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Apr 18, 2009 08:59 AM

Good Steamed Bread (Bao) Recipe?

I've been trying to make char sui bao for years and years. While I find the filling to be pretty easy to duplicate the bread part is not. Usually what happens is they don't rise in the steamer but become water laden and heavy.

I've tried just regular yeast bread dough recipes but they either over-rise and fall or just become heavy.

I have a recipe from a Chinese woman I used to work with which has both baking powder and yeast and an egg. It still comes out heavy and flat but it was closer. I suspect that egg is not a regular component of the restaurant bao-tze because they are very white and the yolk turns this dough a little yellow.

Yesterday I tried the recipe from Fuschia Dunlop's book Land of Plenty which has no salt but just yeast, sugar, flour and water. They were terrible. The dough rose beautifully before forming but didn't rise in the steamer. She does not advise you to let the dough rise after shaping but because I had too much dough for my steamer I formed and cooked half and let the second half rise before cooking. Both lots were not only heavy but tasted unpleasantly yeasty, almost alcoholic.

Just some notes:

I know it isn't the yeast as I have tried many times over the years with yeast that is very successful at breadmaking. I don't have trouble making bread!

I am in Canada and I know our flour is high in protein but the restaurants around here use the same flour yet they make good, soft, fluffy bao. I don't always like their filling so would like to make my own. The point is that recipes that have been tested with US flour may not work with my flour. My all-purpose flour has 4 g of protein per 30 g serving if that helps. Cake flour here is 2 g per 30 g serving.

The steamer I am using is a regulation full wok bamboo steamer inherited from my northern Chinese mother-in-law who unfortunately passed away without passing on her recipe for bao though my husband says she was never happy with hers either. I have tried letting the steamer fill with steam before putting the bao in thinking the problem was starting with a cold steamer. Doesn't seem to matter.

Sorry for the long post but thought it might help someone figure out what I am doing wrong.

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  1. These are mini ones,
    that I made with ground pork instead of the usual bbq pork. I made the ground pork with the same sauce I'd use, for the pork buns, if I were using BBQ pork buns. I wanted a little appetizer size the day I made these, but you can see the dough, and if that's what you're looking to do, I'd be happy to share my recipe. The dough is the easiest part of making the buns, so I think you'll be happy.
    I can't remember which recipe, I use two. But one has yeast,
    1pk yeast
    1 cup warm water - 110 degrees
    1/3 cup sugar
    2 T veg oil
    1 tsp salt
    3 1/2 cups ap flour

    The other is the one I got from Mrs. Yu, my teacher at a Chinese cooking class years ago.
    4 cups cake flour -softasilk
    1 cup sugar
    3 tsp baking powder
    2 T shortening
    1 egg white
    1 T white vinegar
    3/4 C water
    knead the dough for 10 mins, roll into 2 inch diameter and cut into 1 inch pieces
    Flatten and roll into a 3 inch circle. Place the filling 2 T, into the center gather along the edges, and twist, pleats securely.
    Steam 10-15 imins over briskly boiling water.

    the other doesn't. I know I've used them both and never had any problems. If you'd like both, I'd be happy to post.
    The one without yeast uses cake flour,I made those in a Chinese cooking class years ago, and that is the recipe I used prior to the one with yeast.

    3 Replies
    1. re: chef chicklet

      Thanks chef chicklet. I'll try the yeast one and let you know. It has more sugar than I am used to so worth a try. I'm out of cake flour so I'll try the other one when I can shop.

      It's hard to tell from the pictures and maybe it's just because they are mini but the ones we get in the restaurants here have more dough and look more bread-like. I really have to take a picture next time we go to dim sum.

      Would I be correct in assuming you are from the US? I gather that while Canadian all-purpose flour has a minimum of 13% protein US flour can vary from around 8% in the south to 12%.

      1. re: sharonanne


        Good Luck finding your recipe, I understand you wanting to recreate the taste you love. Yes these were meant to be small, so I didn't make a big portion of bread, however the same is true for my regular sized ones, I prefer there not be a lot of dough, I love the filling. When made with char siu OMG, I totally don't stop eating these darn things. These are wonderful popped in a lunch or picnic basket.
        Happy searching!

        1. re: sharonanne

          Yes from Bay Area, CA, and the Mrs. Yu I mentioned, is from SF.

