Steamed Bao Buns

How to make the perfect, soft and fluffy steamed bao buns with step-by-step photos. Follow these tips and tricks to make the perfect homemade bao buns, perfect for filling with your favourite ingredients.

bao buns in steamer basket

Bao Buns

When David Chang first offered his version of Pork Belly Buns on his restaurant menu at Momofuku Noodle Bar in New York, back around 2004, nobody could have predicted that the humble bao buns would be catapaulted to international foodie fame.

Even I sought out a table at Momofuku each time I visited New York, no matter how long the queue. I simply loved his idea of turning a plain bao bun into a sandwich or burger of sorts, filled with tender pork belly and a simple garnish of pickled cucumbers.

bao buns on baking tray

Homemade Bao Buns

Sadly, back in Zurich, bao buns were nowhere to found in the shops, nor restaurants (and this remains the case in 2019!), so I set about making steamed bao buns using David Chang’s recipe from his cookbook, Momofuku.

Over the years, I have fiddled with the recipe somewhat (David Chang’s recipe makes about 50 buns!), and the bao bun recipe below is one which I turn to throughout the year.

Why This Recipe Works

  • This bao bun recipe makes light, fluffy and pillowy steamed buns which are perfect for stuffing with your favourite fillings.
  • You can use this recipe to shape the bao buns however you like.
  • The cooked bao buns can be frozen and simply reheated in the steamer.

Steamed Buns

Traditional Chinese steamed buns are round in shape with an enclosed filling, either with char siu pork or a traditional ground pork mixture with slices of Chinese lap cheong sausage and boiled egg.

Steamed buns can also be made plain, i.e. without any filling. In my family, we often make plain steamed buns, which are round in shape with a twisted knot at the top, to serve alongside roast duck.

But somewhere along the way, someone came up with the genius idea of making folded over steamed buns which could be opened up and filled with a variety of ingredients, much like a burger or sandwich.

bao buns in chinese steamer basket

Bao Buns Recipe

If you are lucky, your local Asian grocer might stock ready-made bao buns in the freezer section.

If not, this easy bao bun recipe might require a bit of planning and preparation, but you will be rewarded with deliciously fluffy homemade buns which will delight everyone who tries them.

How to Make Bao Buns

Step 1

To make the perfect bao buns, you need both yeast and baking powder to help the buns to rise. Start by measuring all of the dry ingredients into a large mixing bowl.

Then measure the warm water and oil into a measuring jug. The water needs to be a bit more than lukewarm to help activate the yeast, but it shouldn’t be boiling hot.

ingredients for making bao buns

Step 2

I prefer to make my bao bun dough using my electric stand-mixer, but you can, of course, do everything by hand.

Using a dough hook on medium speed, mixing the liquid into the dry ingredients. Depending on the type of flour which you have used, you might need more or less liquid that than stated in the recipe. You want just enough liquid to bring everything together into a sticky dough.

Then, continuing on medium speed, knead the dough until it becomes soft and smooth to touch. This should take about 10 minutes using the stand-mixer on medium speed, or about 5 minutes by hand.

bao bun dough after kneading

Step 3

Once the dough is soft and smooth, I recommend kneading it by hand for a few more minutes on the kitchen benchtop.

Place the ball of dough back into the (clean) mixing bowl, and place the bowl somewhere warm for about 60 to 90 minutes for the dough to rise and double in size.

bao bun dough after resting

Step 4

Once the dough has doubled in size, punch it back and knead it by hand for about 5 minutes to release any air bubbles in the dough.

Then roll out the dough until it is about 1 cm in height.

Use your hands to rub some oil onto the surface of the dough. This will prevent the dough from sticking together later when you shape the buns.

bao bun dough rolled out flat

Step 5

Use an 8 cm (3 inch) cookie cutter to cut out rounds from the dough. Re-roll the dough as needed until you have used up all of the dough.

cutting out the bao bun dough

Step 6

Place these rounds onto a small sheet of baking paper – I like to use plain white cupcake wrappers which I flatten with a rolling pin. This saves me from having to cut up a sheet of baking paper into small pieces.

Fold over each round in half and then use a rolling pin to gently flatten the dough to form the bun shape.

shaping the bao bun dough

Step 7

Place all of the shaped buns onto a large tray, cover with a tea towel, and place in a warm place for about 30 minutes for the buns to rise again.

