Growing up, Hong Kong style bakery goods were pretty much a staple in our household. Every trip with my mom to the nearby Chinese supermarket elicited a string of hunger complaints that were really just thinly veiled attempts to pick up a snack at the attached bakery. Most of the time I was limited to just one item. While my mom waited in line at the check out, I’d browse the bakery, wavering between the sausage buns, flaky egg tarts, or the peanut filled glutinous rice balls that were happily only sold in packs of two. Later in university, my friends would drop by the bakeries in nearby Chinatown after class to pick up discounted boxes of buns that we would share between us.
None of these bakeries were ever anything to look at – no hanging lights or artfully exposed walls. It was always very much a grab and go kind of place, with the one cashier tossing your buns into small plastic bags with an almost careless motion while you struggled to reach the coins in the corners of your pocket (15% off cash only!). But the buns were always delicious – soft and pillowy dough with just the right balance between sweet and savoury, filled or topped with everything from red bean to whipped cream to pork floss. Even now, every visit home is never complete without a trip to the same supermarket and bakery.
For this recipe, I wanted to recreate my personal favourite, the tuna bun. The dough is similar to a typical milk bread, which is then filled with a creamy tuna salad. For a period of several years when I was younger, these buns actually disappeared from bakery shelves due to concerns with high mercury content in canned tuna. Thankfully they’ve mostly returned now, but not every bakery carries them and the quality varies. This version contains more tuna filling than the ones you would typically buy; no one likes to tear open a bun and find only a single bite’s worth of tuna inside. I’ve tried versions of the dough with both all purpose and bread flour and the bread flour yields a much airier and slightly chewier bun, so I highly recommend it here. Regular mayo can be subbed in for Japanese mayo as this is more of a taste preference but the Japanese mayo will give you more flavour depth without adding too much saltiness. You could also add a bit of dijon mustard to your regular mayo to get a similar taste.
Regardless of your mayo or flour choice, these buns taste the best once they’ve been out of the oven for around 15 minutes. They should be still warm to the touch but the tops will be soft and bounce back when you press them lightly rather than crispy as they are when they first come out. Be patient and wait for them to cool, they will taste so much better!
Ingredients (makes 8 buns)
- 15g bread flour (for tangzhong)
- 75g whole milk (for tangzhong)
- 350g bread flour
- 45g sugar
- 2 tsp yeast
- 1 tsp salt
- 175g whole milk
- 1 large egg
- 45g butter, softened and cut into cubes
- 2 cans tuna (~160g)
- 1/4 white onion, diced
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp white pepper
- 1 1/2 tbsp Japanese mayo
Egg for egg wash
Optional roasted black sesame seeds for topping
- Make the tangzhong. Cook 15g bread flour and 75 whole milk over medium heat, stirring constantly until the mixture forms a thick paste. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.
- Combine the bread flour, sugar, yeast and salt in a large mixing bowl. Add in the cooled tangzhong, milk and egg and mix until everything comes together into a rough dough
- Start kneading the dough – it will be very sticky at first so it’s recommended you do this in the bowl. Gradually add in the butter cubes as you knead. Once the butter is fully incorporated and the dough starts to become smooth and less sticky (it will still feel tacky), transfer onto a lightly floured surface.
- Continue to knead the dough for about another 20 minutes. Don’t exert too much force or push the dough down as you knead – instead pull the edge of the dough farthest from you out and fold back in, then give it a quarter turn and repeats. This helps to prevent the dough from sticking to the kneading surface without having to add excess flour.
- The dough is done once the surface becomes very smooth and it passes the window pane test. Cut a small piece of dough and stretch it out gently between your finger. When you hold it up the light, it should be translucent. Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl and cover and let rise for about an hour, until doubled in size.
- Meanwhile, prepare the tuna filling. Drain the water from the tuna and mix with the onion, salt, white pepper and mayo until everything is well incorporated and the filling is creamy. Add more mayo if the filling is too dry. You can also adjust the seasoning here to taste.
- Once the dough is risen, transfer it onto a lightly floured surface and gently deflate it. Divide into eight balls of around 60g each.
- Flatten each ball and form into a circle by rotating the dough with one hand and rolling back and forth over the edges with a rolling with the other hand. Try to make the centre slightly thicker than the edges as this will help prevent filling from leaking out when you seal and form the bun.
- Add around 1 tbsp of filling to each bun and seal it off by pinching the edges toward the centre, rotating the bun in your hand as you go. Place the bun, sealed side down, onto a floured surface and gently shape it with your hands to create a rounded look.
- Cover the buns and let rise for around 40 minutes. Preheat the oven to 350F.
- Brush the tops of the buns evenly with a light layer of egg wash and sprinkle the tops with roasted sesame seeds if desired. Bake at 350F for 20 – 25 minutes.
- Let cool until the tops of the buns are soft before serving.