Bread rolls inspired by the shape of Chinese flower buns, Hua Juan, steamed rolls often seen at dim sum. Intricate shape gives fantastic textures to these rolls, rich in butter and flavoured with za’atar, saffron and chives.
Chinese flower bread rolls look so impressively pleasing that you must think it’s the form over substance; the ‘look nice, taste meh’ of the Instagrammable world.
Surprise, surprise – they are absolutely gorgeous to eat, and the beauty here has a purpose. The intricate patterns are not just a pretty façade: the shaping method creates wonderful textures in these bread rolls.
What are Chinese flower rolls?
They are inspired by Chinese flower rolls, or Hua Juan: small, steamed bread rolls well-known in Chinese and East Asian cookery. Traditionally, they are filled with chopped spring onions blanched with hot oil, sometimes seasoned with five spice or Sichuan pepper.
Even though flower rolls are normally steamed and occasionally steam-fried like gyoza or potstickers, this recipe is taking the original idea all the way across Asia and into the West.
These rolls are baked like ordinary European or American rolls of the pull-apart kind. And even though I remember the taste of the original Huajuan from dim sum feasts as excellent, the baked ones are sublime.
Chinese flower rolls inspired Dan Lepard who inspired me to bake a batch with the formula I marginally altered from Dan’s recipe featured in Bakery Bits. Because, you see, I love spring onions but like all the alliums they want to take over the world – or at least your house.
The smelly issue
Spring onions, all-year onions (that surely should catch on), garlic and leeks need to be prepared immediately before cooking, with all the available ventilation on.
Don’t cook them wearing freshly laundered clothes. Don’t peel and chop them, then leave in the kitchen for longer than ten minutes, uncovered. Whenever possible, cook them covered with a lid or in the oven. Unless of course your house fragrance of choice is a strong scent of onions.
Many a time I made the mistake of prepping alliums in advance, as I like to do in general. Windows upstairs had to be opened, scented candles lit and lots of coffee brewed.
My kitchen and the living quarters are open plan, the feature I think is only suited for people who are allergic to onions, hate garlic and never cook leeks.
A filling more versatile
So I decided to skip the spring onions from the bread rolls. Smell notwithstanding, I also think there isn’t much versatility to onion flavoured bread: you have it on its own or with soup.
By omitting onions and swapping them for much milder chives, neutral nigella and inoffensive za’atar, I made it possible to have one of the bread rolls for breakfast, with a drizzle of honey.
The dough is fairly standard; a mix of white bread flour and a little spelt, to break up the bland whiteness. Saffron is mainly there for the colour, making the layers and the texture stand out. After the standard rise in bulk (in a bowl, before shaping, for the uninitiated), the fun begins.
How to shape the flower rolls?
There is an extremely useful video that I followed, by South Korean YouTuber Whitney Wu who makes the original steamed flower rolls. But that shaping technique is easy to follow, with stunning effects, for the baked goods too.
The dough is rolled out thin and large, spread with the filling, then folded flat four or five times. Cut it into pieces, strips about 5cm thick which are next stacked in twos and pressed down lengthwise across the middle with a chopstick so the sides open up like a flower and the centre sticks together.
The next part is somewhat harder to describe so do consult the video.
Stretch each piece to almost twice the length and hook it from a chopstick or a pencil. Twist the chopstick like you were making a figure of 8 with it and sit the bun, chopstick and all on the worktop to seal the bottom.
When baked, the rolls open up their buttered and herbed insides, while the outer edges turn crisp and crunchy. The texture is heavenly. And they keep well especially if you brush them with any leftover butter when they’re out of the oven.
More bread roll recipes
Parker House rolls, impossibly buttery and shaped to look like Pacman were developed in Parker House Hotel in Boston. You don’t have to travel there to try them.
A little forgotten and unfairly underrated soft white baps are easy to make and the perfect bread for a bacon sandwich.
Dough enriched with tangzhong, Japanese bread starter made with flour and milk, makes the fluffiest milk rolls, also known as Hokkaido bread rolls.
More pull-apart bread recipes
There is something very satisfying in tearing off a roll snuggled up next to its mates. It’s also very convivial. Try German Partybrot or its sourdough equivalent.
Lots of butter, intricate layers – that’s kubaneh, Yemeni bread which is the original croissant.
And flower rolls again, this time all together looking like a flower. Much easier to shape too!