spice, another Chinese spice. Actually that wasn’t a bad substitution. It called for a little soy sauce, white pepper, and sesame oil and fortunately I had these so that was good! If I make these buns again I will use cabbage and ground pork though, because pork has a little stronger flavor than the beef and the cabbage will absorb liquid where the spinach released liquid which made the inside of the buns a little soggy.
Since I was so proud of my effort I decided to try making the same recipe with whole-wheat flour. I have basically given up white flour in all my cooking and I wondered if the whole-wheat flour would taste good as a steamed bun. I duplicated the same process as before and got another good workout with the sifter.
Here are my results…my buns don’t look pretty like in the cookbook or when my friend Ying makes them, but I don’t think they are all that bad for my first attempt in more than twenty years. The real test came when my son was to taste them. He didn’t like the whole-wheat buns at all and I have to admit, they are pretty but not very tasty. (Make a note not to use whole-wheat flour for this recipe, another lesson learned.) He didn’t like the filling on the larger bun and I told him that I wasn’t going to eat them all by myself so he had to eat them anyway. He excused himself from the table and went to his room for something. He came back with a large water bottle and filled it with water then sat back down in his seat at the table. The message was clear to me without words…it was going to take a lot of water to force this bun down to his tummy! Later I asked him what it is about the bun he doesn’t like and he said the bread part was good but he didn’t like the filling. I had to laugh because ever since I have known this child, even in China, he would eat the bread and put the filling on my plate. Some things never change. I smiled and told him that if he could eat the bread I would be happy to eat the filling so we are happy campers here! Thinking back on my experiment of making some Chinese food that I can’t buy here but love to eat when I am where it is available, the Chinese meat buns, I learned some things.
First of all I realize just how soft I have become, and if you are truthful you are probably pretty spoiled yourself. I never have to bake bread from scratch, it just magically appears on the grocery store shelf and I buy it. If I want something that is more like homemade bread I can buy that too at the bread counter or the bakery. I don’t have to bake my daily bread any longer and that has made me soft. No wonder my Mother and Grandmother’s generations were so strong because they had a special day set aside once or twice a week just to bake bread and cookies and pies and anything else that they needed for their daily meals. No wonder their biceps were strong. If you don’t believe me just pick up a wooden rolling-pin sometime, I mean those things are heavy. No wonder in later years my Grandma and Mom loved to use frozen bread dough from the store, it was so much easier for them. Yes, I am soft. I would not want to have to do this making bread thing from scratch in a bowl the old-fashioned way like I did today. At the very least I want to have a good mixer that has a pair of dough hooks to knead the bread for me. I am soft and I admit it!
Secondly, probably because I am soft, I am out of shape. My back hurt, my arm muscles hurt, and even my feet hurt by the time I got two batches of bread completed and I didn’t even use the hot oven to bake the bread. I used the stove-top and boiling water to steam the bread! I can imagine that if I had to make bread from scratch twice a week I would be in better shape…come to think of it maybe that’s not such a bad idea. Now this has me thinking about other ways to burn calories. I never thought about cooking as exercise, but I sure was sweating at the end so maybe, just maybe, I can incorporate a little kneading of dough into my weekly exercise regime…then again maybe not! All those calories would add up I fear.
Finally I have learned a greater respect for my elder women relatives. When you begin to think of all the modern conveniences in a modern home it really is a breeze to keep a home clean and running properly. Making bread is just the tip of the iceberg! What about the labor-saving washing machine and dryer. I can remember helping my elderly cousin wash her clothes on a wooden washboard over a large pan of water and then putting the cleaned item into a pail of hot water to rinse. After all the clothes were washed and rinsed they were rung out to get rid of as much water as you could and then we hung the item on a clothes line to dry in the breeze. Even the electric washers that were first marketed were time-consuming and difficult to use. You had the agitator that washed the clothes but you had to run the clean cloths through a ringer device to get the water out before hanging the clothes on the line. Oh, and once the clothes were dry, your brought them into the house and heated up the iron and ironed every stitch of clothing to get the wrinkles out. No wonder my Grandma said that using her modern clothes washer and dryer was her favorite thing in the world to do! It was easy-peasy in comparison to most of her adult life.
Until next time…Katherine