After this time, the bao buns should have risen and puffed up slightly.

bao buns on baking tray for steaming

Step 8

Meanwhile, prepare the steamer on the stove (see notes below). Steam the buns in batches for 10 to 12 minutes, or until they are puffy and soft, and cooked all the way through.

How to Steam Bao Buns

  1. Bamboo steamers are great for steaming bao buns and Asian grocery stores tend to stock a large variety of sizes at inexpensive prices. Aside from price, another advantage of bamboo steamers is that they also look good for serving at the table.
  2. I recommend buying the largest steamer which can fit your saucepan and stove.
  3. The bamboo steamer should be the same size as the saucepan you are using underneath. So if you are using a bamboo steamer which is 12 inches in diameter, your saucepan should also be 12 inches in diameter.
  4. If you plan to make bao buns (or even dumplings) often, I recommend buying at least two steamer baskets which can sit on top of each other to save on cooking (and waiting) time.
  5. If you are particularly serious about making bao buns, I recommend investing in a multi-tiered metal or stainless steel steamer which you can find at most Asian grocery stores. These also come in a range of sizes and have the advantage of being dishwasher-safe.
  6. Fill the saucepan about one-third full with boiling water, and place the steamer baskets on top.
  7. Place the saucepan with the steamer baskets on the stove over low-medium heat. If you steam the bao buns at too high a temperature, there is a risk that the buns might overcook or they might even become soggy.
  8. Place the bao buns in each steamer basket, giving them some room to rise and expand upon cooking.
  9. Place the lid on the top steamer basket and steam for about 10 to 12 minutes, or until the buns have risen and are light and fluffy once opened.
four bao buns in steamer basket

Tips For Making Bao Buns

  • Plain flour (all-purpose flour) works fine in this recipe as the cornflour (cornstarch) will help to give the buns a light and fluffy texture. The buns will be not be brilliant white like those found in Chinese restaurants, but the taste and texture should still be the same.
  • For snowy white buns like those found in Chinese restaurants, I recommend using bleached flour which you can find in Asian grocery stores.
  • It is important to knead the dough for the recommended amount of time. Failing to knead the dough properly may result in buns which appear blotchy (but should still taste fine), and this is due to not working the ingredients together sufficiently and/or failing to remove all of the air bubbles in the dough.
  • Steam the buns on a low-medium heat so that the buns do not overcook and become soggy.

How to Store Homemade Bao Buns

Bao buns are best eaten fresh and as soon as they are steamed.

Any leftover cooked bao buns can be stored in zip-lock bags in the freezer. To reheat, simply steam the frozen bao buns for about 5 minutes to warm through completely.

steamed buns in steamer basket

What to Serve with Bao Buns

One of my favourite ways of serving bao buns is to fill it with char siu pork and quick pickled vegetables. Please see my recipe for Sticky Pork Bao Buns for full details.

Other great fillings for bao buns include:

Asian Braised Beef Short Ribs

Chinese Barbecue Pork (Char Siu Pork)

Pickled Chillies

Print

Steamed Bao Buns

5 from 4 reviews

How to make the perfect, soft and fluffy steamed bao buns with step-by-step photos. Follow these tips and tricks to make the perfect homemade bao buns, perfect for filling with your favourite ingredients.

  • Author: Thanh | Eat, Little Bird
  • Prep Time: 2 hours
  • Cook Time: 10 mins
  • Total Time: 2 hours 10 minutes
  • Yield: Makes 12-16 buns
  • Category: Bread
  • Method: Stove Top
  • Cuisine: Chinese

Ingredients

  • 300 g (2 cups) plain flour (all-purpose flour) or bleached flour
  • 125 g (1 cup) cornflour (cornstarch)
  • 5 tablespoons caster sugar (super-fine sugar)
  • 1 teaspoon instant yeast (also called instant dried yeast or fast-action dried yeast) (see Kitchen Notes)
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 180 ml (3/4 cup) warm water
  • 60 ml (1/4 cup) vegetable oil, plus extra

