Pei-Lin has been having a headache all day. There was this little
fight debate in her.
Ego: Dude! You’ve abandoned your journal for 13 solid days!? Ugh … What’s wrong with you? Now, move your butt and get the words flowing!
Id: I’m tired … I’m tired … Gimme my bed and pillows … I want sleep … I want at least 8 hours of sleep!
Ego: But, but … if she's really giving in to you, she will lose her momentum to write for fun – and her love for creative writing! Remember only practice makes perfect! The passion for writing in her will extinguish … Her world will be dark and cold …
Id: I spent goddamn 10 hours out on the road and at work every day. Don’t I deserve a good-night’s sleep!? Where’s my bed? Where are my pillows?
Ego: Pei-Lin, listen to me! Write, write, write! You know the muse is always with ya! At least, a little entry on your journal, okay? Pretty please?
Id: Hush, hush! Pei-Lin, close your eyes … Clear your mind … Take a deep breath … and let go. Sleep now. Sleep now. Here are some nice little cuddly and fluffy pillows for you on the sofa …
Ego: #@%$&%^@#$!!! Get the hell outta here, you moron!
Id: No, you’re the one who should leave her in peace!
Superego: Shut up! Knock it off! Why not straighten things up with a compromise so that Pei-Lin can get over with both her itch to write and her desperate need for 8 hours of sleep! Remember she’s got to work tomorrow. Pei-Lin, what say you?
I still want to write because writing keeps me sane amidst all the confusion in life. I feel more organized that way. Ha!
About 2 months ago, on a tiring Wednesday evening after work, as I ran towards my room to grab a few things, the blinking and ringing of my cell phone caught my attention. The number was unidentified. Feeling dubious and wary at the same time, I was very curious. So, I answered the mystery call anyway.
“Hello, is this Pei-Lin speaking?”
“Yes, this is she. May I know who’s on the line? *Silent for 5 seconds* Are you ZM?”
“You’ve got it right, my friend! It’s me, ZM!”
Memories flashed back, it was overwhelming. I was dumbstruck on the spot for another 5 seconds before I could utter, “Hey! How’re ya?”
It’d been 4 years since I last saw her. We’ve been close, close friends since the first days we knew each other in high school. Close to 8 years I’d say. Since the day I left for the U.S., I’d lost touch of her. When asked of how she got my number, she said it was through another high school buddy of ours. Now, this is what I call destiny or yuan fen (緣份). It looks like our friendship is destined not to vanish despite the different directions in life we’re pursuing.
These two girls decided on a meet-up, in 4 years since 2006. With our busy schedules, we compromised and settled on a Friday evening, which meant we’d have to get off work sharp and rush to KLCC. KLCC was the only place that worked best for the both of us.
Me: But hey, where should we be waiting for each other at KLCC then?
ZM: Erm … I dunno. At the subway?
Me: No, that isn’t a good idea. I hate the crowd and pickpockets!
Me: No, no point of clambering up to the top of the shopping mall for that bookstore. Hey, how about Rotiboy? It’s close to the entrance of the shopping mall. A strategic location. Oh, and remember those good old days? Well, it’s feasible. Don’t you think?
So, on that very Friday evening, I found ZM in front of the Rotiboy we talked about. It was an awesome girls’ night-out: We chatted for 3 hours! (No drinking, please. No alcohol for me except in my baking and cooking.) Though it was hard, we still had to part and say goodbye.
Oops, sorry that I digressed! Anyway, this very Rotiboy outlet means a lot to us. We love it not only for its strategic location, but for the fact that since high school, it’s been a point for us to meet up whenever we wind up chilling out at KLCC. Last but not least, we LOVE to inhale the addictively sweet caffeinated aroma it carries.
Caffeinated aroma!? A few years back, the bakery Rotiboy started selling Mexican buns, a.k.a. Rotiboys, which is another name apparently named after the business. Thanks to the bun, the business bloomed and Rotiboy opened gobs of outlets in many parts of the Far East. We were once struck by the Rotiboy fever. Inexplicably, people would queue up, patiently waiting for their turn, right outside the bakery, for their share of the Rotiboy.
The Rotiboy is such a lovable creature. Don’t be fooled by its humble look. The pillow-soft bread within is enclosed, not quite actually, in a slightly crisp and crumbly sweet shell … or should I say topping. I swear that your nose will be engulfed in the mysteriously addictive aroma Rotiboy unleashes, fresh off the oven: It’s a cross between the scent of burned sugar and coffee! I always call it “THAT burned caffeinated smell!” Engrossing indeed. If only perfumeries carried such fragrance ...
So, to emulate the softness and fluffiness of the bun, I went with the trusted tangzhong (湯種) method, which is known for its ability to slow down the staling process of bread – on top of giving our home-made bread a soft texture without the use of additives such as bread improver. And for another record breaker, I used plain bread flour instead of whole-wheat flour for these buns! (Bah ... This ain’t whole grain, Pei-Lin. Ya know, it’s refined food, eh!)
