I’ve been slacking off, I know. But I have a perfectly good excuse: It’s the weather! Seriously though, with the arrival of the first -ber month we’ve officially entered sweater-weather territory. Aside from finally getting a chance to break out my favourite layered outfits, this weather has made the evenings utterly conducive for lounging around after a long day at work catching up on new shows like Outlander, or surfing the interwebs. Basically anything to do with not blogging, because this kind of weather has a way of activating my lazy bones. And maybe a part of me was stalling too because I haven’t yet decided what to write about next.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got a lot of recipes waiting in the wings. My iPhoto has never been this full of unposted recipes. But my brain just has not been functioning as well when the temptation of lying around in my jammies with a warm cup of tea and a good book was at its strongest. When I finally looked through my pending food photos, I spotted this one special recipe I had been so insanely eager to share after I made it. Not uncharacteristically, I had forgotten all about it thanks to my excitement over other things.
I had been having inexplicable puto-pao cravings for weeks when I decided I needed to just make some on my own. Normally I would buy some from Nathaniel’s, but I wasn’t getting any opportunities to as it’s not close to where I live. Those are really my favourites, and while I can’t say that this is an exact copycat recipe it is no less delicious. I was as much in love after I took the first bite. And the fact that it did satisfy my long-time craving was perhaps the best testament to how pleased I was with this homemade puto-pao recipe. I always find joy in slowly building my treasure trove of Filipino recipes.
The puto-pao is actually a hybrid of two Filipino favorites rolled into one. Puto is this muffin-like steamed rice cake that usually comes with a slice of cheese on top. Originally it is just white and milk-flavoured, but in time an assortment of flavours were developed (ube, pandan, cheese flavours) and the puto were coloured according to flavour to make them easier to identify. Now the -pao in the name refers to the siopao, better known to the rest of the world as siu-bao or Chinese steamed buns. The most popular siopao in the Philippines is the sort filled with sweetened pork flakes (asado) and is usually eaten with some sweet sticky sauce. Now put those two elements together and it seems like a no-brainer that the resulting offspring would be an equally big hit.
Just imagine the body of a puto and the sweet pork filling of a siopao fused together to create the magic treat that is the puto-pao. Honestly my mouth is kind of watering right now just thinking about it.
Since the puto-pao is essentially pork-stuffed puto, I knew from the get-go that my enjoyment of this particular recipe was going to depend largely on whether this was going to produce the type of puto I like. I base my standards of a good puto depending on the texture. Unless you buy puto under a brand or in a restaurant you’ve tried and tested, for the most part it can be frustratingly hit or miss. Puto can be either moist and yummy, or weirdly sour and dry and crumbly. Most of the time when you buy from random stores, the puto is airy and crumbly– not the kind I like. I prefer them to be denser and just the tiniest bit cakey. Fortunately even if this isn’t a traditional puto, meaning there is no rice flour involved in the making of this, this has the texture I prefer for my puto— slightly firm to the bite but still nice and moist.
And then stuff them with asado that is seasoned just right and it’s an automatic winner for me. The only thing I hate about asado-stuffing is how it has the propensity to be too sweet, which is ridiculous really. Sweet meat just doesn’t work for me, hence my avoidance of asado-stuffing. Except when it’s in a puto-pao of course.
To be honest I was a little surprised by how easy this recipe played out. I don’t know what my expectations were, except perhaps that making these was not as simple as this. There are no complicated steps, no complicated ingredients. Basically you mix the batter, cook your filling, and then steam everything. Indeed, like any puto it is not baked but steamed. Guess that is another thing that’s so great about it– even those who don’t have ovens can try it out. What I used to steam these babies is my wok, with a metal steaming round propped right in the center with some water underneath. To fit the puto-pao I used individual cupcake cups (check out the photos below to see what I mean), utilizing long tongs to coral them in and out. It didn’t take long for the water to boil and steam my puto-pao up until they developed the most gorgeous domes.
With one poke of the finger I could already tell this was the texture I like. The domes don’t sink but kind of spring up when pressed gently. In hindsight, I wish I had put some sliced cheese on top alongside the salted eggs because then these would have been absolutely perfect! You can probably eat this with some siopao sauce too, but since I never eat siopao with the sauce I didn’t bother to make any.
By the way, if you’re using liners for these, they might stick to the bottom of the puto-pao when freshly steamed. Cool them a little before eating and they should be fine. These can be kept in the fridge overnight and re-steamed the next day. The papers come off easier then because the puto-pao would have been fully set.
Makes about 22 puto-pao
For the batter
- 500 grams all purpose flour
- 250 grams white sugar
- ¼ cup baking powder
- 2½ cups water
- 1 cup powdered milk
- 3 large eggs
- 3 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
For the filling
- 2 tablespoons cooking oil
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 500 grams flaked pork
- ½ cup water
- ½ cup white sugar
- 1 teaspoon cornstarch
- ½ cup soy sauce
- 1 piece laurel leaf
- 1 piece star anise
For the toppings
- 4 salted eggs, sliced
- cheddar cheese, sliced
Make the batter
- 1. In a large bowl, mix together the flour, sugar, and baking powder. Pour in water and powdered milk, then stir well.
- 2. Add in the eggs and butter then mix until well blended. Set aside.
Make the filling
- 3. In a pan, heat oil and saute garlic until aromatic. Add flaked pork and cook for 3 minutes, stirring often. Add the rest of the filling ingredients and cook until pork is tender and the sauce has thickened.
- 4. Once filling is ready, discard anise and laurel. Set aside.
- 5. Prepare steamer, or use a large wok with a plate or a metal rack set atop some water.
- 6. In muffin cups (lined or greased depending on preference), pour a little amount of batter then add a tablespoon of filling. Cover the filling with another amount of batter until cup is nearly all the way full. Top with salted egg and cheese.
- 7. Steam for 10 to 15 minutes or until done. Puto-pao are done when the tops have domed and are soft and springy to the touch, and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
I find it completely bizarre that I would have such strong feelings about the puto-pao. I mean I like regular puto well enough, but not so much that it would cross my mind when I’m hankering for Filipino pastries. As for the asado siopao, it’s not my preference of siopao variation at all since I prefer bola-bola. (I’m so sorry if this all sounds really foreign for non-Filipino readers!) So why on earth I love puto-pao so much is really just beyond me.
Maybe after getting a taste of this someone could help me find some sort rational explanation?