Bread update

I have been busy.


Hong Kong style Buns

A recent article on Tangzhong breads got me yearning for Hong Kong style buns.

In Hong Kong and Singapore it’s hard to find a bakery not selling these pillowy soft breads.  They are slightly sweet, tender and chewy with a butter slicked soft crust.  Fillings tend towards sweet – red bean paste, coconut and custard – and salty sweet – cha sui buns, curry beef and onions, ham, cheese and onions. My kids favorite were hot dog buns – unadorned sausages wrapped in a spiral of bread.  In Singapore, variations included bright green pandan, light brown gula melaka and brilliant yellow mango flavored buns.

Nice though it was, this sweet bread was the ONLY style of bread available in Singapore bakeries.  Good on its own for snacks,  they are less than satisfying with soups, meats and meals.  Eating them at dinner was like eating Twinkies with your roast beef.   The unavailability of ‘regular’ bread was the reason I started making artisan breads at home.

Now that I’m back in Canada and living in remote British Columbia, the situation is reversed.  In my little town, there is no bakery.  There is a supermarket with an in-store bakery.   It does passably well with white and whole grain pan breads. Their  danishes and croissants are of the pre-made, mass produced variety.  Their Hong Kong buns?  Nonexistent.  My solution? Start making it at home.

Here’s my first batch. Shaping is not as good as it could be and it’s a bit too brown on top but the taste – it’s just as it should be.    Want to give it a try? Here’s a recipe.

Ucluelet, B.C.  August 2018



Whoops …

I just re-read my post on  A New Obsession : Breads.

I realize I’d made a promise to do weekly posts on Breads.  What was I thinking?  That’s insane.  Good thing all my faithful viewers are not bread-heads. Y’all still reading ’bout Ham Choy. Well, I still don’t have anything new to say about Ham Choy.

But I will give you a glimpse of what I have been baking.


… and yes, I have been making bread too.


Toronto, Canada.  2018




A New Obsession

Sandy Breads 2

It’s been a while since I last posted. Months actually. The funny thing is, my Stats page tells me this site has been getting regular hits every day.  Without exception every day someone views  Ham Choy is Kiam Chye is Hum Choy.   If I was a Views hound, I’d rename the blog to The Ham Choy Chronicles and post exclusively about this Hakka staple.

Too bad I am not a hound.   I blog about what I like and I have a new obsession: Bread.

The first time I made bread was when I was in Singapore and homesick for a  traditional Jamaican style sweet bread:  Home-made Easter Bun … the Non-Fail Version.

Encouraged by my limited success I continued to make  more bread.  That was two years ago.  Fast forward to November 2017 when I signed up for an advanced workshop on Artisan Bread at the King Arthur School @ The Bread Lab in Washington State.

For four days I learned how to make bread.  Straight dough, enriched doughs, biga, poolish, sourdoughs, ryes. We covered all the basics of handmade, long rise bread. Some of it went over my head but I grasped the fundamentals and relished the fruits loaves of my learning.

Ever since I’ve been making hearth style breads regularly.  I don’t buy grocery bread anymore. And I’m still learning.  There are vast libraries of knowledge on breads and  legions of bread enthusiasts in the blogosphere.  I’m joining them. Every week I’ll be posting something about bread.

Sorry, Ham Choy readers.

But who knows, maybe someday I’ll experiment and create an new type of bread: Ham Choy buns.  You’ll be the first to know.

Toronto, Canada. 2018 


Anadama Bread

Anadama Bread
Anadama Bread

Without context this is an unusual bread name to remember.   It is a regional US specialty with a tender soft crumb and subtle molasses flavor.  The context behind the name?  It’s a story of course …

Once upon time, a long time ago when men were Men and Women worked in the Kitchen, John and Ana were a newly married couple in New England.   Ana was a lovely woman, beautiful and smart.  She was gifted in many things but had absolutely no talent in the kitchen. In today’s world she’d probably be a fast tracker in corporate HQ or an apprentice to a $10B (or not) bigoted CEO.  Anyways, Ana could cook only one thing, cornmeal mush. She cooked it every day, for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  After eating mush for 15 days straight, John decided he could do better. He threw together Ana’s cornmeal mush with some yeast and flour, kneaded it himself, all the while muttering “Ana, damn her!”

This is a good dough to make with a KitchenAid mixer.   It is fairly wet initially but with 4 minutes of mixing will pull together around the dough hook and away from the mixing bowl walls.   Use a rubber spatula to scrape dough on to a lightly floured surface.  The outside of the dough will be dryer than the inside, but after a couple minutes of kneading will have a smooth tackiness throughout.

I like to add raisins and/or walnuts, to add a bit of sweetness and texture to the bread. If using, add to the dough when rolling into the loaf’s form, just before the second rise.

Recipe derived from Better Homes and Gardens’ New Baking Book.

