With Christmas gone and 2018 just round the corner, I managed to spend some quality time with my parents back at home. As with many families, our yearly ritual during the holidays involves making and eating an obscene amount of food. Admittedly, Taiwanese steamed buns (包) are not very “Christmassy” but it is incredible delicious and not a bad way to keep the house warm in the cold winter.
This bao recipe is quick and easy but be warned because this is by no means a traditional recipe. In fact we are going to use a microwave “hack” to help the yeast work faster so that we don’t need to spend hours waiting for the dough to rise. To keep things simple, the amount of kneading is also limited. This makes the buns fluffier and have less texture than the traditional ones. This is not a particularly bad thing and it’s all down to personal preference. The upside is that you will have some delicious buns ready to eat in just under an hour!
This recipe is for the buns only and is enough to make 8 – 10 of them. For the filling I have opted for a quick and simple sliced beef and mushroom stir fry with kimchi, coriander and peanuts as garnish. Feel free to experiment with the fillings, the beauty of these buns are that they are so versatile!
As with all my recipes, I recommend weighing out all the ingredients before starting to cook!
- 200g Plain Flour
- 6g Dried/Instant Yeast
- 18g Sugar
- 140ml Soya Milk / Water
- 20ml Vegetable Oil
- 2g Salt
Step 1: Activate it!
Heat the soya milk/water and oil over a low heat or in a microwave until warm. The liquid should not burn when you dip your finger into it (approx. 35 degrees Celsius). Gently stir in the dried yeast and sugar. Leave for 5 minutes to activate the yeast.
Step 2: Combine it!
In a microwave safe bowl, slowly mix half the remaining dry ingredients into the warm yeasty liquid. Once combined, pour the mixture back into the other half of the dry ingredients and stir gently. A very loose, sticky dough will start to form. Stop when all the liquid has been absorbed into the mixture.
Step 3: Microwave it!
Using the lowest setting on the microwave (200W for me), heat the dough for 30 seconds. This will help accelerate the fermentation process and help the dough rise. Put a damp kitchen towel over the dough and leave to proof in a warm room for 10 minutes or until volume has increased by around 30%.
Step 4: Knead it!
Transfer the dough onto a well floured surface and knead for 2 minutes. Don’t be afraid to use a bit more flour to stop it from sticking because hydration levels are already quite high for this recipe. The kneading will help release the excess air in the dough and prevent it from bursting during the steaming process. Be sure not to over knead the dough as we do not want our buns to be too tough.
Step 5: Divide it!
Divide the dough into 8 to 10 equal portions and shape them into small balls using your hands. To stop the dough from sticking too much, you can fold the openings/cuts back onto itself and coat it very lightly with more flour. Cover up with a sheet cling film and damp kitchen towel (see above) and let the dough rest for another 15 minutes in a warm room.
Step 6: Roll it !
Before rolling out the dough, start boiling some water for the steamer as this will take some time.
Starting from the centre of each dough ball and using a rolling pin, gently rock up and down to flatten the dough into an oval about 5mm in thickness. Pat the surface lightly with vegetable oil and fold in half. Do all this very gently as we want to be able to open these buns like a sandwich once it has been cooked.
Step 7: Microwave it (again)!
Transfer the buns onto a plate and back into the microwave and give it another 30 seconds on the lowest setting.
Tip: At this point, if the dough seems too deflated or does not spring back slightly when pressed, it means that it that it has not risen enough. This is usually because it’s not warm enough. If this is the case, put it somewhere warm for another 5-10 minutes before moving onto step 8.
Step 8: Steam it!
Transfer into the steamer and cook for 10 minutes.
Step 9: Fill it and eat it!
The most common type of filling for this style of buns, known as Gua Bao (割包) in Taiwan, is a slice of braised pork belly garnished with peanuts and herbs. For simplicity, I have opted for a sliced beef and mushroom stir fry seasoned with soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil and chili flakes. A braised pork belly recipe is in the works and will be coming soon! In the meanwhile, feel free to experiment because these buns are very versatile!