Vegan “milk” bao (and other stuff)

On Saturday night the little one asked wistfully when I was next going to make cinnamon rolls, which reminded me that I wanted to try King Arthur Flour’s new recipe for cinnamon rolls (it’s the Perfectly Pillowy Cinnamon Rolls, their 2021 Recipe of the Year, and their instagram has been all over it). I had already been a fan of their previous cinnamon roll recipe that also used a tangzhong, so I was eager to try the new and improved version; her request was the excuse I had been looking for.

So Sunday I dragged myself away from my library book and mixed up the dough. Then, while it was rising, I thought hey, I could make more bao (it’s become a regular thing during the pandemic) so mixed up a basic bao dough and put it aside to rise. It’s a relatively new version; last month we decided to go entirely vegan for a month, and I found out that our preferred bao recipe actually veganizes (is that a word?) pretty easily, so easily that I’m just going to use it going forward. Dough is adapted from Woks of Life’s milk bread recipe:

Vegan “Milk” bread bao:

1 2/3 cups of coconut milk (or one standard 13.5 oz / 400mL can)
1/4 cup (50g) sugar
1 Tbsp flax meal + 3 Tbsp water (this is a substitute for 1 egg; I like to use the water to rinse the dregs of coconut out of the can)
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
1/2 cup (70g) cake flour
3 1/2 cups (500g) bread flour
heavy pinch of salt (supposed to be 1 1/2 tsp, I just grab some from the salt cellar)

Shake up the coconut milk in the can (sometimes the cream inside is separated). Combine coconut milk, sugar, flax meal, water, and yeast in a bowl; stir it up and then let it sit for a while until the yeast wakes up and it starts looking frothy. Then sift in the cake flour, bread flour, and salt. Knead until the dough is smooth and firm (I like to knead dough right in the mixing bowl, it’s less messy that way) and then cover the bowl with a towel, put it someplace warm, and let rise for 1 hour.

After the 1 hour rise, you can shape it. Flour or lightly oil your surface (I like to use a big cutting board) as well as your hands, so the dough doesn’t get too sticky. Knead it a little bit to get rid of air bubbles, then portion it out and shape it however you like. Sometimes I roll it into balls and space them out a little bit in a pan; they’ll rise and press against each other and make for great tear-apart rolls. I’ve also rolled the balls into disks and then wrapped them around filling, pinching firmly to seal; another idea is to roll them into twists with raisins or dried cranberries. You can also roll it flat like you’re going to make cinnamon rolls, smear the flattened rectangle with seasoning (mayo + pork floss and scallion worked well this time, shallot oil has also worked well, next time I want to try chili oil), roll up and slice like cinnamon rolls. It’s a super flexible dough and shapes well.

After shaping, cover with a towel and let rise for another hour. Halfway through, preheat the oven to 350F. After the dough has risen nicely, bake for 20-25 minutes, checking towards the end of baking time (the smaller your shapes, the quicker they’ll bake).

Let cool until they’re safe enough to handle, and enjoy!

May be an image of food and indoor
It was a busy Sunday morning.

This round’s bao are the two pictures on the top. The left ones are shaped like cinnamon rolls, but with mayo + pork floss and scallion filling; the right ones are dried cranberry twists (with varying degrees of success in shaping the twist) and bao painted with shallot oil, rolled tightly, and pinched shut.

Underneath those are the cinnamon rolls; unfrosted on the left, frosted on the right. I ended up rolling the dough more tightly, and cutting them smaller, than the size specified by the recipe; I wanted to keep the serving sizes small, since our smallish children do not need giant cinnamon rolls. I also iced them with the remnants of our vegan cashew buttercream instead of making more icing from scratch. I was pleased with the result, but the little one complained that they weren’t as stuck-together, or as generously-iced, as her preferred cinnamon roll: the cinnamon rolls from Ikea.

No matter how I try, I will never equal the Ikea cinnamon rolls. The Soft Cinnamon Rolls from King Arthur came closer though, and was about as much work. I’m glad I tried the new recipe, but we’ll be going back to the old one next time.

A quick note on the bottom two pictures: halfway through baking, I realized that I was getting hungry because it was close to lunch time; I cooked pasta and quickly wilted some spinach, mixed it with chickpeas and chopped bell pepper and olive oil and lemon juice – it’s basically Padma Lakshmi’s super-quick chickpeas and spinach tapas recipe. It went well on the adults’ pasta; the kids had buttered pasta with mushrooms, and plain pasta with baby tomatoes, respectively, which are their preferred pasta treatments. Life lesson: eat when you’re hungry, the bread won’t suffer it it rises for a little longer than needed.

Oh, and second life lesson: when you make cookies, scoop half the batch into rounds and freeze them. That way you’ll have a bag of unbaked cookies in the freezer, ready to pop into the oven whenever it’s warm. There’s nothing like a tray of freshly baked cookies to brighten one’s day. (These were also vegan! Cook’s Illustrated Thin, Crisp Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe, with vegan butter, flax “eggs,” and dark chocolate chips.)

As a bonus, I had warm cookies to eat with my library book, when I finally got back to it.

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