Ube Wool Buns

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I have always adored the aesthetic of wool bread. The dough is scored repeatedly on one side then rolled up prior to baking to create these really pretty ridges on top of the dough. There is just something about that appearance that takes me back to Asian bakeries. I wanted to make sure that this recipe fully embraces that memory, so I went with a lot of Asian flavors and techniques when it came to these loaves. I wanted super soft and fluffy bread that a buttery texture, crispy almonds on top for that texture, and some sort of sweet paste-like filling to add a fun contrast to the pillow-y bread itself. Usually, that paste would be red bean paste, however, I had an entire jar of ube(sweet purple Filipino yam) paste just sitting around, and it just made sense to use that instead, as the flavor and color are quite similar to red bean paste, but slightly nuttier compared to red bean. To tie in with that ube usage, I went with taro(another Asian tuber-like thing that is popular in Chinese desserts) powder to dye part of the dough purple.

With the dough portion of the breads, I went with a milk bread base. That meant I made a tangzhong, or cooked flour and milk mixture, and then folded that through the bread loaves to give them a springier texture. I also dyed a portion of the dough purple using lilac taro powder, just so that when you cut into the actual loaves, you will have that gorgeous purple swirled throughout the entire bread! The almonds on top are just reminiscent of a Chinese bakery, where so many of the pastries are baked with almonds on top for a crunchy, toasty texture. I feel like the almonds here also play off of the nuttiness of the ube paste, and the two pair gorgeously together with the fluffy bread! There is quite a bit of kneading for this dough, but once you get that out of the way, the rest of this recipe is just a lot of waiting and rest. I found myself devouring one of these loaves on my own in one go, just because they were addicting to eat! That and the smell of them is highly reminiscent of an Asian bakery.

For the bread dough:
4 cups all-purpose flour, in 4 parts
1 cup milk
1 stick unsalted butter
1 egg
a pinch of salt
1 packet active-dry yeast
1/4 cup lukewarm water
1 tbsp granulated sugar
2 tbsp lilac taro powder

In a pot, heat up 1 part of flour with the milk, stirring on medium-high heat until both ingredients have thickened into a paste. Take off heat and stir in the butter first. Then add in the egg and salt. In another bowl, mix together the yeast with water and sugar. Once the cooked flour mixture is cool dough to touch, mix that into the yeast mixture, and stir in the rest of the flour. Knead the dough together for 10 minutes, or until it is elastic and smooth. Portion out 1/4 of the dough and mix in the lilac taro powder into that bit of the dough. Cover then rest both doughs for 1 hour at room temperature, then another hour in the refrigerator.

To assemble:
Ube paste
1 egg white
flaked almonds

Roll out the purple dough into a thin rectangle and wrap it around the other uncolored dough. Cut the dough into 4 even portions and roll the doughs out into rectangles. Score one side repeatedly with either a dough scraper or knife. Then place about 3-4 tbsp of the ube paste on the un-scored side, rolling the dough up from that side. Place the dough loaves into lined mini loaf pans and allow them to rest at room temperature for another 1 hour. Brush the tops of the loaves with egg white and sprinkle on top the almond flakes. Bake at 400 degrees F for 22 minutes. Allow the loaves to cool down at room temperature for at least 5 minutes before attempting to unmold. Store in airtight containers until time to serve.

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