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How To Make Quick Bao Buns

Jul 7, 2022 | 4 comments

Once you learn how easy it is to make fluffy steamed bao buns, you won’t be able to stop! Baking powder AND yeast supercharge the buns, meaning less waiting time so you can enjoy them in under an hour. Fill with Korean fried chicken, grilled chicken or pulled pork for a fab family-friendly fakeaway.

3 bao buns in a small white bowl with chilli jam on the side.

I don’t know what it is about bao buns, but I can never stop at one! These light, fluffy buns are so pillowy – a bit like a burger, a bit like a taco, they’re a brilliant fakeaway to try. I’m filling mine with grilled Korean-style chicken (similar to this miso grilled chicken and sticky gochujang chicken) and crunchy slaw, but there are SO many options you could go for. Crispy fried chicken, sticky pulled pork, crispy pork belly, miso aubergine or pulled mushrooms…they all work. It’s also a fab way to use up any leftovers.

Back home in New Zealand, you can usually find bao buns in the freezer section of any regular grocery store, but I’ve not had the same luck overseas. Luckily, it’s incredibly easy to make them and they’re much nicer (and better for you) than the frozen ones. Bao dough tends to be pretty sweet which I don’t like, so I skip the sugar in this recipe and much prefer it. They still come out gorgeously light and fluffy.

The base recipe for the buns is genuinely super easy. The key is using baking powder AND yeast as a little shortcut – it means you can skip the first rise of the dough and form your buns straight away. Then all you need to do is prep your fillings, steam, fill and enjoy.

Why you’ll love this recipe

  • Quicker to make than traditional bao. Baking powder combined with yeast supercharges the buns and means you can have them ready within an hour, cutting your prep time in half.
  • Easy to prep ahead. The buns freeze PERFECTLY. I’ll often make a big batch, then freeze them so I can pull them out for easy meals. Freeze them after you’ve steamed them, and then you can steam them straight from frozen.
  • Perfect party or game day food. I made these (stuffed with Korean fried chicken) for a garden party for 40 people(!) and they went down a storm. Use the freezer trick to help you get ahead, then just fill them and serve them when you’re ready.
  • Great way to use up leftovers. While you can make your filling from scratch, you can get creative and use whatever you have to hand. Leftover roast chicken would be lovely and you could even stuff them with a hearty salad, like this butternut squash salad, for a vegetarian option.

Ingredients

Ingredients for bao buns laid out on a grey marble background and labelled.
  • Plain flour. You can use bleached bao flour if you can find it in an Asian supermarket – this will give your bao that classic bright white look. Plain flour is much easier to find so it’s what I use.
  • Baking powder. This recipe uses baking powder to help the buns rise quickly, meaning you can skip the first rise of the dough and shape the bao right after mixing and kneading.
  • Instant yeast. I’m using the kind of yeast you can add directly to your dry ingredients here, but if you only can find active yeast (the granules are normally bigger), you’ll need to dissolve the yeast in a little of the water first. Don’t skip this step, or your bao won’t rise and you’ll have little grainy pieces of yeast throughout.
  • Salt. It’s not traditional, but I can’t make anything bread-related without a little salt for flavour.

How to make the buns

You can use either a stand mixer or mix the dough by hand. Here I’ll show you how I make it by hand. Just get everything in a large mixing bowl and mix to combine into a rough dough. Get your hands in and bring it together (I like to give it a little knead in the bowl at this point just to pick up any rogue bits of flour still in the bowl).

Get the dough onto a lightly floured surface and give it a knead for about 5 minutes. Don’t get super hung up on how to knead the dough (this always used to be my worry!) The best way to describe and think about kneading is to push the dough away from you with the heel of your hand, then pick up the part you just pushed away, fold it over itself, give the dough a quarter turn and then do it again. As long as you’re pressing and stretching the dough in some way, you’re doing it right. If you need more help, I have a post all about how to knead dough.

You’ll also be able to tell by the texture and feel of the dough itself. It will start kind of dry and craggy, and while you’re kneading it will change to become soft, supple, elastic and smooth. At this point, you’re ready to shape your bao. Form the dough into a log around 17″/45cm long.

Divide into 12 equal parts (use a scale for this if you want exact matching bao). Working with one at a time and covering the pieces you’re not working with (this is to stop them drying out), first form the piece into a ball, then lightly flatten with your hand and form into a rough oval. Roll out with a rolling pin until it’s about 8cm long. Brush a little oil all over one side, then fold the dough over onto itself and place it on a piece of parchment paper. Pop into your steamer and repeat with the remaining dough.

