Bao (Steamed Buns)
This recipe is more about making the dough for the bao rather than the filling. You can fill bao with almost anything you like, sweet or savoury. I’ve used a pork, mushroom and chive mixture, similar to the filling used for the Dumplings recipe and store-bought anko (sweetened red bean paste).
Making this dough, like any other dough can be tricky if you haven’t done something similar before. The best way to learn is to make small batches and try it out. The ingredients for the dough are cheap after all so if it doesn’t turn out, you can always try again.
Makes 7-8 large bao or 12-14 small bao.
1 packet (~7g) active dry yeast
100 ml water warmed to ~40°C or 100°F
100 ml whole milk (+50 ml, if necessary)
2-2.5 cups flour (all-purpose)
1 tbsp oil
1 tsp salt
2-3 tbsp sugar (to taste, depending on how sweet you want the bao)
filling of your choice (some ideas)
sweetened red bean paste (anko)
1. Make the dough.
Add the yeast, warm water and 1 tbsp of sugar to a large bowl and mix to combine. Wait about 5 minutes until the yeast is activated (foamy). Then, add the remaining sugar, salt, the milk and oil and stir to combine. Start adding the flour in batches and mixing to form the dough. Add 2 cups of flour and only if necessary, add more. Knead for 5-10 minutes until it pulls away from the bowl, is no longer sticky and when you poke the dough, it bounces back.
2. Cover and let rest in a warm, draft-free environment for 1 – 1.5 hours, or until doubled in size.
3. Form the bao.
Divide the dough into balls (any size you like) keeping in mind they will grow a lot when steaming. For savoury bao, I usually make the balls about 4-5 cm in diameter. For sweet bao, I make balls about 2-3 cm in diameter.
Flatten out a dough ball into a circle with your fingers, flattening out the edges more than the center. Sprinkle some flour when working with the dough, if necessary.
Fill each bao with 1-2 tbsp of the filling and seal the bao. Optional but check out the Folding Bao video to learn how to make pretty bao.
Place the formed bao on squares of parchment paper, cover and let rest for 20-30 minutes.
4. Steam the bao for 8-10 minutes (or 5-6 minutes for smaller bao). Turn off the heat and let the bao sit in the steamer for another 2-3 minutes. Serve immediately or at room temperature.
Making the dough is a bit of trial and error process. Add a little flour at a time and knead before adding more. It’s better to have less flour than more. If you find the dough is a bit dry, add a bit of water or milk. Once you have made the dough a few times, you will start to get a feel for what the texture should be and be able to make it by feel rather than amount of flour. The amount of flour will always vary depending on the environment you are working in and the flour you are using.
You can make the bao ahead of time, refrigerate (up to a day in advance) and steam for about 5 minutes before serving.