Anadama Bread

1 cup    cornmeal
2 cup    water
½ cup   molasses
1/3 cup butter
2           eggs
2 tsp     salt
4 ½ to 5 cups flour (all purpose is fine)
4 ½ tsp active dry yeast (2 packages)
¾ cup   raisins or walnuts (optional)

2 8x4x2 loaf pans, greased and floured

Mix cornmeal and water in large bowl.  Microwave on high for 2 minutes. Stir cornmeal and water and microwave again until you have a cornmeal mush.   Cube butter and mix in to cornmeal mixture until melted.  Add molasses and sugar.  Cool liquid mixture until it is just warm (115 to 120 F).

Stir eggs into the cornmeal mixture and add to flour & yeast.  Beat with mixer on low speed for 30 seconds and then on high speed for 3 minutes.

Turn dough on to lightly floured surface, and knead until smooth and elastic.  Place in lightly oiled bowl and let rise for 1 hour, or until doubled.

After an hour, remove the dough and cut into 2.   Press out into rectangle and add raisins & walnuts, if using. Tightly roll into a loaf shape  and place into loaf pans to raise again for 1 hour, or until nearly doubled.

Bake in preheated 375 oven for 20 minutes.  Remove & cover with foil to prevent burning.   Bake for another 20 minutes.

Remove from oven. Rest for 5 minutes before removing from pans to cool on a wire rack.

TangZhong Bread

Hokkaido Milk Bread

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.

Fine, even grained crumb with a touch of sweet

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

Easter Bun … seriously good

Here is another recipe for bun. It is an evolved version from the non-fail, anecdotal one in my earlier post.   Use this for making seriously good bun.  Eat with lots of cheese. Jamaican tradition says to use Tastee cheese, which is a processed yellow cheese sold in a giant red tin.  I prefer a good sharp Cheddar or a fine buttery Gouda.


Easter Bun and Cheese
Easter Bun and Cheese

½ cup warm water
1 tsp sugar
6 tsp Dry Active Yeast

½ cup warm water
1 egg, beaten
3 tbs Butter, melted
1 cup Brown sugar
4 tbs molasses
1 tbs vanilla

4 cup Bread flour
1 Whole Nutmeg, freshly grated
1 tsp Cinnamon
1 ½ tsp salt
1 cup mixed fruit (raisin, citron, cherries)

Molasses Wash made with 2 tbs molasses, 1 tbs water and 1 tsp sugar

Proof yeast in ½ c water & 1 tsp sugar

Mix liquids, sugar, salt & vanilla.
Add 2 cups flour with yeast. Mix in other flour with fruit. Knead for 10 mins.

Rest in lightly greased bowl for 2 to 2 1/2  hours under parchment & tea towel.

When doubled, shape into 2 loaves and rise for another 1-2 hours.

Brush loaves with melted butter before placing in oven.

Bake at 350 for 30 minutes. Brush loaves with a wash of molasses, water & sugar. Bake for another 15 minutes.

Buns are cooked when a skewer comes out clean.


Bread Baking Binge

I’ve been on a bread baking binge.   Fueled by my  success with Easter Bun, I stocked up on flour determined to try different types of bread. Starting with Robin Hood’s Basic White Bread.  My, oh my. What a revelation.  I do believe I’ve found a new hobby.

The marvel in making regular bread is that it rises so much more than sweet bread.  Twice as high and twice as fast. The first time I peeked under the tea towel I was  surprised at how much the dough had risen.   After de-gassing  and reshaping into loaves, it rised again.  Twice as high and twice as fast as Easter bun.   Why is that ?

Yeast loves sugar but too much sugar inhibits growth.   Easter Bun has a full cup of sugar while a Basic White has 2 tablespoons.  To compensate, Easter Bun uses 6 teaspoons of Active Yeast while Basic uses 2 1/4 teaspoons. Even so, the rise in the sweet bread takes longer and is not nearly as high.  This is not to disparage – the appeal of real Jamaican bun is its dense, sweet chew, its full toothesome goodness, its spicy complement to buttery cheese … hmm, where was I …

Bread making is different from cake making.  I make cakes regularly and am comfortable in whipping up butter cakes, sponges, muffins, etc.  I’ve always stayed away from  real breads, scared off by the finickiness of yeast and the long yeild times. Plus there’s a whole mystique about the craft which is quite intimidating.  For instance, I bought Jeffrey Hamelman’s book on “Bread – A Baker’s Book of Techniques and Recipes.”  After flipping through the first eight pages on just mixing the flour, I hastily closed the tome and moved on.    It took a wave of  nostalgia for Easter bun (and inability to purchase in Singapore ) for me to try making it by hand.   Luckily this time, four years later, it worked.

Robin Hood has a delightfully straightforward recipe for Basic White Bread.  Here is my variation for a Whole Grain version.


½ cup warm water
1 tsp sugar
2 ¼ tsp active dry yeast

1 cup warm milk
½ cup warm water
2 tbs butter
3 tbs molasses
1 ½ tsp salt

4 ½ cup bread flour
1 cup wholegrain flour

Proof yeast in ½ c water & 1 tsp sugar

Mix milk, water, butter, molasses & salt
Add 2 cups bread flour with yeast. Mix in the remaining bread and wholegrain flour.  Knead for 5 mins.

