This is one of those recipes that I expected to have to do many iterations of, perfecting the texture, flavor, and technique. I am so happy I was wrong. These steamed bao (Chinese Steamed Buns) turned out absolutely fantastic.
They are a good amount of work, and that is why I recommend you do a double batch, and then freeze or refrigerate them. You can also make the filling a day or two ahead, it will keep just fine in the fridge as well.
First thing: Make the filling. My filling is inspired by Plant-Based Panache’s tofu dumplings.
Start by pressing the tofu. You can use a tofu press or just do what I do here. Slice the block of tofu in half horizontally (I used a whole block since I doubled the recipe), and place it on top of a clean towel.
Then put a towel on top of the tofu, a hefty cutting board, and a teapot full of water (some people use books or other heavy objects like a heavy pot). You’ll want it to set like this for at least half an hour. The longer the better, because the more moisture you draw out of the tofu, the more marinade it will be able to soak up.
Next: marinate the tofu. Crumble it up with your fingers, stir in the marinade and let it sit. A good note for this (and all marinading in general), is that it helps to use a flat-bottomed container, that way more of the tofu pieces get to touch the marinade. Make sure to stir it a couple times while it’s marinading too.
Next, prepare other filling ingredients.
For the chard, I prefer the blanching method. Not one is it healthier because there’s no oil involved, but it also ensures you don’t overcook the leaves, and keeps them a beautiful green color so they don’t turn that yellowish-green. By all means just add it to you’re sautéed veggies if you want to save the time.
To blanch, heat up a shallow pan full of water and a sprinkle of salt. Make sure to cut the chard leaves shorter than the length of your pan so they will fit in fully submerged.Bring the water to a rolling boil, and before putting leaves in the water have a ice bath nearby.
With the water at a rolling boil, submerge the leaves in the water for no longer than 1 min 30 sec. Make sure to not put too many leaves in at once, you want them to have room to boil around and not be packed in. You can do in batches if need be; I did mine in two batches. Immediately pull the leaves out of the water and plunge them in the ice bath.
Gently stir the ice bath and check with your hands; once all the leaves feel cold, you can pull them out and lay them on a towel and pat them dry. Don’t they look beautiful? The gorgeous green leaves and red stems really pop.
Next, you can chop the chard up small. I found the easiest wy to do this was to use the towel to pile up the chard by folding the towel over a few times.
Then, sauté the remainder of the filling ingredients, and add them and the chard to the tofu. Taste and adjust the seasoning as you like. This filling is now good to go. You can let it set while you work on the dough.
Next big step: make the dough. I like this dough recipe because it does not use yeast, so it’s a little less intensive, and it tasted just like the authentic bao we get at the restaurants and Asian markets. I got this dough recipe from Yummies4Dummies, and just made a little alteration to make it vegan. It turned out great! She also has a great instructional video to show the whole process.
Mix the dry dough ingredients and create a well in the middle (push from the center out to make a well in the dough). Add the wet ingredients into the well and mix with your hands until you get a ball of dough. Let the dough set for at least an hour with a damp towel covering it and you’ll see it gets bigger.
Then, you’ll need to knead the dough for up to 15 minutes until it is nice and smooth.
Cut the dough into 10 even pieces (for a single batch). The easiest way to do this is to roll it into a log or use a scale. They don’t have to be perfect, I just rolled it into a log and eye-balled it. You can see mine below. Keep a damp towel over them so the dough doesn’t dry out.
Next, it is rolling time! First cut parchment paper into 4″ rounds (these will go under the buns when they steam). Take the first dough ball and roll it out to about 5-6″ diameter. It doesn’t have to be perfect, remember! You can use tape measure or mark the width on your counter with tape, but I just use my hand. From the tip of my thumb to the tip of my pinky is 7″, so I know mine have to be just under that. Roll the outer edges to be slightly thinner than the middle, since they will be folded at the top. This prevents having very thick dough at the top of the buns and allows for even cooking.
Next, add the filling and fold. I put in about 3 Tbsp filling per bun. The first ones had less, but I found as I got better at it I could manage more filling. I also used the cookie scoop because you can really pack the filling into it which makes it easier. Below is a video of the folding method.
The trick is to keep one finger wet to dot on as you go; this makes the dough stick. Then when the folds are done, gather the top and twist. Put the bun on a parchment paper circle, and keep it under the damp towel too until you’re ready to steam.
For steaming, I highly recommend a bamboo steamer. It makes the task so easy. If you aren’t ready to invest in one yet, you can use any steamer or a metal colander over a pot with a lid.
Fill the bottom of your steamer or pot 3/4 of the way with water, add vinegar, and bring to a boil. Then add the buns to the steamer and let them steam for 15 minutes. They will puff up quite a lot! See before & after steaming below.
They are so beautiful! You can see that one had a little hole in the top, and that is how I learned the importance of really getting a good seal & twist when folding the buns. It tasted great though, so if you get holes don’t worry over it.
I can’t get over how well these turned out.
