Plain Chinese Steamed Buns Revisited



I think a grayscale image is appropriate here since we’re in an analytic mode.

Perhaps due to my childhood reminiscence and a lengthy rambling on ancient Chinese swordmen, the essence of my post on plain Chinese steamed buns seems to have gotten buried. In the past few days, I got quite a few email messagesfrom readers asking for clarifications and troubleshooting tips. So here they are.

First, the recipe in simpler format.

5.0 from 1 reviews
Plain Chinese Steamed Buns Revisited
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Author:
Recipe type: Appetizer, Bread
Serves: 12 buns
Ingredients
  • ⅓ cup lukewarm water
  • ⅓ cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon active dry yeast
  • 2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1½ cups all-purpose flour (for lighter texture use ¾ cup all-purpose flour plus ¾ cup cake flour)
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder, divided
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2½ tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil (or melted lard or vegetable shortening)
  • Enough lukewarm water to create a smooth dough, approximately ½ cup
  • A steamer
  • 12 3″x3″ pieces of waxed paper
Instructions
  1. First make a sponge starter by mixing the first four ingredients in a large mixing bowl, and let it stand about 30 minutes (up to 2 hours).
  2. Once the sponge is ready (it should puff up and have holes on the surface), add the flour, 1 teaspoon of baking powder, salt, sugar, and oil to the sponge bowl.
  3. While your dominant hand is stirring the dough, add lukewarm water to the mixture a little bit at a time with your non-dominant hand. (Do I have to be this specific about the hand thing?) The moment you feel you can get a smooth dough that wipes the bowl almost clean, stop adding water.
  4. Knead the dough right in the bowl, if you don’t want to clean your kitchen counter afterwards. But if you need room to groove, feel free to dump the dough onto a large surface and let go of all your kneading inhibitions.
  5. Once you have a smooth, satiny dough (after about 3-4 minutes), put the dough back into the mixing bowl, if you took it out, and cover tightly with a piece of plastic wrap. Let it risefor 3 hours in a warm spot.
  6. You have three hours to get ready, so prepare your steamer and make the waxed papersquares.
  7. After three hours, sprinkle the remaining 1 teaspoon of baking powderall over the surface of the dough and knead it in, lightly but well.
  8. Roll the dough into a long log and cut into 12 equal pieces. Shape each piece into a ball by pinching and stretching. Place each dough ball, seams-side down, on a piece of waxed paper.
  9. Cover the buns with a kitchen towel and let them rise once more for 30 minutes to an hour. You know the buns are ready when they have puffed up and the tops look smooth and taut.
  10. Gently lower the buns into the steamer, positioning them in such a way that allows for expansion. They should not touch each other or the sides of the steamer.
  11. Steam the buns for 10 minutes. Remove the buns from the steamer and let them cool under a kitchen towel.
Notes
Make sure you don’t over-hydrateyour dough. It’s better to err on adding too little water as you can always add more. Adding too much water will pretty much ruin the whole thing. You could try to salvage the dough by adding more flour, but that would just cause the dough to be tough. It’s not possible to prescribe an exact amount of water as this has to do with the particular brand(s) of your flour and the moisture in the air on the day you make these buns. Make sure the water is lukewarm, about 85 degrees F. Make sure the yeast isn’t too old. Make sure the piece of plastic wrap covers the entire openingof the dough bowl. Exposure to air will cause the dough to develop a tough skin on the surface. Make sure you leave the dough to rise in a warm spot. After the first rise, work the baking powder into the dough thoroughly. This will help the finished buns to have a smooth surface. Make sure the kitchen towel covers all the bunsduring the second rising. When you lower the buns into the steamer, grab onto the corners of the waxed paper squares, not directly on the buns as you will deflate them. Do not steam over high heat. Make sure the water is gently boiling over medium heat when the buns go in. Make sure the bottoms of the buns do not touch the water. Don’t let the moisture collected on the lid of your steamer drop on the buns. Yes, one tablespoonof yeast. It may seem like a lot of yeast per roughly a total of 2 cups of flour. However, when you start the process with a sponge starter, the fermentation has already started before you mix the dough. This is different from the no-sponge method wherein the dry yeast is added to the dough at the same time as the other ingredients. A sponge starter is a good way to ensure reliable and quick rising. Yes, these buns freeze beautifully. Yes, they can be filled. No, they cannot be baked in the oven. The dough recipe for baked buns are quite different.

