There are so many specialty kitchen items that I refuse to buy.
It’s not that I don’t see the convenience factor in owning a cherry pitter or a banana slicer for the few times a year I need them, but I just don’t have the room to store them.
That was how I felt about owning a bamboo steamer. Sure, there were recipes I would love to try that required one, but I just couldn’t justify owning (and storing) one.
But then I tried bao.
Bao (pronounced “bow,” as in rhymes with “cow) are Chinese steamed buns. According to the “A Dumpling Thing” blog, they’ve been around for centuries, and while many people call them bao buns, the word bao translates to “bun” already (much like the word “ramen” means “noodles”), so you can just say bao.
Traditionally, bao is served with pork dishes, but today, there are tons of fillings put into these soft, light buns that are folded in half, kind of like a taco, ready for pretty much anything to go inside.
I will warn you that the bao process is time consuming—just like making any fresh bread—but it’s really fun to see them emerge from your steamer, knowing you accomplished something new.
This week’s recipe is going to come at you in a two-parter. This week, I’m going to tell you how I made bao. Next week, I’ll give you a great recipe for the filling I used.
The original recipe for both parts (if you don’t want to wait), can be found on the blog “Kitchen Sanctuary” by Nicky Corbishley. You can find her post at https://www.kitchensanctuary.com/korean-chicken-bao. I clarified some of the directions below, based on what worked for me.
Bao (Steamed Buns)
- 3 3/4 cups flour plus more for kneading
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoons instant yeast
- 3 tablespoons milk
- 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons warm water
- 3 tablespoons butter melted
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- Combine the flour, sugar, salt and yeast in a mixing bowl.
- In another small bowl, add the milk, water and butter, stirring until everything is well combined.
- Stir the liquids into the flour mixture until the dough starts to come together, then turn the dough out onto a floured countertop and knead for about 10 minutes. (Or use a stand mixer with a dough hook.)
- Spray a bowl with cooking spray and place the dough in it, covering with plastic wrap or a damp towel, letting it rise for about 90 minutes or until the dough doubles in size.
- Once it is doubled, dump it out onto a floured countertop again, knead it briefly, and split it into 20 even balls.
- Cut some parchment paper into rectangles—about 2.5 by 3.5 inches—one for each ball, and roll the balls out into an oval shape about the same dimensions as the piece of parchment.
- Once the dough is rolled out, brush each oval with the olive oil.
- Place a chopstick or bamboo skewer in the middle of each oval (this will leave a little bit of an empty spot in the dough when you slide it out) and fold it over.
- Leaving the dough on the parchment, position them into the trays of a bamboo steamer, covering each section with plastic wrap or a damp towel, and letting them rise for an hour.
- To steam the buns, boil a few inches of water in a skillet that is large enough to fit your bamboo steamer. You want just enough water that it will come up on the sides of the steamer but not actually touch the buns in the bottom section.
- Once the water is boiling, place the steamer basket in the pan and steam the buns for 10 minutes.
- Carefully remove the steamer basket and serve the bao immediately with your favorite fillings.
These were delicious fresh. They’re a very neutral-tasting bread, so they don’t compete with whatever filling you decide to put inside. They’re also a great texture—light and fluffy. Honestly, you just have to try them to really understand them.
For reheating, I’d recommend wrapping them in a damp paper towel and warming them in the microwave. Otherwise, they get kind of tough.
And now that I own a bamboo steamer (that I luckily found at our local second-hand shop), I can make bao whenever I have the time and patience to do so.
I still don’t know where I’m going to store the thing, but I figure that’s a problem for another time. Right now, I have some steamed buns to eat.
This piece first appeared in print on Sept. 30, 2021.
Spice Up Your Life is a weekly newspaper column written by Lindsey Young in south central Kansas. If you are interested in sponsoring this column, please contact us through the “Contact Lindsey” link at the top of the page.