Took a break last week (I came down with a cold) but I have had this idea for a recipe for a while now. When I came back to DC from Hawaii, I made sure to bring back all kinds of Asian flavorings that I knew I wouldn’t really be able to get in the northeast. One of them was pandan extract, a flavor that I haven’t used very much in baking but love otherwise.
I recently went to an Asian bakery and purchased custard buns. They’ve always been one of my favorites. The bread is always so soft and pillowy, while the custard stays sweet and smooth. I figured, why not try making them myself? And, because I like adding another layer of flavor, I decided it was the perfect opportunity to try using the pandan extract.
What is pandan?
Pandan is a tropical plant with fragrant leaves that are used for flavoring food, mainly in Southeast Asian and South Asian countries. It’s commonly paired or cooked with coconut. Pandan has a sweet, almost vanilla-like flavor, and it’s very fragrant. I’ve had pandan cakes, doughnuts, and more! It really adds something special to whatever you use it with.
Because I don’t have easy access to pandan leaves, I used an extract. You could most likely find one at an Asian grocery store or online. The custard has a coconut milk base, which will help to enhance the flavor of the pandan. It can be made up to 2 days in advance.
The bread is a simple Japanese milk bread, and can be made with or without a stand mixer (however, it’ll be faster if you have one!). The trickiest part of making these is assembly. You’ll want to make sure your custard isn’t too runny or else you won’t be able to properly seal the buns. Work quickly and try not to get any custard on the seams, or it won’t close correctly. This recipe actually has very helpful instructions, and it’s where I got the inspiration to top the buns with a swirl of custard.
These pandan custard buns are so delicious and perfect for breakfast, a snack, or dessert! Refrigerate any leftovers for up to 4 days and let them sit at room temperature for at least 5 minutes before enjoying.
Pandan Custard Buns
For the pandan custard*:
- 13.5 oz unsweetened coconut milk
- 1/4 cup whole milk
- 3 tsp pandan extract
- 5 large egg yolks, room temperature
- 1/3 cup granulated sugar
- 3 tbsp cornstarch
For the tangzhong:
- 1/3 cup bread flour
- 1/2 cup whole milk
- 1/2 cup water
For the bread:
- 2 1/2 cups bread flour
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 2 tsp active dry yeast
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 egg
- 1/2 cup warm whole milk, plus extra for brushing on top
- 4 tbsp unsalted butter, cut into pieces and softened at room temperature
Make the custard:
- In a medium saucepan, bring coconut milk to a simmer over medium-high heat. Whisk often to prevent from burning.
- In a separate heat-proof bowl, whisk together the yolks, sugar, milk, and cornstarch.
- Add about 1/3 cup of the hot coconut milk to your egg mixture. Whisk vigorously and constantly to prevent the eggs from curdling. Slowly whisk the rest of the warm milk into the egg mixture. Once combined, return to the saucepan and bring to a simmer, whisking contantly.
- Continue mixing over the heat until your custard has thickened. Scrape the mixture into a bowl and whisk in the pandan extract.
- Cover with plastic wrap, making sure it is touching the entire surface to prevent a film from forming.
- Refrigerate until cold, at least 2 hours. Custard can be made 2 days in advance.
Prepare the dough:
- Make the starter: In a small pot, whisk the flour, milk, and water together. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring often, until thickened. This will take about 10 minutes.
- Scrape the starter into a separate container and cover the surface with plastic wrap. Set aside to cool to room temperature.
- Once the starter has cooled, start making the dough. In a large bowl, in a stand mixer or with a wooden spoon, combine the flour, sugar, yeast, and salt.
- Add the egg, milk, and 1/2 cup of the starter (there will be extra starter, just throw it out). Knead for 5 minutes.
- Add the softened butter and knead another 10 to 15 minutes, longer if you are doing it by hand. Continue to knead until smooth and just a little tacky.
- Butter the inside of a bowl. Use your hands to shape the dough into a ball and place in the prepared bowl. Cover with a kitchen towel and let rise until doubled, about 60 to 90 minutes.
- Punch the dough down and scoop onto a floured surface. Using a bench scraper or knife, cut dough into 10 even portions. Form each into a ball and let rise 15 minutes.
- Preheat your oven to 350° F and prepare two baking sheets with parchment paper or a silpat.
- Flatten each portion into a 1/2" thickness. Then, flatten the outer half of the circle into a 1/4" thickness, leaving a thicker middle.
- Place about 1 tbsp (or more, if you're ambitious) of the custard into the center. Working very quickly, pull four sides into the middle and seal up the sides. If you've never done something similar, start will less custard until you become comfortable with it. If your custard is on the runny side, it'll be harder.
- Place each prepared bun evenly onto the two baking sheets. Cover with a kitchen towel and let rise another 30-40 minutes.
- Brush the tops with more milk and pipe some extra custard on top if you want.
- Bake buns until golden brown and puffed, about 30 to 40 minutes.
- Allow buns to cool to room temperature. Enjoy!