Brown sugar steamed buns 黑糖饅頭

I felt like something ‘cake-y’ today and decided to try these mantou (manju in Japanese) for the first time. This is taken from a Japanese wagashi recipe book, 日式和菓子.

In the cookbook they looked sort of like muffins, but are steamed instead of baked. Actually I made the mistake of turning on the oven to preheat it, and only realised when I got to the end of the recipe that these are steamed buns! *duh* :P!

Brown sugar bun

The recipe is dead simple using only a few ingredients, and it took only half an hour from start to finish to make. I adapted the recipe based on similar ingredients which I already had on hand at home. If you follow the original instructions, this is a dairy-free cake, although it does use wheat flour.


50g brown caster sugar [I used sticky dark brown sugar and reduced amount from original 80g]
250g low-protein flour 薄力小麥粉 [used white cake flour]
1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 cup milk [original recipe uses soy bean milk but I had none at home so used cow’s milk]
handful toasted pine nuts [used to substitute the mustard seeds for sprinkling in original recipe]

1) Sift the flour and baking powder. Mix dry ingredients including pine nuts.

2) Add milk to dry ingredients. I had to add about one or two dessert spoons extra to get the dough to bind properly.

3) Place dough in moulds (I used silicone baking cups), sprinkle seeds for garnishing.

4) Steam buns on high heat for 15 mins.

This was a very interesting experience as I’ve never made steamed buns before. Firstly, the dough was a most unusual rubbery consistency. I was surprised that familiar ingredients of sugar, flour and milk produced this texture. You can see from the photo that steaming gives the finished product a shiny exterior.

The final buns weren’t the light, fluffy mantou shown in the cookbook photo. They were dense and chewy – quite nice actually, but not what I imagined. I wonder why? Perhaps it was because I added the pine nuts as an afterthought and had to mix the dough further to work them in evenly, despite the fact that the dry ingredients & milk were already fully combined – overworking the dough could have knocked out the air. Another possibility has to do with the amount of liquid; I have no idea what the consistency of manju dough should really be like so I couldn’t go by feel at all.

2/1/08 update: Just read in one of my cookbooks that when making steamed sponge cakes, during the steaming process, the water must be really boiling vigorously on high heat. If not, the cake won’t rise properly.

My friend commented that the chewy texture reminded her of Ma Lai Koh, which is made in quite a different way using a yeasted starter dough, eggs, and a long list of ingredients including alkaline water (鹼水,gaan sui in Cantonese).

Verdict: taste OK, but need to work at getting the texture right.


4 Responses

  1. Just read in one of my cookbooks that when making steamed sponge cakes, during the steaming process, the water must be really boiling vigorously on high heat. If not, the cake won’t rise properly.

  2. hey i was just going to make man tou to freeze!! cuz my sourdough had failed miserably. it was rock hard, and i could not even bite into it at all! had to throw the whole lot away!

  3. there could be 2 reasons.

    1. if this is supposed to be the muffin type of dough thingy, then the overmixing mite have caused the rubbery consistency.
    2. if this is supposed to be the bread type of dough, then mite be undermixed! was the recipe supposed to ask for a ‘dough window’ thing?

    a big thank you for this recipe cuz i was reluctant to use yeast!!

  4. Thanks for yr helpful comments as usual, CP! Yes, I think it was overmixing :P…

    Aiyoh~~ sorry to hear about your sourdough. I have a lot of failures too, as you can read through my postings ***sigh***. Hopefully others can learn from my experiences and not make the same mistakes.

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