          I'm not able to help you with the contents of the AP flour. sorry. In rereading some comments, especially about the smell of the yeast and the sugar, and having an alchohol smell, I've never encountered that.

          I'm from the Bay Area, the buns I prefer are with a sweeter dough, and there is a nice proportion of bread to saucy meat, in fact I don't like a pork bun with a tablespoon of filling, that seems to be rather pointless. The bread has what I think is hard to describe texture, it is not even close to bread. It's not rubbery, but the texture is springy, and there is nice sheen to the skin. That is what I look for with pork buns.
          Also, let them rise after you make them, just put them on the rack, and let them puff up.

          I steam them in my 20 year old Chinese bamboo rack, and I cut squares of wax paper to steam the buns on. i just put the water in the wok, set the rack in when its boiling, and walk away. With BBQ pork the pork is cooked, so I am only steaming the buns for about 12-15 mins depending on the size. When you see the glaze its done. Some people turn them seamside down to steam, I steam with the pleats on the top.

          As far as where in China my teacher was from and the origin of the pork bun recipe, I'm not 100 percent positve, she uses, "Cantonese" in most of her recipes.
          The yeast recipe is from a Sunset magazine which is from around 20 years ago too.

        1. re: ipsedixit

          Yep, I was thinking the same. I need to spend a few days making them over and over changing one thing at a time but the egg was the first thing to go.

          1. re: sharonanne

            I would also ditch the baking powder; I've never used it in making baos. You don't really need a leavening agent. Just let the yeast do its thing.

            Also, are you adding a bit of sugar in your dough? You should.

            And how long are you resting the dough? I do no more than 2 hours, but then this will inevitably vary depending on temp, humidity, etc.

            The best baos rely on the KISS principle -- e.g. keep it simple stupid! Water, yeast, sugar, flour, a bit of oil (optional) and that should be it. The rest of what makes a boa great is the kneading and knowing when and how long to let it rest.

            Good luck.

            1. re: ipsedixit

              The Dunlop recipe was just yeast, sugar, flour and water. She used oil only in the bowl. That's the one that turned out tasting too yeasty and almost alcoholic.

              The simplicity of her recipe was what appealed to me. I was so disappointed when it was inedible. I do think over -rising has been an issue so I'll watch that.

              Would you call your dough a wet one or dry? I was thinking a more dry dough would be more likely to have the strength to rise in the steamer rather than fall in on itself. Our flour is so dry that I can never count on measurements but have to depend more on whether I want a wet or dry end product.

              1. re: sharonanne

                Hmm, wet or dry?? I'd say my dough is tacky to the touch. Dunno if that qualifies as wet or dry.

                As I sit here and think about it, I can't think of any Chinese pasta or dough recipes that call for baking powder or egg.

                1. re: ipsedixit

                  won ton wrapper recipes call for egg, flour & water.
                  steamed sponge cake requires baking powder and eggs.

                  1. re: ipsedixit

                    Tacky to the touch helps. Thanks I'd call that middle between wet and dry. Wet is when you can't handle the dough because it slumps and sticks to your fingers. Dry would be like pasta which can be shaped into about anything and stays in that shape, doesn't stick to anything even itself unless it is moistened.

                    1. re: sharonanne

                      That sounds about right. In between wet and dry.

                      Good luck.

                      1. re: sharonanne

                        Do you roll them out? I make 3 inch circles for small and 4 1/2 for the larger, the dough isnt' wet at all, and not tacky either. Also, to help with the pleating, or handling the twisting if you do that, roll the edges slightly thinner. I'm wondering if the egg white in some way, contributes the sheen of the dough after steaming. I love that sheen...

                        1. re: chef chicklet

                          I roll them the same way I do dumpling wrappers, but just bigger.

                          And, yes, the rolled dough should have a slight bump in the middle. Turn the dough counterclockwise as you work the rolling pin.

            2. Just so you know, most of the recipe for Steamed bread (mantou) and baos in Chinese language call for yeast AND either baking soda or baking powder. The precedure involves letting the dough rise until doubled in size, then sprinkling and kneading the soda powder into the dough, to get rid of the yeasty, tart and or alcohol smell.

              There are also recipes for "milk mantou", the Chinese steam bread that's whiter and softer, that calls for adding milk to the dough.

