The lovely Thomasina Miers wanted a sweet bread laced with anise for morning dunking. I could make a joke about teabagging here but it’s probably inappropriate.
What to do, what to do? Think sweet bread, think France, think brioche, croissant, pain au choc etc. Delicious yes, but a bit too obvious and predictable. I was chatting to Lisa Tse recently from Sweet Mandarin in Manchester, and she mentioned that she wanted to try to make char siu crosses with my leaven, so I thought aha! How about something based on that fluffy, sweet dough used for those pork buns of loveliness which I like to buy from Chinese bakers? So I started doing some research, and found an old Japanese way of making bread super-fluffy and light, using something called “Tang Zhong” (let’s not be too poncy, it’s a flour and water roux). I experimented a bit, then experimented some more, and wallah! So Ms Miers, this one’s for you, with a new Chinese/English proverb: “May all your dunks be heavenly mouthfuls“. More scope for rude gags. Ok, ok. I’ll get on with it.
For the Tang Zhong:
30 g strong bread flour
Chuck both in a non-stick pan, put the heat on medium and whisk until it comes together and thickens. It’ll take about 5 minutes and you want the consistency of glue / wallpaper paste. Do not, on pain of bamboo under your fingernails let it colour. Using a spatula, scrape it into a bowl and cover tightly with cling film and let it cool to room temperature.
For the bread:
375g bread flour (if you want to be all worthy you could do half white half wholemeal, or half white half spelt, for example)
100g plain flour
65g golden syrup
10g fresh yeast
1 beaten egg
150g milk (I used skimmed)
50g butter at room temperature (whatever you can lay your hands on)
1 star anise*** (ground into fine powder in a pestle and mortar)
a shot of black sambuca (optional but come on, get some)
quarter tsp of ground cloves
*** exactly how much anise you use is upto you. If you love it, use a whole one. If you just want a hint, use a quarter to a half.
Put the milk in a small pan along with the golden syrup and the star anise. Turn the heat on low, you’ll need to leave it until the syrup has dissolved and the milk is just beginning to bubble. Don’t leave it alone else you’ll be scraping milk off the stove for the next ten years. Turn off the heat and leave it to infuse for 30 mins, after which time, discard the star anise, and add in the ground cloves and sambuca if you’re using it.
In the meantime, mix up the flours and salt in a bowl and add the yeast, rubbing it into the flour with your fingers like you’re making a crumble. The next bit you can do by hand or using a mixer though I have to say that using a mixer is much easier unless you want arms like Gavin Henson so I’ll assume you’ll use one and proceed accordingly.
Put the flour mix into the bowl of the mixer along with the beaten egg and your Tang Zhong (which will now be a lump of rubber) and turn it on (dough hook by the way) low. Slowly add the milk mixture and once it’s incorporated add the butter and turn up the speed (I used number 4 on a Kitchen Aid). Let it do its thing for 5 minutes but keep an eye on the mixer as it might try to shuffle off the work surface as it’ll be working pretty hard. After 5 minutes turn up the speed to 6 and let it whizz around for another 5 minutes. By now you’ll have a smooth dough. Put it in a clean bowl, cover and leave for about 90 minutes or until doubled in size.
Take out the dough and divide into 10 pieces (weigh them if you’re nervous, if not just guess, it hardly matters. Form each into a ball, then gently press down to turn each one into a disc. The idea here is not to flatten them totally, just make a disc shape. At this point turn on the oven to 200c (fan). Put them on a lined baking sheet and cut the edges of each 5 times going towards the centre.
Cover with cling film then leave them for another hour or until nearly doubled in size. When ready to go into the oven, paint them with egg wash and sprinkle with soft brown sugar, then cook for 15 minutes. They might need a tough longer but not much. They should be a gentle golden colour on top.
Take them out, put them on a wire rack and allow them to cool for as long as you can bear it, then get dunking. Salut Tommi!
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