At this point, the dough needs to rise for about 30 minutes, until it’s puffed up a little. I like to take a photo of the bao at the start of this period so I can easily compare and see if they’ve changed. During this time, prep your fillings. Once the buns are looking puffy, it’s time to steam them.

I’m using a bamboo steamer which I pop on top of a pot of boiling water, but you can use a normal steamer too. Whatever you do, remember to line your steamer! The bao will stick if you don’t and it will be a big mess. Steam for 10 minutes and they’re done and ready to be filled.

Got a question?

Can you freeze the bao?

Yes! They freeze really well and I’ll often make a big batch and freeze them for quick dinners. Steam the bao, let them cool, and then put them on a lined tray that fits in your freezer. Freeze until solid, then pop in ziplock bags. Then just steam them straight from frozen for 10 minutes.

What can I fill the buns with?

The world is your oyster here. In the recipe below, I’m sharing my quick Korean grilled chicken and crunchy slaw filling. But you can fill them with whatever you like – Korean fried chicken, sticky pulled pork, miso salmon, gochujang chicken or even sweet chilli halloumi would be amazing.

What can I use if I don’t have a steamer?

You can use a regular steamer pan, or you can make a temporary steamer with a large pan, a plate and a little aluminium foil. Fill your pan with about 1/2 a cup of water, then put 3 roughly golf ball-sized balls on the bottom of your pan, and pop a heatproof plate on top. Line the plate with baking paper, then put your bao on there, cover the pan with a lid or large plate and steam.

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How to Make Quick Bao Buns


Description

Once you learn how easy it is to make fluffy steamed bao buns, you won’t be able to stop!  Baking powder AND yeast supercharge the buns, meaning less waiting time so you can enjoy them in under an hour. Fill with Korean fried chicken, grilled chicken or pulled pork for a fab family-friendly fakeaway.

I like to make the filling while the buns are resting in the steamer for 30 minutes.

Remember, if you’re looking for cup measurements, use the ‘Units’ section below and click on ‘US’.


Ingredients

Units Scale

For the bao buns – 

  • 350g plain flour
  • 2 teaspoon instant yeast
  • 2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1.5 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons neutral oil (sunflower, rapeseed or peanut)
  • 180g lukewarm water
  • 3 tablespoons sesame oil, for brushing

For the filling – 

  • 1lb/500g boneless, skinless free-range chicken thighs
  • 1 tablespoon gochujang paste
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
  • 4 tablespoons sweet chilli jam
  • 200g/7oz white cabbage, thinly sliced
  • 3 carrots, sliced into thin strips
  • 3 scallions (spring onions), finely sliced
  • A handful of cilantro (coriander) leaves
  • 3 teaspoons sesame seeds
  • 1/4 cup garlic aioli (or gochujang aioli)

Equipment – 

  • Baking paper for lining
  • Steamer – either bamboo or an ordinary steamer.

Instructions

For the bao –

  1. Mix the dough. Get the 350g flour, 2 teaspoons instant yeast, 2 teaspoons baking powder, 1.5 teaspoons salt, 2 tablespoons of neutral oil and 180g lukewarm water in a large mixing bowl. With a large spoon, stir to combine until a rough, shaggy dough forms. Get your hands into the bowl and bring the dough together into a rough ball. Give it a couple of quick kneads in the bowl to scrape up any leftover bits of flour, then turn out onto a lightly floured surface.
  2. Knead the dough. With the heel of your hand, push the dough away from you, then fold the part you just pushed away back on itself, give the dough a quarter turn and repeat this motion. Continue like this for 5 minutes. You’ll start to feel the texture of the dough changing – what was a little rough will become smooth and supple. At this point, you’re ready to shape your bao. You can also do this in a stand mixer with the dough hook attached if you have one.
  3. Prepare your steamer. Get your sesame oil into a small bowl with a pastry brush ready (use a small spoon if you don’t have a brush). Cut out 12 small squares of baking paper, about 5cm squared. Alternatively, you can line the entire steamer basket. To do that, cut a piece of baking paper into a circle that will fit inside your steamer. Fold it in half, then in half again, then make 5 small cuts along the folded edge. When you unfold it, you’ll have created a perfect liner with holes for steam to get through. Pop it inside the steamer.
  4. Shape the bao buns. Roll the dough into a log, about 45cm long. Divide the log into 12 equal pieces – if you want to get exact, you can use a scale for this. Working with one at a time, and covering the other pieces of dough with a clean tea towel (this is to stop them drying out), shape a piece into a small ball. Then gently flatten the ball into a small oval, get a rolling pin and roll the dough out into an oval shape, about 8cm long. Brush the exposed side of the dough with a little sesame oil, then fold it over onto itself. Place on a little square of baking paper (or into the lined steamer straight away) then put into the steamer. Repeat with the remaining pieces of dough. PRO TIP: Don’t put the bao too close together in the steamer as they will rise and puff up when they cook and can stick together. Make sure there’s an inch or so between each to prevent this.
  5. Let the bao rest. At this point, the dough needs to rest for 30 minutes to puff up and rise a little. I like to take a photo on my phone of the bao as I place them in the steamer so it’s easy to compare and see how they’re going!
  6. Steam the bao. After 30 minutes, they should be looking a little more puffy and now it’s time to cook them. Get a big pot of boiling water over high heat (I boil the kettle and pour that into a pot for ease). Place the steamer on top of the pot and let steam for 10 minutes, until the bao puffs up even more and looks glossy. They’re now ready to fill!

