Our famous milk bread is the basis for these ube buns, and the filling, which is reminiscent of ube halaya, is made light and coconutty by substituting coconut oil for some of the milk and butter. That’s the best milk bread we’ve ever had!
WHAT IS UBE?
The ube yam, known for its vibrant purple flesh, is native to Asia. When biting into a vibrant purple yam, one is never quite sure what one will find. Because of the hue, it’s easy to feel comfortable. However, the flavor is smooth and creamy, like a fine sweet potato, with a lovely taste that recalls vanilla.
Numerous nutrients, including vitamin C, fiber, and anti-inflammatory compounds, are abundant in ube.
The ube purple is a rich, deep shade of hue (the word “violet” comes to mind, but violet is a flower, therefore shouldn’t ube be its own purple), making it distinct from the purple tuber taro. In addition to its savory uses, taro is often used in Chinese cuisine for both sweet and savory dishes.
FAVORITE UBE DESSERTS
Many Filipino desserts feature ube, but the most famous is ube halaya. Sweetbreads and buns like these are perfect vehicles for ube halaya, a paste made from mashed ube, sugar, milk, and butter.
You may also be familiar with the Filipino dessert called halo halo, which typically includes ube halaya and other ingredients, including condensed milk, ice, fruity jelly cubes, tapioca pearls, flan, and toppings like red beans and toasted coconut.
You’ve undoubtedly also seen purple ube cakes and purple ube bread loaves on social media platforms like Instagram. Those dishes will have to wait until tomorrow’s dinner.
FOR THE MILK BREAD:
- 1 large egg at room temperature
- 1 cup of whole milk at room temperature
- 3 1/2 cups of bread flour
- 2/3 cup of heavy cream at room temperature
- 1/2 cup of cake flour
- 1/3 cup of granulated sugar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt
- 1 tablespoon of active dry yeast
- 1 tablespoon of sesame seeds
- simple syrup
- egg wash
FOR THE UBE FILLING:
- 14 ounces of raw, trimmed, peeled ube
- 1/4 cup of coconut oil
- 3 tablespoons of granulated sugar (or to taste)
- 1 tablespoon of unsalted butter
- 1/4 teaspoon of salt
- 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract
BAKE THE DOUGH FOR MILK BREAD:
- Add the cream, milk, egg, sugar, cake flour, yeast, bread flour, and salt to the bowl of a stand mixer. Put the mixer on “stir” and attach the dough hook. Keep the mixer running for 15 minutes, stopping it regularly to press the dough back together.
- Add flour with a spoonful if the dough is too sticky due to high humidity. It’s fine if it sticks to the bowl’s bottom as long as it has some stickiness and elasticity. The mixture shouldn’t cling to the dish. The dough needs 15-25 minutes of kneading before it’s ready for the proving phase. Cover the bowl with a damp towel for best results and let it sit in a warm area for at least an hour, preferably two.
- To proof my dough, I put it in the microwave with a large mug of boiling water next to it. Closing the microwave door as the water boils traps in steam and heat that is perfect for proofing.
COOK THE FILLING FOR THE UBE:
- While the dough is proving, trim, peel, and chop the ube into 1-inch (2.5 cm) chunks. Cook in a steamer for 30 minutes at high heat, or until fork-tender. Take dish off heat to prevent liquid from boiling over.
- Now is the time to stir in the salt, sugar (as specified or to taste), vanilla extract, coconut oil, and unsalted butter while the mixture is still hot. Mash the ube until it’s smooth and the sugar is entirely dissolved, either by hand or with a potato masher/food processor. Protect from the elements and set aside.
ASSEMBLE AND BAKE:
- Once the dough has rested from the initial proving, return it to the mixer and knead on low speed for 5 minutes to eliminate any remaining air pockets.
- Make 12 even pieces out of the dough. (You can do this roughly by sight, but weighing the dough and dividing by 12 will give you more accurate results. Then, measure out that many pieces of dough, and weigh them all separately. Put the filler through the same procedure.
- Form smooth balls out of each piece of dough by kneading it. Roll each dough ball into a 4.5-by-8-by-20-centimeter (11.5-by-20-centimeter) rectangle or oval with a floured rolling pin.
- Apply a thin, even layer of ube filling to the dough, leaving a 1/2-inch (1.25 cm) border all the way around. Roll the dough from a shorter side to construct a cigar and seal the filling. Tuck the open end and the seam underneath the bun to secure it.
- Leave the dough to rise for an additional hour after shaping. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and place a rack in the center of the oven 15 minutes before the buns are done proofing.
- Bake for 16-18 minutes after brushing with egg wash and sesame seeds.
- To make them bright, delicious, and colorful, spritz them with sugar water right out of the oven.
NOTES & TIPS:
If you don’t have bread or cake flour, use all-purpose flour.
Keep these buns refrigerated for up to 6 days or at room temperature for 1-2 days. Reheat in the microwave for 20-30 seconds until warm and soft, then serve immediately.