San Francisco-based Kristina Cho, writer of the blog Eat Cho Food, dedicates her first cookbook, “Mooncakes & Milk Bread,” to the Chinese bakeries and cafes of her childhood in Cleveland, Ohio. Presented with an ample dose of nostalgia, the book provides foolproof recipes for such staples as egg tarts, scallion pancakes, steamed barbecue pork buns and milk tea.
“Mooncakes & Milk Bread” is the first English cookbook to exclusively focus on Chinese bakeries, but many of the recipes, from shokupan and melonpan to Swiss roll cakes and mille crepe cakes, will be familiar to readers in Japan.
Growing up in her family’s Chinese restaurant, with parents and grandparents hailing from Hong Kong, some of Cho’s favorite childhood memories involve trips to her local bakery as well as visiting Chinatown shops outside of Cleveland. Chinese bakeries first gained popularity in Hong Kong, with its unique blend of Eastern and Western cultures. Since ovens were typically a rare feature in Chinese homes, buying pastries from a bakery was a special treat.
Many of the recipes, such as the bo lo bao (pineapple buns) and gai mei bao (cocktail buns), hold a special place in Cho’s heart.
“They are two of the most iconic Chinese bakery buns and I couldn’t write a book about Chinese bakeries without them,” she says. “My Goong Goong’s (Grandpa’s) and Pau Pau’s (Grandma’s) recipes are incredibly special to me, and I’m so glad that a few of their recipes made it into the book. Goong Goong’s almond cookies, Pau Pau’s fa gao (steamed prosperity cakes) and her white pizza are some of my favorite recipes in the book.”
For those new to baking, Cho recommends starting with the book’s “mother of all milk bread” recipe. Milk bread, better known as shokupan in Japan, is an enriched dough that uses tangzhong (a heated roux of flour and milk) to pregelatinize the starch, which results in a more moist, fluffier loaf that stays fresh longer.
“Once you feel comfortable with that dough, you unlock so many more fun recipes,” Cho says.
Using milk bread as the base recipe, you’ll find myriad sweet and savory ways to use it, from sambal and parmesan buns to hot dog flower buns and rhubarb tarts. The diagrams showing how to cut and shape each of the specialty buns are particularly enjoyable, and the step-by-step photos were enormously helpful for learning new techniques. The recipes also conveniently include both metric and imperial measurements.
For those looking for traditional Chinese breakfast foods, the book includes staples such as Hong Kong bubble waffles, steamed buns and dumplings. There are also instructions on how to pack your own bakery box or the ultimate steamer basket, and how to whip up flavored milk teas from the comfort of your home.
“Mooncakes & Milk Bread” is the cookbook equivalent of a warm, floury hug; its 80-plus recipes transcend generations and geography and make Chinese baking accessible for everyone.
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