These hot dog flower buns inspired me to write a cookbook about Chinese bakeries. They were my absolute favorite as a child whenever my parents took me to a Chinese bakery, so they are full of nostalgia. It’s one of the most popular recipes from the book, and adults and children love the whimsical design and sweet and salty flavor of these buns.
Technique tip: Milk bread can take a while to properly proof, especially if baking in the winter or if your kitchen is very cold. Be patient and wait until the dough is truly doubled in size for both proofs. A sharp knife helps achieve clean cuts or “petals” for the flower buns.
Swap option: You can swap out the hot dogs for your favorite chicken or pork sausages, or use veggie dogs if vegetarian.
For the tangzhong:
In a small saucepan over low heat, combine the flour and milk, and cook, whisking constantly, until thickened to a paste, 2 to 3 minutes. Immediately transfer the paste into a small bowl, scraping the sides of the saucepan with a flexible spatula; let cool until warm, 5 to 10 minutes. Texture should resemble mashed potatoes.
For the milk bread:
In a clean or new small saucepan, scald the milk over medium heat, bringing the milk to a gentle simmer (watch carefully as milk tends to boil over). Pour milk into a small bowl and cool until warm to the touch (about 110 F). Stir in yeast and a pinch of sugar and set aside until the surface of the mixture is foamy, 5 to 10 minutes.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook, combine the sugar, flour, salt and egg. Add the tangzhong and milk, and mix on low until shaggy. Add the softened butter one piece at a time, mixing until fully incorporated before adding the next. Increase the speed to medium-high and continue to knead the dough until it is tacky and slightly sticky, 8 to 9 minutes. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface. Wet your hands to prevent the dough from sticking, pinch and pull the ends of the dough to form a smooth ball.
Coat a large mixing bowl with 1 teaspoon of oil. Add the dough to the bowl, gently turning it to cover with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set in a warm spot to proof until doubled in size, about 2 hours (or place in the refrigerator to proof for at least 8 hours or overnight).
While the dough is proofing, line two large, rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper.
After the first proof, punch down to deflate the dough and transfer it to a lightly floured surface. Pinch and pull the ends of the dough into a smooth ball. Divide the dough into 12 equal portions with a bench scraper (for accuracy, weigh with a digital scale if you have one). Form each portion of dough into a smooth ball by pulling the ends of the dough underneath and then rolling between the palms of your hand.
For the hot dog flower buns:
On the work surface, roll out a portion of dough into a 3- by 7-inch rectangle (it should be large enough to wrap around a hot dog). Place a hot dog in the center of the dough and pinch the edges of the dough together to seal completely around it. Slice into 6 equal pieces. Arrange the pieces on the baking sheet, cut-sides up, in a flower formation — one in the center with five pieces surrounding it. Repeat with remaining dough and hot dogs. Space each bun at least 3 inches apart. Cover with a damp, clean kitchen towel and let them rest in a warm spot until doubled in size, 45 minutes to 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Right before baking, whisk together the egg and cream. Brush the egg wash over the buns and sprinkle with the sesame seeds and green onions.
Bake until buns are golden-brown, 18 to 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, combine the water and sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a simmer and cook until the sugar is dissolved and the glaze has thickened, 1 to 2 minutes.
Transfer the baking sheets to a wire rack. Immediately brush the hot buns with glaze to cover completely. Let the buns cool for 5 minutes on sheets, then transfer to the rack to cool. Serve warm or cooled completely.