Rest in lightly greased bowl for 1 hour under parchment & tea towel.

When doubled, place on lightly floured board anc cut into two pieces.  Use your fingers to press into a rectangle and remove the excess air (de-gas).  Shape the loaves by rolling into a tight roll and placing into 2 floured loaf tins (8 1/2″ x 4 1/2″ x 2 3/4″  or 1.5L). Cover with tea towel and rise 1 hour.

Bake at 400 for 30 minutes.

Brush with butter for a soft crust.  Makes 2 loaves.



Home-made Easter Bun … the Non-Fail Version

Home made Easter Bun - Take 2After my less than successful first attempt, I did try making Easter Bun a second time.

It was better.

At least, it was edible and I could cut it with a knife.   It was not as good as most store-bought versions, but good enough for someone stranded in a Jamaican bakery embargo zone.

The recipe is derived from  ‘Traditional Jamaican Cookery’ by Norma Benghiat.

Metric conversions and approximations are mine. Editorial comments  (written like this) are also mine, based on experiential trial and error.  Mostly errror.


Jamaican Easter Bun 

6 tsp Traditional Dry Active Yeast (Fleishman’s  in a bottle, not in a packet)

1 cup Milk, hot
1 cup Butter or Margarine, melted
1 cup Brown sugar
1 Whole Nutmeg, freshly grated
1 tsp Cinnamon
1 tsp Ground ginger
1 tsp salt
4 tbsp molasses
1 egg, beaten

6 cup Flour
4 oz raisin (or 125 g which is about ½ cup)
4 oz currants (or 125 g …)
4 oz chopped citron (or …)
4 oz cherries (…)

1  heavy duty KitchenAid Mix Master

Proof yeast by dissolving into ½ cup warm water (50 degrees according to Fleischman) . Add 1 tsp of sugar. Leave for 10 minutes until foamy.

Hint: Use a bowl large enough for the yeast to foam and bubble up like the incredible blob in a cheesy SciFi movie.
Large .. like a big Japanese ramen soup bowl or a 1 quart mixing bowl.
Large .. like not an oatmeal cereal bowl.

Mix milk, butter, spices, sugar , eggs, salt & molasses.

Mix flour with dried fruits.

Place half in the Mix master . Use dough hook. Add yeast & mix . Add liquid & remaining flour.

Have the Mixmaster knead dough until smooth. Might be around 5 minutes.

Hint: The dough is pretty stiff and the Mixmaster might start walking across the counter. Be a man’ and  lock it down – it’s not the Master of you

Proof dough by placing in a large bowl, cover and let raise for 2 hours at room temperature.

Hint: If the room is cool (say, in Canada on a cold day) place over (not in) a pan of hot water. If the room is hot (say, Singapore on a typical day) place it close to a pan of ice cubes.

After 2 hours, do the 2 finger test. Stick 2 fingers in the dough & if it doesn’t immediately collapse into the holes, it’s ready.

Divide dough into 3 loaves and do the second & final raise for another hour.

Preheat oven to 325. Bake loaves for 30 minutes. Brush tops with mixture of sugar, molasses & water. Bake for another 15 minutes. Buns are cooked when a skewer comes out clean.

Hint: If the yeast was alive and well, the loaves will rise and expand in the oven a third time. This is proof of life.  If the yeast was stale and dead … well that was my previous post.

How Not to make Jamaican Easter Bun

  • easterbun
    Jamaican Easter Bun

    Read the recipe with only scant attention to the instructions.

What’s critical to get right, is the ingredients list

  • Substitute ingredients you’ve never used before with ingredients you’ve never used before

Becaaause … you got this …

  •  Pretend that you can read the small print on the yeast package.

How different can  Instant Yeast be from Active Yeast ?

  •  Guess at conversions from imperial to metric

A pound is roughly 500g is roughly 2 cups, right?

  • Read the instructions too quickly, under low light conditions, without your glasses.

Recipes are just guidelines anyways 

  • Ignore the instructions and do it your way.

Guidelines are for rookies

  • Do not use your heavy duty Kitchenaid Mix Master with a dough hook

Kneading bread is easy. People have been doing it from time immemorial. 

  • Knead five pounds of bread dough after two hours of physiotherapy on your right shoulder.

Physio is good. More physio must be better.

  • Think that after three hours of not proofing, the bread dough will magically raise in the oven.

It says so on the Internet 

  • Believe that even after baking into blocks of fruit studded concrete, the loaves will soften on cooling.

 It says so on the Internet, right after that proofing thing

  • Think it normal to have to use a Chinese cleaver to cut a loaf of bread.

A hammer and hacksaw ?  Now, that  would be too much

  • And if shards of bun splinter off the cutting board and blind the cat

… Blame the cat for sitting in the line of fire