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Author Notes: Inspired by the steamed pork and dill buns my Aunt Anita got us last month from Chinatown. They were very delicious! The bun recipe is adapted from Pork-Belly Buns, Gourmet, October 2007. Things you should know going in: don’t forget to cut out your parchment squares ahead of time; basically, you’re making bread, so you’ll be tied up for HOURS…do some yoga, or watch your dvr’d episodes of Smash, or Community, or YouTube videos of Justin Timberlake and Jimmy Fallon doing their History of Rap.
I tested two cooking methods for these buns; steaming and baking. Steaming took first place among everyone in the household. The steamed buns were ethereally supple pillows of deliciousness, whereas the baked buns were equally good; less pillowy, with a more bread-like crust. If you choose to bake, bake the buns pinch-side down for about 20 minutes in a preheated 350 degree F oven. —mrslarkin
Makes 16 buns
For the dough
- 1/4 cup warm milk
- 1 cup warm water
- 2 tablespoons leaf lard or shortening
- 1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast
- 1 tablespoon granulated sugar, plus 1/4 teaspoon
- 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- vegetable oil, to grease bowl
For the filling
- 1 pound Italian bulk sausage, or equal amount of sausage links, meat removed from casing
- 3 cups chopped fennel, including fronds and green stalks
- 1 large garlic clove, minced
- 1 teaspoon fennel seeds, lightly crushed
- 1 large whole egg, beaten
- 1/4 cup cold chicken stock
- 1 teaspoon cornstarch or flour
- 1 tablespoon heavy cream (optional)
- FOR THE DOUGH: Dissolve the yeast and ¼ teaspoon sugar in the warm milk. Add the water.
- Combine the flour, 1 tablespoon sugar and salt in a large bowl. Mix in the lard or shortening with your fingertips. Stir in the yeast mixture with a fork until the dough comes together. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured board and knead for a few minutes. Grease the sides of the bowl with vegetable oil. Return dough to greased bowl and coat the dough evenly in oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, top it with a dish towel, and SET THE BOWL IN A WARM SPOT FOR A COUPLE OF HOURS. The dough should double in bulk.
- Deflate the dough and transfer to a floured work surface. Press lightly into a circle shape. SPRINKLE THE BAKING POWDER IN THE MIDDLE OF THE DOUGH, and fold the sides over to completely seal in the baking powder. Knead several times to thoroughly incorporate the baking powder. Return the dough to the bowl, cover with plastic wrap and LET RISE FOR ANOTHER ½ HOUR.
- While the dough is rising again, CUT OUT 16 PIECES OF PARCHMENT, ABOUT 3” X 3” EACH.
- MAKING THE FILLING AND BUNS: Sauté the sausage and fennel together, breaking up the sausage with the back of a spoon or spatula. Stir the sausage and fennel together, and continue cooking until the fennel is wilted and the sausage is cooked through. Stir in the garlic and fennel seeds. Increase heat a bit and continue cooking until sausage begins to brown. Transfer the sausage to a bowl and let cool. STIR IN THE EGG.
- Stir the cornstarch into the chicken stock until dissolved. Over medium heat, deglaze the pan with the stock, scraping up all the browned bits. Remove from heat and stir in the spoonful of cream, if using. Stir gravy into the pork.
- Weigh your dough and divide in half. Or just eyeball it. Roll each half into an 8” long log. Cut each log into 8 pieces. Mine were about 50 grams each. Roll each piece into a ball. Working with one piece of dough at a time, flatten each ball into a circle about ¼” thick. Spoon about a heaping tablespoon of filling onto the middle. Gather the edges up and pinch closed. You are sort of making pleats and then squeezing them together towards the middle-top of the bun to make a purse. Don't worry if they're not perfect. Mine never are, but they taste great. Plop each bun on a square of parchment paper, pinch-side up. Set on a sheet pan, covered loosely with a kitchen towel. Let buns rise while you PREPARE YOUR STEAMER BASKET or steaming implement of choice.
- This is how I do it: Set rice cooker up with about an inch of water. Place the steamer basket insert inside and turn on to heat the water. When steam begins to build, place buns in the basket, I do 4 at a time, as the buns do spread a bit. Close the top, and steam until buns are puffy, about 10 minutes. As buns are done, remove with tongs, place on a tray and cover with a kitchen towel to keep warm.
- Alternatively, set up a bamboo steamer basket or collapsible stainless steel steamer basket over a small amount of boiling water in a pan with a lid. Continue as above.
- This recipe was entered in the contest for Your Best Fennel