For the Korean grilled chicken and crunchy slaw filling –

  1. Marinate the chicken. Add the chicken, 1 tablespoon of gochujang paste, 2 tablespoons of soy sauce, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 1 tablespoon of rice vinegar and 1 tablespoon of chilli jam into a large mixing bowl and toss to coat the chicken thoroughly. Set aside in the fridge while you prep the slaw. Turn your oven to 390F/200C fan.
  2. Make the slaw. Add the sliced cabbage, 3 thinly sliced carrots, 3 finely sliced scallions, a handful of cilantro leaves and 1 teaspoon of sesame seeds into a large bowl along with 1 teaspoon of salt and 2 teaspoons of rice vinegar. Give it a good toss and set aside.
  3. Grill the chicken. Line an oven tray, and place the marinated chicken on the tray. Bake in the oven for 10 minutes, before flipping the chicken over and turning your grill on the highest setting (this is 480F/250C for me). Move the chicken tray onto a shelf right at the top of the oven and grill for another 5 minutes, until lovely and charred. Remove from the oven and let rest for a couple of minutes before slicing.
  4. Fill the bao. Spread a little aioli onto the base of a bun and top with slaw. Top with a couple of slices of grilled chicken and drizzle over some of the remaining chilli jam and sesame seeds.

Notes

PRO TIP: Make your bao filling while the buns are resting for 30 minutes.

FREEZING INSTRUCTIONS: The bao freezes really well. Once they’re cooked, pop them on a lined oven tray that will fit in your freezer. Freeze until solid, then transfer to zip-lock bags. You can then just steam them straight from frozen for 10 minutes when you need them.

FILLING IDEAS: You can fill the buns with anything you like! Try sticky pulled pork, miso salmon, gochujang chickenKorean fried chicken or sweet chilli glazed halloumi. It’s also a great way to use up any leftover meat you might have. 

  • Prep Time: 10
  • Rising time: 30
  • Cook Time: 10
  • Category: fakeaway
  • Method: stove top
  • Cuisine: asian

Nutrition

  • Serving Size: 1 bun

Keywords: steamed buns, bao buns, korean bao buns

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I’m Kate, the creator behind Dished. I love creating flavour packed, simple (ish) recipes for you, designed for every day and special occasions.

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4 Comments

  1. Magda

    Surprisingly easy and absolutely delicious! I steamed them in my regular steamer and they turned out perfect. We had them stuffed with Korean fried chicken and slaw both from the fakeaway menu and my husband commented that there’s really no point going out to restaurants 😂 (I suppose that’s the only downside of tackling these popular take aways at home haha)

    Reply
    • Kate Alexandra

      Woohoooooooooooo! This makes me so happy, so pleased you guys loved them 🙂 (And loooooool agree re: not going out!)

      Reply
  2. Anna

    The bao came out perfect! In a pinch, you can line your steamer with cabbage leaves. I have a metal steamer and it worked perfectly! I’m a vegetarian and used leftover jackfruit ‘birria’ and it was SO good with the slaw. Will be making this again VERY soon.

    Reply
    • Kate Alexandra

      Love the idea of using cabbage leaves! So happy you loved them Anna – that jackfruit birria sounds AMAZING too x

      Reply

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