Gai mei bao is my favorite baked bun. There, I said it. I love a good pineapple bun as much as the next person, but I’m in the minority that enjoys a buttery, coconut-heavy cocktail bun a little more. Cocktail buns originally were created as a way for bakers to salvage day-old buns. The stale buns were ground into crumbs, then mixed with sugar and shredded coconut as a filling for fresh dough (like a “cocktail” of bakery leftovers). Nowadays, bakers make the filling fresh.
Cocktail buns are traditionally formed into long buns that resemble chicken tails, which might also be how they got their name. You could bake these as individual buns (spaced apart), but these are baked together in a deep baking dish for a pull-apart approach, with a bonus of less pressure to perfectly form each bun. They also stay incredibly soft when cozied up and baked together. My issue with a lot of cocktail buns is that there is never enough filling (the best part, in my opinion). You won’t have that issue with this recipe. Every bite possesses plenty of butter, sugar, and shredded coconut.
For the Buns
Mother of All Milk Bread Dough, made through step 4
All-purpose flour, for dusting the work surface
For the Coconut Filling
40g (2/3 cup) unsweetened shredded coconut
85g (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted, plus more if needed
30g (1/4 cup) dry milk powder
50g (1/4 cup) granulated sugar
20g (2 tablespoons) all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
For the Egg Wash
1 large egg
1 tablespoon heavy cream or milk
For the Topping
21g (1 1/2 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted
18g (2 tablespoons) all-purposeflour
10g (1 tablespoon) confectioners’ sugar
Make the buns: While the dough is proofing, line a deep baking dish with parchment paper.
After the first proof, punch down to deflate the dough and transfer to a lightly floured surface. Pinch and pull the ends of the dough to form a smooth ball. Divide the dough into 12 equal portions with a bench scraper (for accuracy, weigh with a digital scale if you have one). Form each portion of dough into a smooth ball by pulling the ends of the dough underneath and then rolling between the palms of your hand.
Make the filling: In a medium bowl, mix all the filling ingredients together with a flexible spatula until crumbly. (The filling may look a little dry, but if you scoop a tablespoon of filling and pressit, it should stick together. If not, add another tablespoon of melted butter.) Set the filling aside at room temperature until you’re ready to fill the buns.
Roll out one ball of dough into a roughly 3 x 5-inch oval. Scoop a heaping tablespoon of the filling and press it in the palm of your hand to form a small log. Center the log lengthwise on the dough. Bring up the edges of the dough and pinch together to seal around the filling, forming an oval log shape. Repeat with remaining dough and filling. Place the buns in the baking dish, creating two rows of six buns. Cover with a damp, clean kitchen towel and set aside in a warm spot until the buns are doubled in size, 60 to 90 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Just before baking, make the egg wash: In a small bowl, whisk together egg and cream. Brush the egg wash over tops of buns. Make the topping: In a small bowl, combine the melted butter, flour, and confectioners’ sugar with a flexible spatula until smooth. Place the topping in a small resealable bag, pressing toward one corner. Snip the tip off the corner of the bag and pipe a line along the short ends of each bun.
Bake the buns until golden brown, 28 to 30 minutes. Transfer the dish to a wire rack to cool. The buns can remain in the dish as they continue to cool. Serve warm or at room temperature.
NOTE: Buns can be kept in an airtight container (a resealable bag works great) at room temperature for up to 4 days, or in the freezer for up to3 months. Room temperature buns can be reheated in the microwave for 15 to 20 seconds or on a baking sheet in a 300°F oven for about 5 minutes, until soft and warmed through. Reheat frozen buns on a baking sheet in a 350°F oven until soft and warmed through, 10 to 15 minutes.
Excerpted from Mooncakes and Milk Bread by Kristina Cho. Copyright 2021 by Kristina Cho. Photographs copyright Kristina Cho. Used by permission of Harper Horizon, an imprint of HarperCollins Focus LLC.
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