              Another thing at least half of the recipes call for as far as steaming goes, is 1) have a good seal in order that steam doesn't escape much, 2) start with cold water and shaped dough inside the pot 3) you don't keep opening the lid to check.

              When the water comes to a boil (baos already in since cold water), turn to medium high and steam for 30-40 minutes.

              *Edit: also for softer steamed bread, use half cake flour (low gluten) and half all-purpose (medium gluten).

              1 Reply
              1. I've not tried this recipe but have had good luck with others from her blog. The photos certainly look amazing!


                1 Reply
                1. re: FlyerFan

                  The pictures look exactly like what I am looking for. I'll try it and report back.

                2. Made 2 batches of the recipe from the link and they are the real deal. The keys seem to be:
                  1. using cake fflour
                  2. kneading baking powder and water into risen yeast dough (this is just SO different from any other yeast dough I have ever made but it works in the steamer)

                  It also uses icing sugar, not sure if that is necessary. icing sugar may mix more easily and the bit of cornstarch may further help the softness of the dough.

                  The second time I forgot the optional 1/2 tsp of vinegar and it didn't seem to matter. I also forgot to spray the bao with water and they were actually better, the first batch was a little wet on the bottom even though I removed them from the steamer and let cool on a rack as directed..She says it helps prevent soggy bottoms. In dim sum restaurants they are served from the steamer anyway. The second time I left them in the steamer and they were better. The second time I also cooked them longer. She says 12 mins and I cooked them for 5 longer. That may simply be the altitude here.

                  Thanks everyone.

                  The next time I will try real Hong Kong flour if I can find it. Apparently besides being low in protein it has been highly bleached and may have smaller molecules like blending flour.

                  The filling from that recipe was good too.

                  5 Replies
                  1. re: sharonanne

                    Thanks for reporting back - I'm looking forward to trying this recipe myself.

                    1. re: sharonanne

                      That recipes looks fairly close the one I have, minus the wheat starch and using the icing sugar. Have you been able to find wheat starch? Asian market?
                      Would love to try this recipe they look good, The char siu uses red food coloring, that 's the way I was taught, it just wouldn't be the same without it. Did you happen to take a photo or did you devour them all? thanks for the link!

                      1. re: chef chicklet

                        We ate them all! I added a touch of red food color paste and it looked good.

                        I forgot to mention the wheat starch but I'm sure it helped too. I found that at the Asian market by the rice flour. Been trying to find Hong Kong flour but haven't been able to even at the really large market so that was why I used cake flour. My readings suggest it is close in protein content.

                        This recipe doesn't even take all that long as the rise is only 30 mins. Just over an hour total to make a batch.

                        1. re: sharonanne

                          I've never found making pork buns to take long to make, its the char siu that needs the attention, well good char siu. Love that stuff.
                          I'll try to find the wheat starch, but I don't think we have it at the local market, I'll need to go to Oakland. (Like I need arm twisting to do that -Yipee!) Can you explain to me though, about the protein ratio that concerns you or that you're wanting for this bun? You'd mentioned it earlier...

                          I'd never heard about the wheat ratio thing, I had heard about using lye, or a solution for noodles to achieve that springy dim sum we all love.
                          Also while I'm asking you questions (sorry!) are you able to make those translucent little dim sum, sometimes referred to as pearl.... etc... Love to be able to do that.

                          Wouldn't a whole class devoted to dim sum be heaven? I sure think so!

                          1. re: chef chicklet

                            The protein content of flour affects the formation of gluten. More protein = more gluten. In Canada there is a regulation about minimum amount of protein in all-purpose flour. It's 12 or 13% which is about what bread flour has in other countries. Therefore we don't need to buy bread flour even though they sell it. I don't know if there is anything else different about Canadian bread flour. You just don't need to buy it to get a higher protein flour for making bread.

                            The opposite is true for baking when you don't want gluten, for cakes and pastries that need to be tender. You want less gluten so I use cake flour. Bao are the same, less gluten means they are more tender. The wheat starch is even lower in protein which lowers the overall gluten in the dough. You can tell when you fill them, the dough breaks rather than stretches when you pull it so you have to press it to make it thinner, not pull.

                            I think you mean dumplings like har gow that have a translucent wrap? I did see somewhere that wheat starch is used to make those even though I always thought they were made with rice flour but it was just in passing so I didn't read carefully.

                            I would love to spend some time in a good Chinese restaurant learning to cook.