Recipe // Pu’er Tea Muffins

This was the first recipe I successfully developed, so it is a bit funny that I only photographed them in my last week here.

Before this summer, I didn’t like tea at all. Why would I drink grass-flavored water when I could just drink regular water? However, I love milk tea and I love thinking of other flavors way to add a subtle flavor to plain muffins. My siblings are averse to fruit or “weird” flavors in their breakfast foods, so I have a really good plain muffin recipe on hand. Fluffy and moist, trust me – this is the best plain muffin recipe around. Tea sounded like the perfect delicate way to spice up this already great recipe.

Pu’er tea is everywhere here. Each of my coworkers has an endless personal pot of pu’er tea on their desk. I started drinking pu’er tea (because why not) in the beginning of the summer, and now I am hooked. We’ll see if I keep up this habit in the US!

Pu’er tea is the famous fermented tea that comes from Pu’er, Yunnan, a village about 8 hours southeast of Xizhou. When freshly picked, pu’er is just regular green tea. However, after being fermented for at least 3 months (like wine, pu’er gets better with age), the pu’er tea gets a strong, deep earthy flavor.  I visited a local tea plantation to see them make pu’er tea. Of course, it is dried outside on the ground, and scooped up with a rusty shovel by a man smoking a pipe.

If you don’t have pu’er tea on hand, any ground tea will work. Once while testing, I used Earl Grey because it came in a convenient tea bag and was already finely ground (shhh!).

Pu’er Tea Muffins
Makes 18 muffins

Ingredients

3 c all-purpose flour
4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 tbsp ground pu’er tea, divided
2 eggs, room temperature preferred
1 c granulated sugar
1¼ c milk *
1/2 c vegetable oil
2 tsp vanilla extract
coarse sugar and ground pu’er tea, for sprinkling

Steps

  1. Preheat oven to 425F. Spray your muffin tins with non-stick spray.
  2. In a large bowl, mix flour, baking powder, salt, and 1 tablespoon ground pu’er tea until combined.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs and sugar until combined.
  4. Boil milk with remaining 1 tablespoon of pu’er tea. When cooled, mix in milk, oil, and vanilla to egg and sugar mixture.
  5. Fold wet ingredients into dry ingredients and mix everything together by hand. Avoid overmixing. The batter will be very thick and somewhat lumpy.
  6. Pour batter into muffin tins, filling all the way to the top. Sprinkle with coarse sugar and ground pu’er tea.
  7. Bake at 425F degrees for 5 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 375 and continue to bake for 20 more minutes until tops are lightly golden and centers appear set. Allow to cool for 10 minutes in the pan.

*For a less intense pu’er tea flavor, replace the 1¼  cup of milk tea with 1 cup of plain milk. This will result in a paler muffin, which contrasts beautifully with the ground pu’er tea sprinkled on top!

As an extra side note, the Bai people are famous for their indigo tie-dye. I used two handmade tie-dye vests as the backdrop for these photos!

The Guide to Chinese Baozi Shops

Hands down, baozi will be one of the top 3 foods I miss from China. I have still included this  in my Xizhou Food Guide series, but baozi is definitely not unique to this area. I have never been able to find a comprehensive list of baozi that I liked, so I wanted to compile one from my own experiences.

Your typical baozi shop will have the following options:

1) Mantou (馒头, mántou)
The most basic of them all, mantou is just a plain steamed bun.  No filling, no special shape; just a lump of white, fluffy, plain dough. Some people enjoy fried mantou with condensed milk for dinner, or I have seen locals eat a huge mantou with a side of chili sauce for dipping.
As a side note, mantou literally means “slow head.”

Some shops also offer mantou in different flours, such as corn flour or sweet potato.

2) Huajuan (花卷, huājuǎn)

This is exactly like mantou except for the shape. The shape reflects its name, literally translated as “flower twist.” Huajuan can also be rolled in brown sugar, which makes it resemble a sort of cinnamon roll. I have also seen huajuan rolled with minced meat, but that is much less common.

3) Rice Cake (米糕, mǐ gāo)

Make from rice flour and then steamed, rice cakes are bland and very chewy. The only flavor they have is a thin layer of brown sugar either on top or in the middle. Rice cakes are definitely not my favorite.

4) Steamed Buns 包子 (bāozi)

Pickled vegetable baozi

Last, but certainly not least. Baozi can come with many different fillings, the most common is roubao, or pork and scallions. Sweet versions can hold red bean or brown sugar and nuts. I have also tried pickled vegetables, mushrooms (a Yunnan specialty), and a special soy sauce pork variety.

After trying a bunch of different baozi from different shops throughout China, I can confidently say that the best baozi shop I have ever been to is just beyond the morning market in Xizhou. Their baozi dough is flakey and melts in your mouth – both of which are characteristics I didn’t realize baozi could have. I wrote my baozi post before I found this shop, so it is worth mentioning and including more photos.

Just look at those layers!! Incredible.

One of the best (and possibly dangerous) things about baozi is that they are ridiculously affordable, too. Almost every time, a huge baozi is just 1 RMB, or 15 cents.