The undisputed capital of Indian street food is Mumbai . It is not that the other regions do not have their own varieties , but Mumbai managed to break off the economic, class, and religious barriers and serve up the most fabulous and pocket friendly quick eats . Among the road side snacks you will find these soft buns served with a mix of vegetables , or a fried patty . These soft buns called Ladi Pav have their own fan following . It will be hard pressed to find new age Indian cook who hasn’t served “pav” in some form .
The hustle and bustle of the busy Indian streets are aptly captured in Pav Baji – the soft bun mopping up a spice are made with bleached white flour (maida) and laden with dough conditioners and additives but they are very soft and spongy.
When making these buns at home , I use a combination of flours – usually white whole wheat and unbleached all purpose or bread flour . The sponginess of the buns vary depending on the ratio of the flours . 100 % All purpose flour makes the spongiest of them all. As always go for the best available non chemically treated version , preferably organic .
Unlike usual breads , this one does not start out by activating the yeast . Instead I warm the milk till it very warm almost hot to touch say around 120 to 130°F ( 50°C ). Turn off the heat . Measure the flour into a large mixing bowl . Add salt and stir well to distribute evenly . Make a well in the middle of the flour and pour the milk into it . Use a wooden spoon to gently mix some of the flour with the milk to form a thick gelatinous mass. . Place the butter on top and set aside to cool . The butter softens as the flour absorbs the milk and the starches swell .
While the mix is cooling , warm 1/4 C water to 110 °F or just warm to touch . Mix in 1 tsp sugar and sprinkle the yeast on top . Set aside for 10 minutes for the yeast to bloom . When the yeast has bloomed , check the temperature of the flour mix , if it is just warm to touch add the yeast mixture to it ,otherwise wait for it to cool If in a hurry place the container in a water bath ( another bowl with ice and cold water ).
Knead for at least 10 minutes till a a soft dough is formed . If the dough feels sticky at first , just keep kneading without adding any more liquid. As you knead the dough will become smoother and pliable . Dust the kneading surface with a little flour or oil lightly if the dough is proving to be too sticky . Perform a windowpane test to determine if the dough is kneaded enough (refer to notes ) .
Form into a ball , transfer to an oiled bowl , flip the dough ball to coat all sides evenly with oil . Cover and let it rest in a warm place till doubled , about 1 hr .
Punch down the dough , knead gently a few times . Lightly dust the kneading surface with flour and transfer the dough onto it . Cut the dough into 12 equal sized portions.Take one piece , form it into a ball . Pull all the sides to the center and pinch together . When you invert it the top should have a smooth surface . The goal here is to get a tight smooth top .
Transfer these to an oiled or parchment lined baking dish, leaving just a little space for expansion . Here I have used a 9″ X 13″ pan . Cover and let rise till almost doubled.
During the last 10 minutes of the second rising , preheat the oven to 400°F . Melt a Couple of tablespoons of butter and brush the tops of the buns . Once the oven is heated , transfer to the oven and reduce temperature to 375 °F . Bake for 10 minutes , reduce the temperature to 350°F and bake an additional 15 to 20 minutes till done . When done the tops will be browned and the buns will sound hollow when tapped at the bottom . Remove from the oven and brush the tops lightly with any remaining melted butter .
Windowpane test – Take a small piece of dough , lime sized , hold it between the thumbs and fingers of both hands . Stretch it uniformly in all directions If the dough stretches to a thin film , hold the film against a source of light . If the light filters through it like a window pane , the dough has passed the test . No more kneading is necessary . If that is not the case , then knead a few more minutes and repeat the test .
If you want the tops of the buns more brown then keep he pan under the broiler for a minute or so . The intense heat will brown the tops nicely . Do not leave the buns unattended though , it takes only a few seconds to go from warm brown to raven black .
To further improve the sponginess , keep a metal pan in the lower rack of the oven while preheating . After the buns are placed , put a handful of ice chips or about a cup of water in the pan . This introduces steam during the initial stages of baking allowing the crust to stay softer and expand more . Again exercise caution . Keep yourself safe from sudden spurt of steam , and the ice chips from falling on any surfaces of the oven that is not equipped to handle the sudden drop in temperature .
My preferred flour for this recipe is unbleached bread flour , but good quality all purpose flour gives excellent results s well . For a vegan version , substitute milk with water or the preferred non diary milk , and butter with coconut oil .
Heat milk till it is hot to touch around 130°F or around 50°C. Take the flour in a large bowl. Add the salt and mix well .
Make a well in the center and pour the milk in it . Using a wooden spoon stir some flour into it to form a thick gelatinous mass. Place 2 to 3 tablespoons of butter on top . Set aside and wait for the mix to cool - about 15 - 20 minutes.
In the meantime Activate the yeast . Warm water to 110°F or just warm to touch . Stir in the sugar , and sprinkle the yeast on top and set aside .
Add the yeast water to the cooled mixture and knead for 10 to 15 minutes till the dough becomes soft smooth and very pliable . If very sticky add a couple of tablespoons of extra flour . Form the dough into a ball , cover and set aside to double in a warm place, about 1 hour .
Punch down the dough , knead a few times . Divide into 12 equal portions . Form each portion into a ball.
Arrange the balls on a baking sheet, cover and let rise for 30 minutes, until it has almost doubled .
Preheat oven to 400°F. Place the buns in the middle rack . Reduce temperature to 375°F and bake for 10 minutes . Reduce the temperature to 350°F and bake for a further 15 to 20 minutes till done