They taste SO GOOD. My fiancé and I were eating them as if we were starving, we just couldn’t get enough. The filling has great flavor and the dough is so fluffy and light.
Now for the full recipe!
Vegan Steamed Bao
Makes: 10 Buns
- 1/4 yellow onion, diced small
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tsp olive oil
- 3/4 cup cremini mushrooms (aka baby bells), diced small
- 6 chard leaves, washed and cut to fit in blanching pan
- 5 scallions, diced
- 7 oz. extra-firm tofu
- 1 Tsp gochujang spice paste (or Sriracha)
- 2 Tbsp tamari
- 2 Tbsp sesame oil
- 1 Tbsp soy sauce or liquid aminos
- 1 Tbsp rice vinegar
- 1 tsp dried ground ginger
- 3/4 cup warm water
- 3 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
- 3/4 cup powdered sugar
- 2 tsp salt
- 5 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp vegetable oil
- 1 cup unsweetened almond milk
- Water and 1 cup of white vinegar for steaming
- Parchment paper, cut into circles about 4″ wide.
To prepare filling:
- Press tofu to remove excess liquid.
- While pressing tofu, make marinade by whisking together gochujang spice paste, tamarin, sesame oil, soy sauce, rice vinegar, ginger, and water.
- Crumble tofu with hands, and pour marinade over tofu. Let set while preparing the rest of the filling.
- Blanch the chard:
- Boil water with a pinch of salt in a shallow pan. Prepare ice bath for chard with cold water and ice.
- Once water is at a rolling boil, blanch the chard for no longer than 1 min and 30 secs (keep a watch, in case your chard is less thick than mine). The leaves should soften but not get mushy at all. Don’t crowd the pan, do them in batches if need be. Leave enough room for the leaves to move around while boiling.
- Pull out the leaves and immediately submerge in the ice bath. If the ice melts, add more.
- Let set in the ice bath until you can stir gently with your hands and feel that the leaves are completely cool.
- Place leaves on towel to dry, and pat dry.
- Using the pan that we just blanched the chard in, dump the water out and put back on the stove with 1 tsp olive oil over medium heat. Once oil is hot, add onion & garlic and sauté for a minute. Then add mushrooms and sauté until all is cooked through.
- Dice chard and mix together all the filling ingredients (marinated tofu, chard, sautéed vegetables, and scallions). Taste and adjust with salt and pepper if needed. You can also add more spice paste or Sriracha if you want more of a kick.
- The filling can now set until the dough is done, or can be refrigerated for up to four days.
To Prepare Dough:
- Mix dry ingredients (flour, powdered sugar, salt, baking powder) with a whisk until well blended.
- Create a well in the dry ingredients and add milk and oil. Mix until well combined (recommend mixing with hands) and a dough ball forms.
- Let dough set in a bowl covered with a damp towel for at least an hour.
- After an hour, the dough should have grown about a third in size. Pull the dough out and knead for 15 minutes until the dough is smooth. Try not to use too much flour when kneading.
- Divide dough into 12 equal portions. Roll these portions into balls and keep covered with a damp towel so the dough doesn’t dry out.
- Fold buns:
- Keep a small bowl of water nearby, along with parchment paper circles.
- Take one dough ball and roll out until about 5.5″ wide, ensuring that the outer edges are thinner than the center (press harder as you roll the rolling pin out).
- Pack 3 Tbsp filling together and place in center of dough.
- Pick up one side of dough, pull over top of filling to the center, and dot with water.
- Pick up dough next to this spot, and pull up & over so it touches the water you just dotted on and creates a fold.
- Keep folding around until entire bun is done, and pinch & twist the top to seal the top of the bun.
- Place bun on a round of parchment paper and put under damp towel until ready to steam.
- Repeat until all buns are done
- Prepare steamer by filling 3/4 of the way with water and stirring in 1 cup vinegar. Bring to a boil.
- Add the buns to the steamer (be careful, the steam is VERY hot), and steam for 15 minutes.
- Remove from steamer, allow to cool a few minutes before eating. Slicing them in half with a serrated knife helps them to cool to an edible temperature quicker.
To Store in Fridge:
Allow the buns to cool to room temperature after they come out of the steamer. Then (keeping buns on the parchment paper circles), store in a container in the fridge for up to a week. I highly recommend re-steaming; just pull out of the fridge and cook in steamer for 4 minutes. You can also microwave them for 2 minutes, wrapped in a damp paper towel. The bun does dry out a bit in the microwave and isn’t as fluffy as the steamed version, but still good!
If you make a large batch like I, then freezing is a great option. Allow the buns to cool to room temperature after they come out of the steamer. Then (keeping buns on the parchment paper circles), flash freeze by placing them on a cookie sheet in the freezer for about 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, they should feel more solid and easy to manage. Put them in a freezer ziplock or container; try to squish/suck out all excess air. When ready to cook, they re-steam very well. Place the buns in the steamer straight from the freezer. Steam for 6-8 minutes. You can also microwave them, wrapped in a damp paper towel, but the bun does dry out a bit in the microwave and isn’t as fluffy as the steamed version (still good though!).