Instructions

To prepare the buns

  1. Measure all of the dry ingredients into a large mixing bowl or the bowl of an electric stand-mixer (if using).
  2. Measure the warm water and oil into a measuring jug. The water needs to be a bit more than lukewarm to help activate the yeast, but it shouldn’t be boiling hot.
  3. Using the dough hook on medium speed, mixing the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients. Depending on the type of flour which you have used, you might need more or less liquid that than stated in the recipe.
  4. Once you have a sticky dough, continue kneading the dough on medium speed until it becomes soft and smooth to touch. This should take about 10 minutes using the stand-mixer on medium speed, or about 5 minutes by hand.
  5. Once the dough is soft and smooth, I recommend kneading it by hand for a few more minutes on the kitchen benchtop.
  6. Place the ball of dough back into the (clean) mixing bowl.
  7. Place the bowl somewhere warm for about 60 to 90 minutes for the dough to rise and double in size.

To shape the buns

  1. Once the dough has doubled in size, punch it back and knead it by hand for about 5 minutes to release any air bubbles in the dough.
  2. Then roll out the dough until it is about 1 cm in height.
  3. Use your hands to rub some oil onto the surface of the dough.
  4. Use an 8 cm (3 inch) cookie cutter to cut out rounds from the dough.
  5. Re-roll the dough as needed.
  6. Place these rounds onto a small sheet of baking paper – I like to use plain white cupcake wrappers which I flatten with a rolling pin.
  7. Fold over each round and then use a rolling pin to gently flatten the dough to form the bun shape.
  8. Place all of the shaped buns onto a large tray, cover with a tea towel, and place in a warm place for about 30 minutes for the buns to rise again. After this time, the bao buns should have puffed up slightly.

To steam the buns

  1. Meanwhile, prepare the steamer on the stove (see Kitchen Notes below).
  2. Steam the buns in batches for 10 to 12 minutes, or until they are puffy and soft, and cooked all the way through.
  3. Serve the buns immediately.

Kitchen Notes

DIFFERENT TYPES OF YEAST
* Please note that there is a difference between instant yeast (also called instant dried yeast or fast-action dried yeast) and dried yeast (also called active dry yeast). If you are not sure what type of yeast you have, please check the packaging for instructions on how to use the yeast.
* With instant yeast, you can add it directly to the flour mixture without having to activate it first.
* If you do not have instant yeast, I would suggest using the same amount of dried yeast. In which case, add the dried yeast to the warm water and set it aside for about 5 minutes until it is frothy. Add this yeast mixture, along with the vegetable oil, to the dry ingredients in the recipe above.

WHAT TYPE OF FLOUR TO USE
Plain flour (all-purpose flour) works well in this recipe as the cornflour (cornstarch) helps to give the buns a light and fluffy texture. However, the resulting buns will be a pale yellow in colour.
* For snowy white buns like those sold in Chinese restaurants, you can use bleached flour found in Asian grocery stores.

HOW TO STEAM BAO BUNS
* The steamer basket (whether bamboo or otherwise) should sit directly on top of a saucepan of the same dimension.
* Fill the saucepan with boiling water until about one-third full.
* Place the steamer basket on top of the saucepan.
* Place the bao buns in the steamer basket, leaving a bit of room for each to rise and puff up during cooking.
* Place the lid on top of the steamer basket.
* Steam over low-medium heat for 10 to 12 minutes.

HOW TO FREEZE BAO BUNS
Any leftover buns can be frozen in zip-lock bags for 1-2 months. Reheat the frozen steamed buns in a stovetop steamer for about 5 minutes, or until they are warmed all the way through.

CONVERSIONS
To convert from cups to grams, and vice-versa, please see this handy Conversion Chart for Basic Ingredients.

Did you make this recipe?

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22 comments

  1. Ann Koekepan 21 May 2019

    They look super yummy Thanh. I copy the recipe for later, I might include these in a Asian cooking workshop. Of course, I will tell you shared.
    Will let you know how it goes. xx

    Reply
    • Eat, Little Bird 22 May 2019

      Hi Ann,
      I hope you will enjoy the recipe! Let me know how it goes 🙂 xx

      Reply
  2. Mimi 21 May 2019

    These are so pretty! I make Chinese dumplings, so I’m pretty sure I could make these! Nothing fancy about the dough with them either. I only mention that because I’m not a baker, but bread baking is something I’ve always done. And it’s worth making these from scratch! Thanks!

