Steamy Magic

Do you Dim Sum?  We love Dim Sum food.  It’s like the Chinese version of tapas:  lots of little dishes to share and as much tea as you can drink to go with it.  Many dim sum dishes are steamed.  If you go to one of those restaurants that specialize in dim sum, you’ll see people pushing carts around with lots of little steamers in them.   There is always a huge sense of excitement as the cart draws near to your table.  What will it have in it?  Will my favorite dish be there?  Will the cart even make it to our table before everything is gone? (On a busy day, your best bet is to try to sit as close to the kitchen doors as possible so you get access to all the carts coming out.)

The most anticipated steamed dish in our family (and usually the first one to run out at the restaurants) are the steamed buns, especially if they have barbequed pork or red bean paste in them.  I have tried making steamed buns at home, but have not really come close to the texture of what you get at the restaurant.  Usually, mine are too fluffy or pasty.

But, this week, with the help of a secret weapon, I think I may have finally got it, or at least closer to it.

What is my secret weapon?  Well, wouldn’t you like to know? Maybe I should just say it’s an ancient Chinese secret?  Haha!

Actually, I am happy to tell you the secret because I was kind of skeptical when I tried it, and surprised when it turned out so well.  The secret to great Chinese Bao (buns) is sourdough.  Really!

I did not get this idea myself.  I have an old Wei-Chuan cookbook called Chinese Snacks that has two recipes for steamed buns.  One uses yeast and the other uses old dough as the base.  I made the recipe and substituted my sourdough starter for the old dough.  The dough was nice and soft.  I had no trouble at all working with it.  It was easy to stuff and puffed up nicely in the steamer.

before steaming

As a bonus, the dough was really easy to work with–probably because I used a lower protein flour and I think also the sourdough starter made the dough especially elastic and soft.  I made two different buns.  The rounded ones are the red bean buns and the ones with the wrinkled tops are barbequed pork or char siu bao.

after steaming

Now, we don’t have to trek for over an hour to get a good steamed bun.  Today I made 48 buns.  That ought to last us, oh maybe a week!  Luckily, I have a starter that always needs to be fed, so buns can always be made.  They make a great addition to our lunches.

Steamed Bun (Bao) Dough

4 ounces 100% hydration liquid sourdough starter

6 ounces water

10 ounces unbleached all purpose flour

Mix above ingredients and let stand for 8 hours or overnight.  It should double in size and become very bubbly.

In the bowl of a standing mixer, stir to combine:

6 ounces water

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup sugar

2 Tablespoons shortening

15 ounces Bleached, All Purpose, Self Rising Flour (yes, you read that right)

When you have a rough dough in the bowl, mix in the starter and knead with the dough hook of your machine for 5 minutes.  The dough should be smooth and soft, but not sticky.  Try not to add any extra flour.  I found that with dry hands, the dough was only slightly sticky and I had no trouble filling the buns with my bare hands.

Cut 24 3 inch square pieces of parchment.

Divide the dough into 24 equal pieces–about 2 ounces per piece.   Flatten each piece and place about a tablespoon of your filling of choice in the center.  Gather the dough together at the top and pinch to seal.  Or, you can make plain buns by just rounding the dough into little balls.  You can place them seam side down on a piece of parchment for a rounded look or seam side up for a rougher look.  Cover with plastic wrap and let stand for 45-60 minutes.  Place in your steamer tray at least 1 inch apart and steam for 10 minutes for plain and 12 minutes for filled.


Posted on January 30, 2012, in Cooking, Recipe, Sourdough and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Wow – small world – I have the same cookbook! My mom gave it to me many years ago! We make bao too (the recipe and a video on how to pleat the buns are on my blog) – but the dough recipe pretty simple and doesn’t use ‘old dough’ though I remember my grandmother saying that in China there wasn’t powdered or cake yeast and they started dough with other dough (which must have been the old dough)
    I’ll have to try your version out!

  2. Yum, your turnip things look SO GOOD…and so does this!

  3. Erin Waterbury

    Apart from undermixing the preferment yielding little lumps of flour that never did incorporate (oops), these turned out pretty darn good. My husband inhaled them and raved about how fantastic they were. Thanks for sharing!

  4. I came across your blog while looking for a Chinese steamed bun (mantou) recipe using old dough and no yeast. All other chinese bun recipes used a combination of old dough and yeast. Anyway, I tried your recipe and it worked out wonderfully. Thanks

  5. LoveAndSqualor

    Thanks for this recipe! I used my sourdough starter and White Lily brand self-rising flour and they were unbelievably soft and fluffy and light. I did a smoked duck filling, which was great, but I definitely need to work on my shaping because they weren’t very photogenic. I guess that’s a good excuse to make more so I can perfect my technique!

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