I’ve already given a fairly detailed review on the tangzhong method here. Due to the overwhelming response and based on the comments and questions I’ve received so far, here’s a little troubleshooting write-up to share with y’all on tangzhong and bread making:
- Whole-wheat/Wholemeal bread won’t be as soft and fluffy as plain white bread. With the fiber, whole-wheat bread isn’t going to melt in your mouth, unlike white bread.
- The consistency of the tangzhong should be slimy and on the runny side. As you cook the flour-and-water mixture over low heat to obtain tangzhong, pay close attention at all times! The soonest you start to feel the mixture has barely thickened and to see that there are trails with every whisk that you make (with the metal whisk you use for stirring the mixture), remove tangzhong from the heat to stop its cooking process. Yeap, you’re not wrong – tangzhong should be that runny!
- You may also use milk in place of water to cook tangzhong.
- Bread dough made with tangzhong is always relatively stickier than the one made via the (regular) direct method (直接法). For some odd reasons, if the dough ends up dry(!?), work in more water, milk, egg(s), heavy cream (if you’re willing to spend on that) or tangzhong (if there’s any left).
- Don’t knead the COLD, CUBED butter into the dough too early. You’ve got to wait till gluten has developed before incorporating the fat into the pile of mess; otherwise, the fat will stop gluten from forming.
- The wetter and stickier a bread dough is, the softer and more tender the end product (i.e. bread) will be.
- Eyeballing works like a charm – I sometimes don’t follow recipes to a tee when it comes to bread making. If you’re baking bread with a Pullman loaf tin, for a perfect square loaf, make sure 1/3 to 1/2 of the tin is filled with bread dough before the second round of proofing. If you want the loaf to be taller than that, fill the prepared loaf tin half-full or a little beyond that. Remember, whole-wheat bread requires more dough than plain white one to fill the tin due to the presence of fiber and its lower gluten content.
- Bread can be baked in just about any pans provided that they’re ovenproof, e.g. an 8-inch round cake pan, a 9x13-inch pan, muffin pan and so forth. Do bear in mind that you need to eyeball the quantity of dough needed so that the dough will eventually fill the pan(s) after proofing and baking. Also, adjust the time it takes for the bread dough to cook through as it bakes.
- If you let your bread machine or sturdy stand mixer to knead the dough while you run some other errands, remember to pay attention every so often because you may just have the dough overkneaded by the machine! I knead my bread dough with a pair of good old trusty hands my parents have given me and with assistance from my eyes and brain. So, it’s pretty unlikely for me to end up with an overworked dough – the arms may even become exhausted halfway through the kneading process. And, I usually knead mine for close to 1 hour.
- If the bread crust gets too hard, which is untypical of Asian-style soft bread but resembles that of European artisan bread, it could be that the oven temperature is unstable that it fluctuates during baking. If that wasn’t the case, your bread could have been overbaked! Different ovens behave differently. So, the suggested time in the recipe is just a reference. That said, you may set your oven timer according to the recipe; however, do check your oven 5 to 10 minutes before the time’s up! On top of that, here’s a wild guess of mine as this has happened to me personally: The surface of the dough got “air-dried” that a layer of “skin” formed prior to baking because the dough wasn’t properly covered (with e.g. cling wrap) during proofing. BUT, don’t take my words here as this is, once again, purely a wild guess of mine based on personal experience.
- If you’re short of time halfway through bread making but still want to proceed anyway, you may perform low-temperature proofing on the dough. Just be sure to wrap the dough up real well with at least three layers of (clean) plastic bags, then press out the air inside the bags thoroughly so that no air gets trapped within before tying a dead knot to the bags. (Oh, oil the insides of the bags so that the dough can be removed easily later on!) You may now let the yeast do its job slowly in the refrigerator at low temperature (5°C) for up to 72 hours. Beyond that, you’re going to get an extremely wet dough, dead yeast and a strong alcoholic smell – GAME OVER! However, I gauge by looking at the size of the dough, which should have been doubled in size by then. For me, it’s always been 36 to 56 hours of proofing. Once the dough has been proofed, carefully and gently pull it out of the fridge lest it get deflated. Then, set the dough aside to warm it up to room temperature before proceeding with the rest of the recipe (whichever one that you use).
All the aforementioned measures are to ensure that the bags won’t burst as a result of the expanding dough; and that the dough won’t be overproofed should there be extra room for expansion and more oxygen to feed the yeast till it gets hyperactive that it keeps producing too much carbon dioxide and alcohol, which eventually leads to its suicide. (Well, I suck at chemistry! Pardon me for that.)
Dough proofed via this method tends to be REALLY wet and flabby. So, don’t hesitate to flour your own hands, rolling pin, work surface and whatever that will come into contact with the sticky mess – of course, don’t overdo it as this may affect the bread’s texture. Bread made via low-temperature proofing is softer and moister due to the absorption of more moisture by the flour during the long hours of fermentation. The bread will also be more flavorful due the slow chemical reactions that the yeast renders as the dough is proofing – you’ll say: “Oh, it’s that good bread smell! Haven’t had that for ages!”
