Travel At Home: 3 East Asian Breads To Make

For the first 5 weeks of this quarantine, all kinds of gluten flour were flying off the shelves: everyone was trying to make their sourdough bread at home.

But, since I was late to the game, I only had gluten-free options and an excess of cassava flour (also gluten-free). So I did some research on what kind of bread to make with what I had available. That’s when I found the pão de queijo, the Brazilian cheese bread.

My first attempt at making pão de queijo

Since then, I’ve been able to restock on all purpose flour and begin my bread-making at home. And then, I thought to myself: why not use this opportunity to explore different breads from cuisines around the world?

Ok, maybe not ALL around the world because I don’t have enough flour for that. But at least 3 from Asia? Japanese, pan-East Asian and Vietnamese.

Japanese Milk Bread

Like a lot of other Japanese baked-goods, this bread is light, has a golden soft crust, not too many air pockets on the inside and is a bit more on the sweet side. The closest thing I can compare it to is slider buns but with a more creamy and flavourful taste.

One of my guilty pleasure is buying these buns whenever I pass by the bakery section of the grocery store in Chinatown.

The recipe I followed is from Caroline’s Cooking but you can also try one even creamier recipe from The Kitchn.

Deep-Fried Bread Sticks

This dish exists in multiple cuisines in East and Southeast Asia. In Chinese, it’s called youtiao, cakwe in Indonesia, pathongko in Thailand, and in Vietnamese it’s called quẩy. There are some slight variations in recipe: the breadsticks in Vietnam require baking ammonium whereas the Chinese breadsticks require eggs and dairy. After some research and testing, I’m sharing my own recipe below.

It’s like churros (without the sugar) and is more hollow on the inside. That’s what makes it crispy! This texture makes it a great addition to soft, pudding-like dishes like rice congee, noddle soups like wonton noodle or my favourite, phở.

Vietnamese Baguette

This is what I grew up eating in Vietnam. This bread is hollow on the inside and has a crisp shell. That’s why it’s perfect for making the famous Vietnamese combo subs: more room for ham, pate and pickled daikon radish! Here is the recipe I used, although I added 2 extra teaspoons of vital wheat gluten.

Making this bread brought back some good memories of street hawkers biking slowly through the narrow alleys of Hanoi. You often know of their presence by their slow and dragged out chant.

bánh mì nóng đâyyyyy

bánh mì nóng nàooooo“.

Another memory is of my grandpa sometimes spoiling us kids with a snack and giving us the bread to dip in condensed milk. And it always had to be condensed milk from the Longevity brand (sữa Ông Thọ).

I conic childhood snack for me: condensed milk with Vietnamese bread

Making bread is such a time consuming feat but while in quarantine, it’s a great way to “travel” through food and through memories.


Recipe – Vietnamese Crispy Breadsticks

Following this recipe, you will get a more crispy and cracker-like texture rather than a chewy and bread-like one.

Ingredientsmakes about 2 dozen small breadsticks
1 cupall-purpose flour plus more for dusting
1/2 tspvital wheat flour (optional)
1/4 tspsalt
1/4 tspsugar
1/4 tspactive dry yeast
100mlluke warm water (make sure it’s not too hot, not too cold)
Method4.5 hrs total, 3.5 hrs inactive
Step 1In a small bowl, add sugar and 2 tablespoons from the water. Stir until sugar is dissolved.
Step 2Add the yeast to the sugar water and let it rest for 5-10 minutes.
Step 3In a bigger mixing bowl, add all-purpose flour, wheat flour if you’re using, and salt. Pour in the yeast mixture and the rest of the water. Mix until it’s all incorporated. Start kneading with your hands until a dough forms and is no longer sticky. Add sprinkles of flour if the dough sticks.
Step 4Put the dough in the same mixing bowl, cover and let it rest for 1.5 hour.
Step 5After resting, take the dough out, knead for another 2 minutes then put it back in the same bowl, cover and let it rest for 30-45 minutes.
Step 6Take the dough out and roll until it’s 3mm thin. Aim to roll the dough into a rectangular sheet.
Step 7Cut the dough into 1 inch wide strips, place on a tray and cover with a kitchen towel for another 20-30 minutes.
Step 8In a wok or deep frying pan, heat enough oil so that when you insert a chopstick in, the oil bubbles around it. Drop the strips of dough in. They should puff up within seconds but still take 1-2 minutes to brown. Flip them so they cook evenly and have a nice golden colour.
NotesIf your dough browns too quickly, that means your oil is too hot, turn down the heat. If the oil doesn’t bubble and the dough doesn’t puff up, that means your oil is not hot enough.

Don’t overcrowd the pan, fry 2-3 strips at a time. Once each of them is done, put on a plate lined with paper towel for them to cool. Eat with rice congee, pho or try other kinds of noodle soups!

Enjoy!

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