Cocktail Buns Recipe, Gai Mei Bao

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Another Valentine’s Day is upon us — I didn’t really know what to do this year for Joe. I made him a card and decided to replicate one of his favorite Chinese baked goods for breakfast on Valentine’s morning. I’m bummed that they won’t be fresh, since they take way too long to make in the morning. I’m making them the night before and will have to hide them well.

If you’ve never been to a Chinese bakery, you are missing out. The buns are so tender and lightly sweet, not gobs of icing like American baked goods. I’m planning to make the Chinese Cocktail Bun, also known as Gai Mei Bao.

Cocktail buns are a light yeast dough filled with a coconut/butter/egg mixture that is so buttery good. The buns are given a honey glaze, a few sesame seeds, and a few crunchy sugar stripes. Traditionally, they received the name cocktail as they contained a filling made from day-old buns mushed up and mixed with flavorings, or a ‘cocktail’ of ingredients. Hmmmm, sounds tasty.

We are lucky to have a few Asian shopping centers nearby and one in particular has my favorite Chinese bakery. We usually get the cocktail buns and a few egg tarts. I am pretty surprised to see how easy these buns are to make. I’m not gonna lie, they take plenty of time as there are two rising cycles, each taking 1-2 hours. But overall, it’s pretty straightforward. You can find the various recipes I used from the following sites:

Topping (the stripes across the top)

The buns are comprised of several components: the dough, the filling, and the topping. The dough came together quickly and I let it raise for 1.5 hours. Next time, I might let it go a bit longer. Although the dough is exactly the right flavor, it wasn’t quite as light as I’d hoped it would be. Maybe I didn’t let it rise long enough (?). I noticed some recipes said to let raise for up to 4 hours (eeek!).

Easy to make, the coconut filling is good but isn’t quite the right consistency. It’s a little crumbly and mostly coconut. I might add another egg yolk and a bit more butter and sugar, and reduce the coconut by a 1/4 cup.

The buns are known for having the ‘stripes’ of crunchy sugar topping but the dough/filling recipes I used didn’t mention this topping. I used a third recipe for this piece only. The recipe from the site is formatted incorrectly, so some measurements display funny characters instead of the measurements. I had to guess on the amount of butter and only used 1 oz. I think it should have been 1.5 oz. Normally, the stripes seep into the dough but mine didn’t change shape which leads me to believe there needed to be more butter.

Otherwise, everything came out perfectly. When they start baking, the yeasty sweet smell is intoxicating. They baked for nearly 18 minutes before I took them out of the oven. I glazed with honey wash immediately and topped with toasted sesame seeds.

Joe had to get up early this morning for work, so we exchanged cards and gifts last night before going to bed. It was nearly midnight, so technically Valentine’s Day. He was surprised by the buns and liked them (even though they weren’t as light and airy as the bakery). I was disappointed that the buns dried out quickly. I put them into a container right after they cooled, but 5 hours later when Joe came home the dough was firm and a bit dry.

The pea soup from the other day is nearly gone. Like any soup, it tasted better every day that it sat in the fridge. It becomes thicker, but you can always thin it out with a bit of water.

You might also like these posts:
Traditional shortbread cookies
Cherry clafouti, a delicious custard cake
My favorite plum tart

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  1. You caught me! I figure I’m not really embarrassed as it’s not like I get to taste them. So there… ppppbbbbttttt.

    Happy International Quirkyalone Day!

  2. HA-ha … you’re too funny, thanks for stopping by to peek at my buns! And, a very happy International Quirkyalone Day to you :-)

  3. Nice title for this post! It brought a laugh. =) I have a penchant for Chinese bakeries as well…though I’m Chinese so maybe I’m biased. I never tried making them though. They’re too cheap for me to try to make them (and there’s one a few blocks from my house!).

  4. Yeah, the buns are very affordable at Sheng Kee, the bakery I normally shop. I love working with dough when I have the time, but you’re right … this is one of those things that is probably best purchased. :-)

  5. Yes, I’m looking at your buns! You got a problem with that? Then don’t put your buns out on display! Kidding :) They look very authentic and shiny too! I love that. Bread is even more temperamental than any other baked thing, so I have no idea why it wasn’t lighter.. Maybe commercial bao are spiked with dough improvers (or maybe baking powder, ha ha ha).

    I don’t normally greet people since I am bitter and unpleasant, but Happy Valentine’s Day to you and Joe :)

    (I know of this “personal tirade” you speak of… I was a victim of the same person not long ago. Since you deleted it, I wasn’t able to catch it, I hope it wasn’t disturbing or too offensive for you. I think it’s part of the initiation rites, haha :)

  6. As a matter of fact, yea, I am looking at your voluptuous tan buns! He he he. Thanks for catching me off guard with that one. I needed the laugh! Now, along the same lines I will now send you my contribution to your pantry raid.

  7. hey, i chanced upon this post googling a recipe for gai mei bao. i tried out the recipe at bakespace.
    for the topping that is posted there, i ended up adding some milk to thin it out. as a paste, it definitely seeps into the bun, the way you describe. give it a try.
    the only problem i had was the filling running out, i think because i stretched each dough pretty thin.

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