I try to not cook too early in the morning, especially when I have not had my cup of coffee. One recent weekend morning, I forgot that personal rule of thumb and set out to make a batch of yeasted bun (bao) dough for some steamed chicken bao that I'd planned to take to a luncheon. "How can I fail," I smugly said to myself. I use a scale to accurately weigh my flour. I've made this recipe a zillion times. It's fail-safe. They will be steamed and still warm when I arrive at the luncheon and present our hosts with homemade bao. Perfect timing. It seemed all perfectly downhill from there.
Well, not. What happened was this: I reached into my cupboard for the round container of baking powder and mistakenly picked up the baking soda, which came in a similarly-shaped container. For years I kept the soda in a glass container in another cupboard, but several months ago, I purchased some organic baking soda from Trader Joe's and the little cylindrical paper container was of the same size as your typical Clabber Girl/Calumet brand.
When the dough rising time was over, I noticed that it hadn't puffed up as much as usual. Oh, well — I thought, it may be the air temperature or humidity level. Whatever. I formed my buns, let them rise and steamed them up.
Gadzooks! Ten minutes later, I checked on the steaming bao and they were a ghastly yellow-brown color, like a poorly prepared curry. The bao looked like baked glazed porcelain. I knew exactly what had happened: I had used baking soda instead of powder. Remember my post of how to make Chinese bao dough white?
"I bet they'll taste just great," my husband optimistically said. I was sure that the buns would not be right. We let the steamed bao cool and then ate one. It was hideously metallic tasting, and frankly, I could not swallow it. Yuck!
With a frown on my face, I ripped open the uncooked bao and scraped out the filling, refrigerating it for later use. "We have to be at Bill and Penny's house in 45 minutes. What are we going to bring?" Rory asked.
Uh, yeah. I ran into the garage and rummaged through my freezer. Lo-and-behold, a bag of frozen curried chicken bao, which thawed by the time time we arrived at the luncheon for me to re-steam them freshness. Praise the freezer! Our friends didn't care or know the difference as they snacked on all the bao and drank the prosecco cocktail my husband concocted.
The Asian dumpling lessons learned here were many:
(1) Keep the baking soda far away from the baking powder.
(2) Don't cook until you are lucid.
(3) Have a frozen dumpling back up. (And if you don't, bring an extra bottle of wine to the party.)
(4) It's okay to rip out the filling and start over.
The next day, I wanted to regain my game. I remade the dough with the correct ingredients. The filling was done so it wasn't a big deal. Just as with all the other times when I didn't make such a huge goof, my steamed bao were terrific, much fluffier and definitely tastier than the ones made with baking soda. The above photo of the two steamed bao makes the point. Whew!