Made when I was a student in the States: my first attempt at making chocolate wassants, via the tangzhong method, but I let the dough proof at low temperature overnight (Dated August 2008)
Coming to think about it, I noticed that I haven’t been sharing bread-related posts lately though in actuality, I do bake bread on almost every weekend to fill my lunchbox for the following week. (If you check out my Flickr photostream, you’ll notice that.) Hmmm … I wonder what’s with my brain … Anyway, set all my BS aside. Without further ado, here’s a good, good Rotiboy recipe I’d like to share with you: It’s made via the tangzhong method and with plain bread flour – definitely not my usual whole-wheat style. (Ugh!) Good luck!
Rotiboys, a.k.a. Mexican Buns 墨西哥麵包 (Makes 9)
Adapted from "Bread Doctor" by Yvonne Chen 摘自《65C湯種麵包》。 陳郁芬 著
*The following instructions are meant for manual kneading. Adapt them if you're kneading your dough with either a bread machine or a stand mixer.*
For the bread:
210 g bread flour
56 g cake flour
6 g instant (dry) yeast
6 g instant (dry) yeast
20 g milk powder
42 g caster sugar
1/2 tsp salt
30 g eggs -- slightly beaten and at room temperature
85 g water (at room temperature will do)
84 g tangzhong (湯種)
22 g unsalted butter -- cold and cubed
For the topping:
40 g unsalted butter -- softened
60 g shortening
80 g powdered sugar -- sifted
1 egg -- at room temperature
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp instant coffee granules
1/2 tsp very hot water
100 g cake flour -- sifted
Enough miniature chocolate chips (optional; I used these for fun. The original Rotiboy doesn't have chocolate chips!)
The "poking test": Checkin' 1-2-3! Dough has indeed been proofed!
- Combine (A) together real well, then mix in the salt. Now, mix (B) together and stir into the flour mixture; using a sturdy wooden spoon, combine everything together very well till a dough starts to form and subsequently, pulls away from the sides of your huge mixing bowl
- Turn the dough out onto a work surface and knead till gluten has developed -- you can feel the dough tightening up and becoming less sticky. Now, gradually knead in the cold butter cubes till fully incorporated
- Once the butter has been incorporated, keep kneading the dough till it has achieved the windowpane stage, i.e. a thin "membrane" will form by slowly, gently pulling the dough out towards opposite directions. The dough shouldn't be sticky by now; it should feel smooth and supple.
- Round the dough up and place it into an oiled mixing bowl, then cover the whole deal with cling wrap and set the dough aside to proof till doubled in size. To know whether it's doubled in size, do the "poking test" (as pictured right above): dip your finger in some bread or plain flour and gently, slowly poke into the dough--of course, don't puncture it! If an indentation remains at where you poked your finger in, this means proofing is sufficient; otherwise, if that spot bounces back, let it proof further till the dough has doubled in size
- Deflate the dough, knead for a little bit and divide it into nine equal portions (at 60 g each). Round each portion up into a tight ball and cover with cling wrap; let the dough rest for 10 minutes.
- To shape the dough, shape each portion of the dough into a round ball -- gather and pinch the seams tightly to seal the dough well. As you do this, arrange each portion of the shaped dough on greased or parchment-lined baking sheet(s) -- allow some room for expansion in between each bun.
- Once the buns have been shaped, cover the buns with cling wrap and set them aside to proof till almost doubled in size
- When the dough is just about done from proofing, prepare the batter for the topping. The thing with the batter for Rotiboy's topping is that you shouldn't overbeat the mixture -- stop mixing once things are just incorporated. An overmixed batter has too much air incorporated, which will give a porous surface to the topping of your Rotiboys upon baking.
Mix (C) together till just blended with a metal hand whisk, then sift in the powdered sugar and whisk till just combined
Gradually mix the egg in several portions into the fats-sugar mixture till just incorporated. (Mixing in the egg in one shot will have the mixture and egg separated!) On the other hand, dissolve (D) together to get a coffee paste. Then, mix it into the egg mixture along with the salt till just combined.
Sift the cake flour over the mixture, using a metal hand whisk, combine everything together till the flour is fully blended with the rest of the ingredients -- the final batter should have attained a glossy look by now. Remember to mix them up till only incorporated -- don't overmix!
- Transfer the mixture into piping bag, which is fitted with a 1-centimeter plain-nozzle tip. Pipe the topping batter onto each bun, which should have doubled in size by now, in a circular motion beginning from the center. For each bun, 1/3 of its surface should be covered in the topping batter.
Now, sprinkle some miniature chocolate chips over each bun (i.e. over the piped topping batter), if desired
- Bake at 160°C for 15 minutes
- Remove the buns from the oven and transfer to cool on cooling rack(s) slightly before eating -- Rotiboys are at their best when served warm!