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.

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 is serving bao buns is filling 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

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 of 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?

Please leave a comment below and share your photos by tagging @eatlittlebird on Instagram and using #eatlittlebird

SHOP THIS RECIPE

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

4 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