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Jun 23, 2009 11:10 AM

Chinese steamed bread techniques?

Calling all bread steamers:

I recently tried my hand at making Chinese steamed buns (man tou). The results were very tasty, but also aesthetically challenged. Can anyone tell me how to improve my technique?

Here's what mine looked like:

Here's what I'd like them to look like:

Specifically, the buns in the second photo look whiter and have a skin that is both smoother and more matte than shiny. What causes the skin on the bread to look uneven and plasticky? I'm wondering if I need to:

-knead the dough more
-steam the dough more/less
-have the steamer going hotter/colder


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  1. I don't know how much this might help - but here's a link to a thread about steamed buns - these are slightly different in shape, but it looks to me as if yours are sliced after you roll the dough into a cylinder? - I used the David Chang recipe found on the Martha Stewart site, which is linked to in the thread. Mine don't look as white as ones I bought frozen in Chinatown. The Gourmet recipe linked to includes dried milk, for what it's worth, but I've not tried it yet.

    Not much of a baker, but my guess is that you need to knead more to get the smoother texture.

    6 Replies
    1. re: MMRuth

      Yes, the ones used for Momofuku (and other) pork buns are more like little puffy taco shells, but man tou are eaten plain and shaped more like a dinner roll (and eaten as you would eat a dinner roll, as the carb for a meal).

      I'm definitely kneading more next time; I was very lazy and only kneaded for four minutes, tops.

      1. re: Pei

        Do you think the dough is the same though? Just curious. I think I kneaded for 8 minutes, if that helps.

        BTW - is there a Chinese word for the Momofuku type buns?

        1. re: MMRuth

          The name for the dish is gua bao. As far as I know, pork belly sandwiched in a taco shaped bun and served with cilantro and ground peanuts is an old Taiwanese night market standby. The term gua bao is now sometimes used to mean just the bun as well, though usually it means the whole sandwich.

          The dough varies. It's water, yeast, flour, oil, and salt, but as anyone's grandma will tell you, proportions vary. But in the most general terms, it is the same bread the same way an epi loaf is made from the same dough as a baguette or lasagna from the same dough as spaghetti.

          1. re: Pei

            I'm out of my depth here, but are these with wheat flour or rice flour?

            There's a huge range of glutinous to nonglutious wheat flours among the all-purpose variety (and then even more glutinous 'bread flour' and even less glutinous 'cake flour), so there *might* be something there.

            At, if you read the excerpt preview available for the book Cookwise, it's got an amazing rundown of the different flour brands. Now, reconciling that with what flour is actually best in a Chinese bun recipe - that sounds like a Google project unless there are Chowhounds responding to this thread who might know.

            1. re: Cinnamon

              I used wheat flour, which is what the recipes called for. See the link in my first post.

          2. re: MMRuth

            There are several, I have been on this very same hunt myself. I make the bbq pork buns, the dough is similar, but this bun is a little different looking.
            The momfuku type most of the time has the pork belly right?
            Well here's a new way breakfast idea...

            Oh I hope someone knows how to make these!

      2. My guess is you need to do a better job of shaping your dough.

        Really play with the dough in the palm of your hands so that the ball of dough is nice and smooth and oblong shaped (sort of mango-like)

        Also, what kind of steamer are you using? I wouldn't use a regular stainless steel steamer; I'd suggest a bamboo steamer because the bamboo material prevents the steam from dripping back on to your man tou (which will cause the plasticky and pimpled look you're trying to avoid).

        Also, how did you prepare your dough? What ingredients did you use? And how long did you let it rest/rise?

        Anyhow, after making these in my parent's restaurants, that's my 0.02 bit of advice. Good luck!

        4 Replies
        1. re: ipsedixit

          Ah - I'll have to try the bamboo steamer for my buns - I've been using the metal one, with pieces of parchment paper under the dough.

          1. re: ipsedixit

            Thanks! Careful observation on my second try made it really obvious that I need bamboo steamers so no water drips back onto the dough. For now, I've covered my pot with a damp towel before putting the lid on it, and that's helping a lot even though it's not a perfect solution.