 

Plain Chinese Steamed Buns
(Makes 12 buns)
Printable Version

Sponge Starter:
1/3 cup lukewarm water
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
2 teaspoon sugar

Dough:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (for lighter texture use 3/4 cup all-purpose flour plus 3/4 cup cake flour)
2 teaspoons baking powder, divided
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon of vegetable oil (or melted lard or vegetable shortening)
Enough lukewarm water to create a smooth dough, approximately 1/2 cup

You’ll also need:
A steamer
12 3″x3″ waxed paper square

Directions:

  • In a large mixing bowl, mix together all the sponge ingredients and let it standabout 30 minutes (up to 2 hours).
  • Once the sponge is ready (it should puff up and have holes on the surface), add the flour, 1 teaspoon of baking powder, salt, sugar, and oil to the sponge bowl.
  • While your dominant hand is stirring the dough, add lukewarm water to the mixture a little bit at a time with your non-dominant hand. (Do I have to be this specific about the hand thing?) The moment you feel you can get a smooth dough that wipes the bowl almost clean, stop adding water.
  • Knead the dough right in the bowl, if you don’t want to clean your kitchen counter afterwards. But if you need room to groove, feel free to dump the dough onto a large surface and let go of all your kneading inhibitions.
  • Once you have a smooth, satiny dough (after about 3-4 minutes), put the dough back into the mixing bowl, if you took it out, and cover tightly with a piece of plastic wrap. Let it risefor 3 hours in a warm spot.
  • You have three hours to get ready, so prepare your steamer and make the waxed papersquares.
  • After three hours, sprinkle the remaining 1 teaspoon of baking powderall over the surface of the dough and knead it in, lightly but well.
  • Roll the dough into a long log and cut into 12 equal pieces. Shape each piece into a ball by pinching and stretching. Place each dough ball, seams-side down, on a piece of waxed paper.
  • Cover the buns with a kitchen towel and let them rise once more for 30 minutes to an hour. You know the buns are ready when they have puffed up and the tops look smooth and taut.
  • Gently lower the buns into the steamer, positioning them in such a way that allows for expansion. They should not touch each other or the sides of the steamer.
  • Steam the buns for 10 minutes. Remove the buns from the steamer and let them cool under a kitchen towel.
  • Tips:
  • Make sure you don’t over-hydrateyour dough. It’s better to err on adding too little water as you can always add more. Adding too much water will pretty much ruin the whole thing. You could try to salvage the dough by adding more flour, but that would just cause the dough to be tough. It’s not possible to prescribe an exact amount of water as this has to do with the particular brand(s) of your flour and the moisture in the air on the day you make these buns.
  • Make sure the water is lukewarm, about 85 degrees F.
  • Make sure the yeast isn’t too old.
  • Make sure the piece of plastic wrap covers the entire openingof the dough bowl. Exposure to air will cause the dough to develop a tough skin on the surface.
  • Make sure you leave the dough to rise in a warm spot.
  • After the first rise, work the baking powder into the dough thoroughly. This will help the finished buns to have a smooth surface.
  • Make sure the kitchen towel covers all the bunsduring the second rising.
  • When you lower the buns into the steamer, grab onto the corners of the waxed paper squares, not directly on the buns as you will deflate them.
  • Do not steam over high heat. Make sure the water is gently boiling over medium heat when the buns go in. Make sure the bottoms of the buns do not touch the water.
  • Don’t let the moisture collected on the lid of your steamer drop on the buns.
  • Answers:
  • Yes, one tablespoonof yeast. It may seem like a lot of yeast per roughly a total of 2 cups of flour. However, when you start the process with a sponge starter, the fermentation has already started before you mix the dough. This is different from the no-sponge method wherein the dry yeast is added to the dough at the same time as the other ingredients. A sponge starter is a good way to ensure reliable and quick rising.
  • Yes, these buns freeze beautifully.
  • Yes, they can be filled.
  • No, they cannot be baked in the oven. The dough recipe for baked buns are quite different.

 

53 Responses to Plain Chinese Steamed Buns Revisited

  1. YCT March 5, 2009 at 5:12 pm #

    I love steamed buns. Thanks for sharing your recipe.

  2. Tangled Noodle March 5, 2009 at 9:46 pm #

    I’ve always wanted to make steamed buns at home but thought it would be this super-complex process! Your instructions are so straightforward (although I had to stop and think about which is my dominant hand!) that I think I can actually do this!

