Chinese New Year is coming and I love making all types of steamed buns for this occasion. Our household is divided on tang yuan (芝麻湯圓, chewy black sesame rice balls) - I love it, John can pass. So I made a compromise by making a black sesame seed steamed bun.
The Inspiration For Black Sesame Seed Buns
Tang yuan is one of my all-time favorite Chinese New Year desserts, but the assembly and elements that bring it together take more effort. I would have to make a ginger soup, rice balls, and the black sesame filling. I decided to make these black sesame seed buns because it requires one less step.
Black Sesame Bun Recipe Tips
I don't recommend you do the steps out of order from the recipe at the bottom of this post. Since this recipe requires a yeasted bun, the timing of proofing will affect the structure of the dough. Do not make your bun dough ahead of time, or you may risk over-proofing your dough. If you do make the dough before making the filling, you may end up with wrinkled buns.
Roasting Your Black Sesame Seeds
Black sesame has a nuttier and stronger flavor than white sesame seeds and provides a savory balance to sweet treats. Toasting black sesame seeds will bring out the nutty flavor even more. If you don't want to roast the sesame seeds at home, you can buy roasted ones at the store (just be sure to double-check the label first). If you want to toast black sesame seeds at home, it can be hard to tell when they are finished since the seeds are already so dark. One way to help with this is to toss in a pinch of white sesame seeds into the pan along with the black sesame seeds. Set the pan on low heat and vigilantly watch the white sesame turn brown. As soon as the white sesame turns golden, turn off the heat and spread the sesame seeds on a baking pan to cool.
Mixing With Sugar
Put the cooled sesame seeds, several pecan or peanuts, and granulated sugar in a grinder. Pulse them together until you see the powder slightly stick to the walls of the grinder. The oils of the sesame seeds will start to come out and help bind the filling together. When you finish grinding, put it in a bowl with the melted butter.
Incorporating the Butter
The butter mixed with the sesame seeds will make the filling flow slightly out of the bun. Do not over melt the butter - I recommend putting it in the microwave for only 30 seconds on a high setting - or you will not achieve the grainy texture of the finished product. Mix everything together with a spoon, and you will know you are finished when everything has blended into a shiny black mass of ground sesame seeds. Put this bowl in the fridge for thirty minutes to set.
Rolling The Ball
Once the sesame seed mixture has hardened in the fridge, it will be easier to form tinier pieces. Use a scale and make individual balls that weigh about 14-18 grams. If you do this process fast, the sesame seed mix will not melt in your hands, and you can avoid making a mess of black bits all over your workspace. Put the balls on a plate and put them back in the fridge to set again.
Making the Dough
The dough is pretty straightforward to make. You'll need yeast, baking powder, sugar, water, and all-purpose flour. I recommend you make the dough during a time of the day when you can ensure you won't be distracted.
I like incorporating warm water into the dough because it helps bring the dough pieces together faster, and you end up using less water than needed. The kneading time I listed on this recipe is eight minutes, and I suggest you knead for that allocated time nonstop. Trust the process, and you will end up with a fluffy bun!
After kneading, immediately make individual ball pieces that weigh about 35 grams each to ensure you make uniform-sized buns. Keep the dough balls under cling wrap or a damp kitchen towel to avoid creating skin on top of the dough. If skin builds up, you will have difficulty closing your buns after putting the filling inside.
Creating the Black Sesame Buns
Take a dough piece, press down, and run a rolling pin across it to flatten. You will pop air bubbles that develop inside the dough, and you will make a smooth texture for your bun. This cannot be achieved by just flattening the dough with your hands. Next, flatten the edges of the flattened dough by rolling on it again while simultaneously turning the dough.
Take a ball of filling and place it on the center of the dough. Keep a towel next to you to wipe off the hand that touches black sesame. If you don't wipe your hands, you may transfer black bits to your white dough! Then wrap the black sesame seed bun filling with the dough by slowly pinching the edges around the filling until it is covered. Make sure you create a good seal and pinch off a piece of dough where you closed the bun.
Ferment the Buns
Place the completed buns in a covered steamer and let them sit on the counter for 40 minutes to proof. This time is vital so that the dough can make the bun rise and generate a fluffy texture. The black sesame seed bun recipe at the bottom makes this a specific requirement.
Steaming the Buns
At about 30 minutes into proofing, fill a pot with water and put it on the stove to boil. This will streamline the process and avoid over-proofing your dough (no wrinkled buns!). The pot of water should be boiling a little after the 40-minute proofing time. Place your steamer on the boiling water and immediately set the timer to five minutes.
After six minutes have passed, remove the steamer and place it on the counter without removing the cover. Let it sit for two minutes so the leavened buns can continue forming their shape. It's tempting to open immediately after steaming, but stay strong! If you open the steamer too soon, the buns will sometimes deflate because the steamer environment will be exposed to a sudden gust of cooler air.
And there you have it! I recommend you enjoy these black sesame seed buns with a nice hot cup of green tea. If you want more black sesame snack, try this black sesame churro recipe!
Black Sesame Steamed Bun
Black Sesame Filling
- 40 grams black sesame seeds, roasted (⅓ cup)
- 40 grams sugar (¼ cup)
- 30 grams melted butter (2 tbsp)
- 5 pieces pecans (optional)
- 1 gram baking powder (¼ teaspoon)
- 1 gram instant yeast (¼ teaspoon)
- 120 grams all-purpose flour (1 cup)
- 20 grams sugar (2 tbsp)
- 80 grams warm water (⅓ cup)
- In a grinder, pulse sugar, nuts, and black sesame seed for 20 seconds
- Put the ground mixture in a bowl
- Add melted butter, then mix until well incorporated
- Let sit in the refrigerator to cool for 30 minutes
- After 30 minutes, form balls weighing between 14-18 grams (should make about 6), put the balls back in the fridge to rest
- Put dry ingredients in bowl and mix
- Add warm water, a little at a time until small clumps form
- Keep pressing clumps of dough together until a big ball forms and flour no longer sticks to the sides of the bowl; add more water as needed
- Put dough ball on a flat surface and knead nonstop for 8 minutes
- After 8 minutes, roll out the dough into a log and cut into 6 individual pieces weight about 35 grams
- Make into small round balls and set aside under cling wrap or damp tea towel
Make the Bun
- Take dough and flatten by using rolling pin, then roll out the edges while keeping the center thicker than the outside edges
- Take a black sesame filling and place it on the center of the dough
- Wrap the dough around the filling and close by twisting off a piece dough at the closure
- Place the bun on a square piece of parchment paper
- Repeat the wrapping steps 5 more times
- Place the buns in a steamer and cover, then proof for 40 minutes
- Fill a pot with water and bring to a boil
- Place the steamer of buns on top of boiling water
- Steam for 5 minutes
- Remove from heat and place on counter to let rest for 2 minutes
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