Whilst you don't get much baked bread in China steamed buns are everywhere. The southern Chinese may live off rice but up north wheat is their staple and that can just as much come from these buns as it could noodles. They're a home cooked side dish or a bought on the street breakfast or snack.
Early in the morning in Chinese towns two foot wide steamers sit stacked ten tall and for Mandarin challenged travellers like ourselves it was always potluck as to what our pointing would bring. Sometimes the first bite would reveal juicy pork, fragrant with ginger or garlic, and other less lucky mornings our efforts would bring nothing but bread dough, a plain white roll lacking even the variation the crust would provide back home.
Whilst a meat filling was the holy grail I was also more than happy with these twisted delights. With these flower buns (hua juan bao) not only do the spring onions provide a lovely sweet flavour but the oiling and shaping leaves a tangle of layers that you can peel apart and savour.
Chinese Steamed Flower Buns with Spring Onion (Hua Juan Bao)
200gr typo 00 flour or Chinese bun flour
15gr white sugar
3/4 ts yeast
1/2 ts salt
Flavourless oil (sunflower/peanut/?) for brushing dough
The greens from 2 or 3 spring onions, finely chopped
As this dough is going to be steamed, so adding moisture, you need to start with a pretty dry and stiff dough, none of the high water content doughs I've come to know and love in my baking.
To make simply mix all the dry ingredients then add the water and mix into a stiff dough. Cover and leave for a few minutes then embark on the kneading. It's not a lot of fun when the dough is this stiff but 5 minutes should leave you something reasonably smooth. Place in a bowl, cover with cling film and leave till doubled in size, somewhere around 45 minutes to an hour I imagine.
Now comes the fun part. You need to roll the dough out to something about 20cmx25cm. Once this is done brush with oil and sprinkle with the spring onion. Now roll into a Swiss roll shape (parallel to the short edge) and cut into 6. Take one and give it a squeeze in you hand, so it's longer and thinner, then fold in half, twisting as you go and bring the two spiral ends around so they are facing towards you. Place on the work top and push a chopstick down into it, once along the fold you've just made and then at 90 degrees to it. Cut some squares of greaseproof paper, about 5cmx5cm, and place a flower bun on each. Stick in a steamer (I did 3 per steamer), cover and leave to rise for another 30-45 minutes.
If that's not clear then hopefully these pictures will help.
Once they have risen a bit (don't worry if they haven't doubled they will rise a lot during steaming) steam for 15 - 20 minutes.
For maximum enjoyment eat whilst still warm.