Fluffy and sweet, lotus seed buns are a popular treat at Chinese bakeries. As the name implies, they're flavored with a paste made from lotus flower seeds, which have a light, chestnut-like flavor. This recipe for homemade buns has been perfected to work with either low-gluten flour, or all-purpose. Hot from the steamer, they're a confection not to be missed. The only thing that could make them either even is a cup of bubble tea.
Why this recipe works:
- Mixing all-purpose flour with cornstarch inhibits gluten formation, resulting in a lighter, more tender bun; alternatively, you can use a low-protein flour like pastry or cake flour without the cornstarch for equally great results.
- Using dried—not canned—lotus seeds creates a paste with better aroma and flavor.
Note: Lotus seeds are available canned or dried at Chinese grocers and from online vendors; we strongly recommend using dried lotus seeds and not the canned ones. Canned lotus-seed paste (a different product from canned lotus seeds) can also be used in place of the homemade paste here, but it won't be as fragrant, and since it comes pre-sweetened, you won't have as much control over its sweetness level. Glutinous rice flour, which is different from regular rice flour, is available at Asian food stores and from online vendors.
- Yield:Makes 10 buns
- Active time: 1 hour 30 minutes
- Total time:6 hours
- For the Lotus-Seed Paste Filling:
- 11 ounces dried lotus seeds (see note)
- 1/4 cup neutral oil, such as vegetable or canola oil
- 1/2 to 3/4 cups sugar
- For the Buns:
- 1 1/4 cups low-protein flour, such as cake or pastry flour, or 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour mixed with 2 tablespoon cornstarch
- 1 1/2 tablespoon sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast
- 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 tablespoon glutinous rice flour (see note)
- 1/4 cup water
- 1 tablespoon heavy cream
- Yellow or pink food coloring (optional)
For the Lotus-Seed Paste Filling: Rinse lotus seeds and soak in a large bowl of water until softened, at least 4 hours or overnight.
Tear each seed in half and remove the small bitter sprout (technically the cotyledon) in the center.
Place lotus seeds in a large pot and add enough water to completely cover. Bring to a boil over high heat, then lower heat and simmer, adding more water if necessary to keep seeds covered, until tender, about 1 hour.
Reserve 1 cup of lotus-seed cooking water, then drain seeds.
Transfer seeds to a food processor or blender, add a splash of reserved lotus-seed cooking water, and process to a smooth paste, adding more reserved cooking water if necessary. For a finer texture, pass lotus-seed paste through a fine sieve, though this step is optional.
Add lotus-seed paste and oil to a nonstick skillet and heat over medium heat, stirring with a spatula or wooden spoon until oil is incorporated.
Add 1/2 cup sugar and stir until incorporated. Taste, and if you want the paste more sweet, add remaining 1/4 cup sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, until desired sweetness.
Remove from heat and set aside. The lotus-seed paste can be made in advance and refrigerated for up to 3 days, or frozen for up to 6 months.
For the Buns: In a large bowl, mix low-protein flour or all-purpose flour mixture with sugar, yeast, baking powder, and glutinous rice flour. Add water and stir until incorporated.
Add cream and mix well until a loose, shaggy dough forms. Transfer dough to a work surface and knead until dough is smooth.
Roll dough into a 1-inch-thick rope. Cut into 10 portions.
Working 1 piece at a time, roll out dough pieces using a rolling pin, dowel, or glass bottle, to 3 -inch rounds.
Set 1 scant tablespoon of lotus-seed paste in the middle of each dough round.
Working 1 bun at a time, wrap dough around filling to fully enclose it.
Set buns seam-side down on a lightly floured or parchment-lined plate or baking sheet.
Pressing gently with a dough scraper or the back of a knife, create an indent on the top side of each bun.
Cover buns with plastic wrap and let stand for 20 minutes.
Line a steamer insert with parchment paper and set up for steaming.
If using food coloring, brush top of each bun with food coloring using a pastry brush.
Set buns in the prepared steamer, spacing them 1 1/2 inches apart.
Steam buns until puffed and cooked through, about 15 minutes. Serve hot or at room temperature.