            I'm still tinkering with all my resting time and ingredients, but I'm starting with a fairly soft dough that is wet enough to want to stick a little to my palm, but dry enough that if I lift my palm no dough sticks to my hand. I'm letting it rest 2 hours, shaping, and letting it rest 30 minutes before going into the steamer.

            How do you tell if they're done? The recipes all say 10-15 minutes, but that's a big gap and doesn't account for variations such as fillings, size of the buns, how high you've turned your stove, etc. Is there a visual cue? They just seem to puff up to me, after which they don't seem to change visually until suddenly they shrivel back up and become inedible rubber pucks.

            1. re: Pei

              Always (and I mean, always) steam your man tou when the water comes to a full boil -- i.e, steam on HIGH!

              As to how to tell when they are done, touch them. They should be firm, and only give slightly when poked, and should not be sticky or mushy. I know that sounds kind of vague, but do it a couple of times and you'll get the hang of your steamer, and how it interacts with the size of your particular man tou.

              Good luck and enjoy.

              1. re: ipsedixit

                Hi Pei,

                Making steamed buns is a pretty tricky process. There are several factors that effect the final outcome.

                Your shaping looks pretty decent and it seems that your two major concerns are the color and shine. So, in terms of mixing, I would recommend using a stand mixer with a hook attachment if you can get your hands on one. But either way, you want to mix this tough to a pretty strong level of gluten development. If you tug at the dough it shouldn't rip easily. And if you tear a piece off, you should be able to carefully stretch it to a thin enough sheet that you can almost see through it without it tearing.

                Because I do not know the temperature, water content, and leavening agent percentages in your mix, your proofing time is impossible for me to predict. But basically after the initial mix and rest, the dough should have risen by about two times and feel quite airy and soft to the touch.

                After dividing, into your desired size, I recommend shaping the dough as tightly as possible without it tearing, this helps keep a tight skin. I also recommend not leaving the dough out for too long. Im a bread baker by trade but only started making these steamed buns a few months ago. I found that if I proofed this dough the way I would normally proof a baguette dough for example the buns would rise, set and then collapse after they were taken out of the steamer. But if you let the dough proof until it is only beginning to get soft (anywhere between 5-15 mins depending on temp) then steam immediately, they get much better lift and hold.

                As for actually steaming, I use a metal steamer and have no problems. I disagree with ipsedixit about steaming temperatures. I found that at a constant boil in a metal steamer the buns turn out wet and pocketed. It works much better if they are on a low steam, still hot and constantly steaming but not with a rolling boil. You do have to be careful when opening the lid. I try to do this quickly, turning the lid upside and pulling the lid to the side simultaneously. it helps too if you tie a piece of cloth to the lid.

                Finally, the flour that you decide to use makes a big difference. I am living in thailand so there is a special flour produced by UFM that is specifically made for making steamed buns. It has a protein content of about 8%. If i remember correctly, (assuming you are in the us) pastry flour should be about the same percentage. If not I would go for the lowest protein flour you can find and use a bleached flour as this also helps make the dough whiter.

                Hope this helps and good luck, hope you keep at it.

          2. I'm on Andrea Nguyen's mailing list and just yesterday I received an e-mail with links to her Web site and one of the topics is "How to Make Steamed Chinese Bao White."


            Afraid the answer is in the imported flour. If you can get your hands on White Lily Flour, that will probably be closer in color to what you're looking for, but still not as white as the flours made in Asia specifically for bao.

            1. another thing you may want to try is to add white vinegar to the water before steaming. we have tried 2 different times and the time we added the white vinegar the buns were much whiter.

              1. Hi recently I've also tried to make mantou. I've found that some people have suggested replacing water for milk for a better flavor and whiter color. If you're lactose intolerant like I am, use lactaid milk. Also instead of making them into a perfect shape like that first picture you put up, have you considered settling for the rolled up look instead? It's much easier to do and its a fun way to eat it cause then you can peel it off in layers.
                Rolled up look example :
                the link is also a recipe for a different version of mantou, the wheat kind. It sounds really good and a healthier alternative as well. i'm in the middle of making it. XD
                Hope the suggestions help.