I mentioned that I have a new hobby? I’m still at it.
Having baked and eaten several loaves of chewy homemade bread I began to wonder why Asian breads are so different. One of the reasons why I started experimenting is that it’s so hard to get ‘regular’ bread in Singapore. Forget about regional Jamaican specialities. Boules, sourdoughs, baguettes are impossible to find.
Let me qualify that.
Specialty breads are impossible to find at reasonable prices. European and artisanal breads can be bought but it’s at places like Paul’s Boulangerie, where they fly in specially milled flour and charge exhorbitant prices. My neighbourhood has bakeries galore but they all make Hong Kong style breads. Light and fluffy, the breads are pillowy soft, have an ephemeral crumb and are always slightly sweet.
A little research uncovered a technique called the TangZhong method which originated in Japan but is widely used in China, Taiwan and Hong Kong. It was first publicized by a Chinese author, Yvonne Chen who introduced it in her book ‘The 65º Bread Doctor’. The technique involves cooking a flour and water roux and adding it to the dough during mixing. The science behind the roux has something to do with gelatinizing flour and its subsequent hydration effect. After a little bit of YouTubing and a whole lot of Googling, I decided to try PastryGirl’s Hokkaido Milk Bread on her Desserts First website.
TangZhong breads have half as much flour as a Basic Bread recipe and the technique calls for twice as much kneading. Many recipes recommend using a bread maker or upright mixer for the heavy kneading. However, my under-powered Oster upright was not up for the job. After 20 minutes the machine began to overheat and I could smell traces of burning metal. I scraped out the dough and spent the next 20 minutes developing my biceps. For the final proof, I folded rolls into two regular pans and gave them a finishing glaze of egg wash. It resulted in a beautiful, brioche looking bread.
The taste was lovely – just like the breads in the better Hong Kong style bakeries. I’m not sure if it was the tangzhong or the 40 minutes of kneading, but the bite and chew was definitely lighter and more tender. The tangzhong articles say that the roux keeps the bread moist with a longer shelf life. So far, my breads haven’t had a problem with shelf life (they don’t hang around long enough) but I can say that these rolls were just as delicious the next day.
It’s an interesting thing, this tangzhong method. It got me thinking about another hard to find bread from Jamaica, the eponymous Hardo bread. A non-verified source says that the Hardo was introduced to the island by Chinese bakers. The distinction of Hardo is its resilient, fine grained crumb and its ability to keep fresh over a long period. My French born husband would argue with the ‘resilient’ attribute. He’s described hardo as heavy and brick-like; solid enough to build houses with.
Notwithstanding, the connection between the bread and Chinese baking is intriguing. Maybe that will be my next project.
Singapore. April 2016