Bao, bau, baozi, mantou, bakpoa, paoare, siopao, or humbow; you probably know them best as Steamed Buns or Boa Buns. They’re those soft fluffy white pockets filled with a sweet or savory filling.
Baos or whatever you call them originated in Northern China where wheat instead of rice is widely grown. They’ve been around for hundreds of years. Legend has it that Baos originated during the Three Kingdom Period when a Chinese general needed to cross a raging river with his army. To ensure safe crossing the people on the other side of the river demanded that the general sever the head of 50 men; instead the general used large meat filled dough balls which satisfied the demand.
Meat filled bao buns have always been a favorite in the Philippines where they are called Siopao, they’re also popular in Hawaii where they’re known as Manapua. Both places have a large Chinese population who introduced this delicacy many years ago. In fact many countries with large Chinese communities have a version of this popular food. Recently their popularity has increased worldwide.
Baos can be shaped into balls, as they were in the legend, or they can be folded like taco shells. They can be filled with your favorite savory meats such as char siu or sweet roast pork, pork belly, and chicken curry; or they can be filled with sweets such as black bean paste, taro, or custard.
One of my favorite bao fillings is Korean Fried Chicken, crispy fried chicken bites dipped in a sweet and spicy sauce garnished with fresh chopped cilantro, sliced onions, and cucumbers.
Another favorite filling is Boneless Kalbi Short Ribs, thin slices of beef short ribs marinated in a sweet and salty sauce. Then grilled and garnished with fresh green onions and sesame seeds.
But first things first, before you can fill steamed buns you must make them. To make homemade buns you will need a steamer, I use bamboo steamer baskets, but you can use whatever you have on hand. Other than that making steamed buns are pretty easy using ingredients that are readily available if you don’t already have them in your kitchen.
So let’s make bao buns, then you can fill them with just about anything you desire.
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Bao Buns – Steamed Buns
3 3/4 Cups flour
2 Tbs. Sugar
2 Tsp. Instant Yeast
3 Tbs. Milk
3/4 Warm water
3 Tbs. Butter – softened
1 Tbs. Olive Oil
Mix together flour, sugar, salt, and yeast in the bowl of your standing mixer or a large bowl if kneading by hand.
Place warm water and milk in a separate bowl, stir in butter until it melts.
Using the dough hook of your mixer gradually stir liquid into flour mixtures.
Knead for 10 minutes either in your mixer or by hand.
Turn dough into an oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap or towel. Leave in a warm spot until dough doubles in size, about 2 hours.
Once dough has doubled in size turn out onto a floured surface. Gently knead dough for a couple of minutes then cut into 20 pieces which you will roll into balls.
Roll each ball with a rolling pin into an oval shape about 2 1/2″ x 3 1/2″.
Place on parchment paper while you roll the rest of the balls.
Brush dough ovals with olive oil.
Place a chopstick in the middle of the dough oval and fold over. It should now be shaped like a taco shell with a space in the fold where the chopstick is. The oiled surface should be inside of the fold.
Slip chopstick out, place on a sheet pan covered with parchment paper, and fold the rest of the ovals.
Cover pan with plastic wrap or towel making sure plastic doesn’t touch the dough as it will stick.
Leave to rise for another hour.
When dough has risen bring water in large pot or wok to a boil. Place about 3-4 buns into a steamer basket and steam for 10 minutes.
Remove steamed buns from steamer basket and keep it on a plate in the oven to keep warm.
Fill and serve!