Monday, 12 March 2012

Chinese Steamed Buns (包子)

Mastering the art of making these steamed buns will open up a whole new approachable culinary world of dim sum for you.
On a totally unrelated note, that's my friend, Lang.  Lang is essentially a big ball of joy and positive energy that, with just one hug, can brighten up your day.  Oh no, I'm not exaggerating.
Back to these buns. This is going to be a long, yet brief, educating overview of Chinese buns.  With the dough in this recipe you can make so many different things.  But please don't confuse them with the doughs of other dim sums, like char siu, the doughs are very different.  I mean, you could stuff them with the same filling but it would be different from the classic char siu baos.

If you have them plain, without any filling, they're 馒头 (man tou)
With these, you can have two types.  These round ones are what you'd normally have with savory dishes.  It's essentially bread.  You eat it with your stir-fries.  Soft and spongy, they're much more absorbent than your average bread -- dip them in sauce and they suck up all the goodness.
Then you've got these.  Essentially called "knife-cut man tou".  You form the dough into a log, then you cut it into pieces, and that's how you achieve the shape.  This is a famous dish called "gold and silver man tou" in which, as you can see, some are just plain steamed, and some are deep fried, representing gold and silver tokens. You dip these in condensed milk. Easy Chinese dessert to make at home!

By using the same dough you can also make other Chinese breads, like these, 花卷 (hua juan), which means "floral wrap". or floral "swirl".  You roll the dough out into a thin sheet and brush with a layer of your filling. It can be sweet - sesame paste, plain sugar, or savory - spring onions, picked vegetables etc.  Then you roll it up, cut it up and you press the two ends together and they become these floral wraps.

Then you've got the 包子 (bao zi), of which most of you will be familiar with, as you've probably had them in dim sum restaurants.  They're essentially just stuffed man tous.  They can be sweet or savory as well.  Sweet ones are often filled with red bean paste, or Chinese egg custard.  Savory ones are filled with anything imaginable.  Minced pork, minced beef, mushrooms, bok choy, eggs, anything. Next time use up your left over stir-fry by chopping everything up finely and stuff it in one of these buns!

And finally you've got the miscellaneous stuff.
These are 蝴蝶卷 (hu die juan), butterfly wraps, or swirl.  They're gorgeous when steamed.
And these are 爪卷 (zhua juan), which means "claw wraps".
I mean really, make use of your childhood play-doh skills and get creative with these.
I made just simple baozi with sweet fillings.  I just used what I had in my cupboard -- nutella, peanut butter.

Makes: about 10 buns

200g plain flour
5g active dry yeast
150ml warm water

Filling of your choice

Disolve the yeast in a bit of  the water, pour it over the flour. Mix, then slowly add the rest of the water until it comes together to form a dough. 150ml may not be correct, just make sure it's a very soft dough that doesn't stick to your hands. Knead for a couple of minutes until smooth, put in an oiled bowl, cover with a damp towel and leave it to rest for about an hour.  

Divide the dough into equal portions.   You can either form into balls and have them as bread or you can flatten them and put in a scoop of a filling of your choice, then enclose it completely and roll into balls.  Pour cold water in a pot and place your steamer on top.  Line the bottom with an oiled greaseproof paper and place your buns on it.  Make sure you don't put them too close to each other.  Cover with a towel and let it rest again for about 10 minutes before removing the towel, replacing it with a lid, and turning the heat up to high.  When the water starts boiling, turn the heat down to medium and steam for a further 10-15 minutes until done.

Ohhh look at that hot peanut butter oozing out of the buns.  


  1. sounds lovely and I would like to try them.... the problem is that I don't have a bamboo steamer will a normal steamer do the job???


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