I’ve been obsessed with hujiaobing (baked pepper buns) ever since a friend sent me a video of them being made by a night-market vendor in Taipei. The vendor stuffed the buns with an enormous amount of meat and spring onions, then baked them in a tandoor oven. I began working on the recipe immediately and, after six attempts, have made a version that received an enthusiastic two thumbs up from a Taiwanese friend.
This recipe is the result of watching many YouTube videos, which showed some useful techniques but didn’t give precise instructions, and reverse engineering the hujiaobing that my friend brought back from Taipei.
I weighed the buns, cut one in half horizontally to examine the consistency of the meat mixture, and weighed the filling and dough separately to find the right proportions. Next I examined the dough to figure out if it contained yeast, an ingredient called for in many print and online recipes. My version doesn’t contain yeast, but gets its lightness and flakiness from a layer of roux.
However, the recipe didn’t come together until I added jellied stock to the filling, simmering pork meat with some pork skin, which contains gelatin. Once chilled, it sets into a delicately solid jelly, which is combined with the meat. In the heat of the oven, the jelly liquefies, and makes the filling deliciously moist.
It’s essential to use good-quality fresh pepper. Ground pepper is fine, but test that it’s still fragrant by taking a cautious sniff. And you’ll need two skillets – preferably cast iron (not the enamelled type) – to start cooking the buns on the stove top, before they’re baked in the oven.
For the filling and jellied stock:
500 grams pork belly, skin on
300 grams minced pork
10 grams peeled ginger
25ml soy sauce
15ml rice wine
10ml oyster sauce
10ml sesame oil
¾ tsp to 1 tsp finely ground white pepper
½ tsp finely ground black pepper
½ tsp granulated sugar
¾ tsp five-spice powder
Fine sea salt
200-250 grams spring onions
For the roux:
40 grams lard, or rendered goose or duck fat
65 grams plain (all-purpose) flour
½ tsp fine sea salt
For the dough:
520 grams plain (all-purpose) flour
15 grams granulated sugar
grams fine sea salt
60 grams lard, or rendered goose or duck fat, melted
To finish the buns:
A little cooking oil
50 grams granulated sugar dissolved in 50ml hot water
Make the jellied stock. Remove the skin from the pork belly and cut into strips, 1cm wide. Dice 300 grams of the pork belly into 5mm cubes and set aside. Cut the remaining pork belly into chunks and place into a small saucepan with the skin. Roughly chop the ginger and add to the pan along with a teaspoon of salt and 200ml of water. Place the pan over a medium flame and bring to the boil. Lower the heat, cover partially with the lid and simmer for 30 minutes, or until the skin is very soft. Strain the liquid into a bowl and cool to room temperature, then refrigerate until solid, about two hours.
While the stock is simmering, put the reserved diced pork belly meat and minced pork into a bowl. In another small bowl, mix together the soy sauce, rice wine, oyster sauce, sesame oil, white and black peppers, sugar, five-spice powder and half a teaspoon of salt. Add this to the pork, mix thoroughly and refrigerate.
Make the roux. Melt the lard, or goose or duck fat, in a saucepan, then add the flour and salt. Cook over a low flame for about three minutes, stirring constantly. Put the mixture into a small bowl and leave to cool.
Make the dough. Mix together the flour, sugar and salt in a bowl and add the melted lard, or goose or duck fat. Add 280ml of cool water and mix by hand to form a soft dough. Knead the dough on a work surface until it is cohesive, pliable and smooth, but not sticky or dry. If needed, add a little more water or flour. Cover with cling film until ready to shape the buns.
Chop the spring onions into 5mm pieces and put them in a bowl. Heat the oven to 250 degrees Celsius.
Weigh the dough and divide it into 10 equal portions. Weigh the roux and divide into 10 equal portions. Cut the jellied stock into small chunks, add it to the chilled meat mixture and combine well with your hands, breaking up the jelly and distributing it evenly throughout the meat. Weigh the meat mixture, divide it into 10 equal portions and return to the refrigerator.
Put a piece of dough on the work surface and press it into a rough 15cm circle. Smear the roux over the circle, leaving a 5mm border around the perimeter. Roll the piece of dough into a tight cylinder then fold it into thirds, pressing the right and left sides over each other. Roll the dough to stretch it slightly, then again fold it into thirds. Put the dough on the work surface while shaping the remaining pieces. Cover with cling film and leave to rest for 15 minutes.
Take a piece of dough and use your hands to form it into a 15cm circle, making the edges slightly thinner than the centre. Place a portion of the meat mixture into the centre of the dough circle and top with a small handful of spring onions, pressing them into the meat – add as many as you can handle. Lift and stretch the edges of the dough over the filling and press together tightly to seal. Lay the bun sealed-side down on the work surface and shape the remaining buns. You might have some spring onions left, but you should have used most of them.
Put some sesame seeds in a bowl. Rub two 28cm skillets very lightly with oil, then place over a high flame on the stove top and heat to 300 degrees. Brush the entire surface of the buns with the sugar and water mixture then dip into the sesame seeds so the top is coated, and place sealed-side down into the skillet (you should be able to fit five into each pan). Cook the buns on the stove top for about a minute, or until you smell the dough starting to char, then transfer the skillets to the oven and bake for 20 minutes, or until well browned and cooked through. Use a metal spatula to remove the buns from the skillets and allow to cool slightly before eating.
Leftover buns should be refrigerated. To reheat, bake at 250 degrees for 10 minutes.
Styling: Nellie Ming Lee
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