Steam

Black Sesame Buns

by:
June 10, 2020
Photo by Anna Billingskog
Author Notes

I’ve always loved just how deeply toasty and grainy black sesame paste is. On California-cold (50°F) nights, my mom would plop a few frozen tang yuan into a saucepan of bubbling water and ginger marmalade. If handled brusquely, the mochi-like dumplings would leak, inking our bowls with slow, sultry black trails.

These trails have snaked their way into my flavor dreams as of late. Between solitude-fueled loaves of sourdough bread, quick bread, flat bread, milk bread, I came across a video by @gut_flora of a type of steamed, twisted bun—the perfect medium for our slinking black sesame paste. The folding technique definitely takes some practice—here’s a wonderful video tutorial to reference—but even if your first few aren’t so handsome, they’ll still be plenty tasty.

Here, the filling is scented with cardamom (inspired by a kardemummabullar our food stylist, Anna Billingskog, shared with me last year), made even nuttier with toasted sesame oil, and finished with a daringly savory amount of salt. —Coral Lee

  • Prep time 1 hour 5 minutes
  • Cook time 7 minutes
  • Makes 6
Ingredients
  • Dough
  • 2 cups (256 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup (180 grams) tepid water, divided
  • 1 teaspoon (4 grams) granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon (4 grams) baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon (3 grams) active yeast
  • 1 teaspoon (6 grams) kosher salt
  • Filling
  • 6 tablespoons (53 grams) black sesame seeds
  • 1/4 cup (50 grams) granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon (3 grams) cardamom seeds, coarsely crushed
  • 1 teaspoon (6 grams) kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons (8 grams) toasted sesame oil
In This Recipe
Directions
  1. For the dough: Add the flour, 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons water, sugar, baking powder, yeast, and salt to the bowl of a stand mixer. Knead on low for 7 to 8 minutes, or until the dough is smooth and elastic. If, during mixing, you notice the dough looking dry, add 1 or 2 more tablespoons of water. Cover and let rest for 10 minutes while you prepare the filling.
  2. For the filling: In a small dry pan set over medium heat, toast the sesame seeds until fragrant, stirring often, 2 to 3 minutes. Tip into a food processor and pulse with the sugar, cardamom, and salt until the seeds release their oils and form a paste, about 3 minutes. Drizzle in the sesame oil.
  3. Roll the dough into a 15x10-inch rectangle (with the long edge closest to you). Spread evenly with the filling. As if folding a long, thin letter, fold the bottom edge up, leaving 1/3 of the dough exposed. Fold the top edge down, lining it up neatly with the bottom. With a thin, sharp knife, cut the folded package crosswise into 12 rectangular pieces.
  4. Working with 2 pieces at a time, stack one atop another. Using a thin chopstick or metal skewer, bisect the length of the stacked strips without cutting through all the way. Carefully remove the chopstick (wiggle and pull from the side, not straight up), and slide it, perpendicularly under the stack. Lift the chopstick with your dominant hand and, with your other hand, gather the dough ends together, tugging them about 2 inches longer. Turn the chopstick counterclockwise one full rotation, landing it (and the ends) down on the work surface. Press the chopstick down—effectively tucking the ends under the bun—as you slide it out. Place the shaped bun on a similar-sized square of parchment into your steamer, and repeat with the remaining 6 stacks. (If reading that just gave you a headache like it did me, refer to the video linked in the headnote.)
  5. Let shaped buns proof for 30 to 45 minutes. They won’t double in size, but should become slightly puffier. (If your steamer cannot fit all the buns, proof them on a baking sheet and steam in batches.)
  6. Lid the steamer, and bring the water to a boil. Steam for 7 minutes, or until the buns are noticeably larger, and bounce back when prodded.

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Coral Lee is an Associate Editor at Food52. Before this, she cooked food solely for photos. Before that, she cooked food solely for customers. And before that, she shot lasers at frescoes in Herculaneum and taught yoga. When she's not writing about or making food, she's thinking about it. Her Heritage Radio Network show, "Meant to be Eaten," explores cross-cultural exchange as afforded by food. You can follow her on Instagram @meanttobeeaten.