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 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.
- 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?
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.
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.
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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