I think I’ve discovered one of the most universally appealing snacks. While working on this post, I was searching for a few alternative names for this fluffy, steamed bun filled with savory meats. To my pleasant surprise, I learned these delectable buns are quite well-loved in Asian cuisine and are known by many different names. Here are just a few: Bao, Bau, Tai Pao (Cantonese), Baozi (Mandarin), Nikuman (Japanese), Siopao (Filipino), Salapao (Sino-Thai) and Jjinpang Mandu (Korean). (If you know this dish by another name, do share!)
Call it what you will, for me these sweet and savory buns are all about comfort food and childhood memories. I remember my Mom filling my little hands with one of these piping-hot buns as a child. I recall relishing the taste of the soft, slightly sweet dough in perfect contrast to the savory ground pork and Chinese sausage. The hard-boiled egg was always my favorite–I’d eat that right away and then nibble my way around the rest of the bun…Yum! Even today, these buns are still a special treat for me. No doubt, they take a bit of time to make but I enjoy the entire process. Now, my favorite part is watching my family and friends devour them….I think my Mom was on to something!
Notes on the Recipe, Tips and Tricks
Always use fresh active dry yeast. If it’s close to the expiration date, don’t use it. Unless you cook with yeast often, avoid buying the larger quantities of yeast in the jars. Buy the single-use packages instead. They will stay fresher longer.
The temperature of the milk should be warm around 105-110 degrees Fahrenheit. If the milk is too hot it will kill the yeast.
For proofing the dough, the oven should be approximately 100 degrees. Covering the dough with a kitchen towel prevents circulating air from affecting the dough as it rises. It also helps to keep the temperature constant.
The dough should approximately double in size after the resting period. If it hasn’t double in size after 1 hour, let it rest for awhile longer until it has doubled in size.
When steaming the buns: to prevent the moisture in the lid from dripping onto the buns, one trick to try is to wrap the lid with a kitchen towel. Otherwise, wipe the lid twice as I showed in the video. When removing the lid, do it in a quick motion and try not to drip any of the water onto the buns. If you see shiny blisters on the buns, this is from dripping water.
If you have time, steam the buns in a single layer rather than a double layer. This way the buns will steam evenly. Alternatively, you can rotate the trays about halfway through the steaming process.
Don’t skip the part about adding vinegar to the water pan. I promise the buns won’t smell like vinegar. The vinegar helps to keep the buns a nice, bright color.
for the Filling
1 lb ground pork (or any ground meat of your choice)
1/2 cup yellow onions, finely chopped
1/3 cup woodear mushrooms, finely chopped
1 Tbsp oyster sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp cornstarch
3 Chinese sausage links
3 large eggs or 12 quail eggs hard-boiled
12 cupcake liners or 3-inch parchment/wax paper circles
1/4 cup white vinegar
Preheat oven to 150-170 degrees Fahrenheit. When it comes to temperature, turn off the oven.
Warm the milk in the microwave for 30 seconds, 45 seconds if the milk is cold. Add 1/2 tsp sugar and active dry yeast to the warmed milk. Stir together for 1 minute. Let the mixture rest for 10 minutes until foamy.
In a mixing bowl, combine the bread flour and cake flour. Take 1 Tbsp of the flour mixture and combine with the baking powder. Set aside for now. Add the remaining sugar to the flour mixture and stir together. Stir the milk and yeast mixture and add to the mixing bowl along with the vegetable oil. Use a stand mixer with a dough hook attachment to combine the ingredients. Mix on Low speed for 2 minutes. Increase the speed to Medium Low and mix for another 2 minutes. Add the flour and baking powder mixture prepared earlier and mix for another minute.
Remove the dough from the stand mixer and gently knead by hand for 2-3 minutes. Place dough into a large bowl. Coat the dough with a thin layer of vegetable oil. Cover bowl with a large kitchen towel and then place into the warm oven. Let the dough rest for 1 hour.
In a medium bowl, combine all of the ingredients for the filling (except the sausage and eggs). Roll into 12 balls.
Lightly flour the work surface. Gently knead the dough for a few minutes. Divide the dough and then roll into 12 even-sized balls. Cover the dough balls with a damp paper towel and let them rest for 10 minutes.
Cut each hard-boiled egg into 4 pieces. Cut each Chinese sausage link into 12 thin slices at a diagonal. Set aside for now.
Generously flour the work surface again. Take one of the dough balls and flatten to a 5-inch circle using a rolling pin. Flatten the edge of the circle so it’s thinner than the middle. Place the dough on the work surface. On top of the dough add 2 slices of sausage and then the filling ball. Top with one piece of egg and another sausage slice. Pleat the dough around the bun while pinching it together at the top making sure to cover the filling completely. Twist the top of the bun to secure it. Pat the bun to round out the shape. Place the bun on the cupcake/muffin liner. Continue making the buns until all 12 are made. Place the buns into the steamer trays making sure to leave about 1-inch between each bun.
Prepare the steamer by filling the bottom basin halfway with water. Add 1/4 cup white vinegar to the water and then bring to a rapid boil over High heat. Add the steamer trays. Wipe the moisture from the lid before replacing. Lower the heat to Medium High and steam the buns for 10 minutes. Carefully remove the lid and wipe out the moisture again. Cover and continue steaming for another 10 minutes. (Total steaming time is 20 minutes.)
Remove the buns from steamer. Allow to cool slightly before enjoying.
These buns can be reheated in a steamer or microwave. To warm in a microwave, wrap a bun in a moistened paper towel and cook on High for 1 minute.
Store any uneaten buns in the refrigerator. They are best if consumed within the week. The steamed buns can be frozen for up to 2 months.
Yields: 12 buns
Tools I Love and Use in My Kitchen