    Reply
    • Eat, Little Bird 22 May 2019

      If you are familiar with bread-baking, making steamed buns is very similar. Except, instead of baking the bread after the second resting period, you steam the buns instead. And if you can make Chinese dumplings, you can totally make these buns! I love making dumplings too, but I need to work on my pleating … they aren’t the prettiest dumplings, but they do taste good 🙂

      Reply
  3. Madeleine 28 May 2019

    I remember you making these on Instagram and just thought wow! I’m so glad you finally posted this recipe, I can’t wait to try it!

    Reply
  4. Trang 28 May 2019

    This is the best recipe for bao buns!! I made it on the weekend using all-purpose flour. The color was not very white but the taste was spot on and my family thought they were great. If I use the Chinese bleached flour for making buns, do I need to change anything in the recipe or is it a simple substitute for the all-purpose flour?

    Reply
    • Eat, Little Bird 5 June 2019

      Hi Trang,
      So glad you enjoyed this recipe! You can simply substitute the plain flour in the recipe for bleached flour, but go slowly when adding the water to the dough as different types of flour absorb water at different rates.

      Reply
  5. […] never had Steamed Bao Buns, but they look interesting and I’ll be trying to make them gluten free […]

    Reply
  6. Alisha Conley 9 July 2019

    I made these tonight and they where great. I did add my own tweaks to kinda make it my own, but I did roll them a little too thick…. next time I’ll make sure they’re thinner! Thanks for the recipe.

    Reply
    • Eat, Little Bird 19 July 2019

      Hi Alisha,
      That’s great that you enjoyed this bao bun recipe! It can take one or two attempts before you get an idea of how thick or thin to roll the mixture, plus it can also be a personal preference. Thanks for popping by!

      Reply
  7. Ann Webster 17 August 2019

    Ab fab!!!

    Reply
  8. Miles 17 August 2019

    I made it yesterday i followed the exact measurements and ingredients the texture and taste are good but why it turns to brown when it cooked.

    Reply
    • Eat, Little Bird 18 August 2019

      Hi Miles,
      If the buns were brown and/or blotchy after you steamed them, it probably means that you didn’t knead the dough for long enough. It’s hard to give an estimate of how long to knead the dough because each person would apply a different strength when kneading. For example, if you and a 6 year old child were kneading a piece of dough each for the same amount of time, your piece of dough will have been worked more than the child’s piece of dough. Ultimately, the dough should be soft and smooth after enough kneading time. That’s why I recommend that, after you have achieved a soft and smooth dough, you should continue to knead for a few more minutes, just to ensure that the dough has been worked enough and that you have removed all air bubbles from the dough. I hope this helps!

      Reply
  9. Annalise 18 August 2019

    Hi, what would your cooking recommendations be for a Bosch steam oven please. Thanks

    Reply
  10. Yvey 6 September 2019

    Hi Thanh I’m about to make this recipe.
    Can I make the dough tonight to proof in the refrigerator and roll, cut, steam tomorrow?
    Thank you!

    Reply
    • Eat, Little Bird 11 September 2019

      Hi Yvey,

      Although I haven’t tried it, I think you can make the dough to prove overnight in the fridge. However, you will need to let it come to room temperature before proceeding with the rest of the recipe. I do this often with bread recipes and, as these steamed bao buns follow the same method as making bread, I assume that it should work. Please let me know if you try this! Good luck and enjoy the recipe 🙂

      Reply
  11. S Ewards 24 September 2019

    My baos came out super soft but really brown. What went wrong? I’ve made perfect ones in the past but always with a bit of milk. I wanted to try a vegan recipe and came across yours but every time I try, it either goes harder than what they should be or really dark in colour. Help!

    Reply
    • Eat, Little Bird 21 October 2019

      I’m not sure why your bao buns came out brown – possibly a combination of the type of flour you have used and whether you kneaded the dough long enough. You need to knead the dough for at least the amount of time stated in the recipe to make sure all of the ingredients are incorporated and so all of the air bubbles are removed. Hope this helps!

      Reply
  12. madhu sudan bhandari 12 October 2019

    wow

    Reply
  13. Fazila 16 October 2019

    Oh em gee ! These were divine. So soft and fluffy and the sweetness was a good touch ( I did add a bit less than the recipe ) super easy to follow and I loved working with the soft dough. Thank you for the recipe !

    Reply