  3. anna18 March 7, 2009 at 12:36 am #

    That looks a lot easier than I always imagined making baos would be. Definitely catalogued this recipe to try. Thanks so much for sharing!

  4. Kelly March 9, 2009 at 6:46 pm #

    I made these buns this weekend, with a few minor changes, and they were so good! My mother-in-law, from Taiwan, said they were they best she had tasted. Thank you!!

  5. Leela March 9, 2009 at 7:41 pm #

    Thanks for reporting back, Kelly!

  6. Kelly March 10, 2009 at 8:42 pm #

    Would you mind terribly if I posted my slightly amended recipe for the bun dough, which I used for Char Siu Bao? I will gladly give you full credit for the recipe, with numerous links back, since you were my inspiration. Thanks in advance!!

  7. Leela March 10, 2009 at 10:01 pm #

    That will be fine, Kelly. Thanks. 🙂

  8. Jude March 14, 2009 at 3:40 am #

    So many good tips. I’ve never tried the steamed version before. The reason I have a steamer in the first place is to make stuff like this. Need to do something about that.

  9. celyn March 16, 2009 at 5:08 am #

    how many gram for 1 cup of flour?

  10. Leela March 16, 2009 at 1:51 pm #

    Thanks for raising the question, Celyn. I used 50 grams of all-purpose flour in the sponge and 115 grams for the dough.

  11. vincent March 23, 2009 at 3:30 pm #

    hi shesimers
    i’m a new member,i’m a fresh in baking(novice), it’s my 4 months now in baking i bake you plain chinese steamed buns(siopao) but with mofication and the filings it’s taste good i’m from asian country the philippines,i’m really thanks you post the revipe….
    shesimmers i post your recipe at thefreshloaf.com with my finish bake together with my photos and i,m gonna tell you that i forgot to post your web site about the recipe you’ve post, i’m really really sorry not post your web site again really sorry next time i will post, coz i’m so exciting to upload my finish baking to thefreshloaf.com

    vincent

  12. Leela March 23, 2009 at 6:26 pm #

    Welcome to my blog and thanks for the mea culpa, Vincent. Don’t worry about it. 🙂

    I’m sure your intention was not to plagiarize. However, lifting the original content directly, word for word, from another site and put it on your own blog without permission or, at least attribution, has an appearance of plagiarism — innocent intention notwithstanding.

    An easier (and better) way to do it is to post a link back to the page whence you got the content.

    Enjoy baking and sharing!

  13. vincent March 24, 2009 at 3:42 am #

    leela

    it’s not my intention and again i’m sorry … i posted your comment to thefreshloaf.com so that they will know that i’m apologize to your web site is it okay, so that all new bloggers may know not just to post recipe without the knowledge or the contribute where they get the recipe
    thanks

    vincent

  14. Harri W April 9, 2009 at 12:54 am #

    Reipe sounds great, after travelling to Sydney and visiting China Town and I have a few Asian mates, I am totally obsesed with the white steamed buns, i will be trying your recipe, and post a link to you on my blog. I did try it before, different recipe, did not work well, was not nice, was a flour and water mix. I am interesed in the custard filled ones is this possible with your flour mix?? thnx

  15. Leela April 9, 2009 at 3:22 am #

    Hi Harri,

    Yes, you can fill these buns with any fillings, sweet or savory. The custard filling works just fine; you just need a good recipe. Custard or pastry cream filling without some sort of starch is to stabilize the cream will get way too runny. One of the traditional sweet fillings is made out of lotus seeds. I’m about to post my recipe for two kinds of sweet filling within the next few days.

  16. Anonymous December 16, 2009 at 8:25 pm #

    Hi Leela,
    Do you know the recipe for the lemon custard filling in steam buns?

    Thanks,
    Karla

  17. Leela December 16, 2009 at 8:31 pm #

    Hi Karla – Can’t say that I have seen or eaten steamed buns with lemon custard filling. Hmmm. You’ve piqued my curiosity, though. What does the filling look or taste like? Creamy, runny, tangy like lemon curd?

  18. Anonymous January 4, 2010 at 3:53 am #

    Hi,
    Thanks for the recipe.
    I can no longer eat wheat and successfully made your recipe with Spelt flour.
    The buns are a little brown (a light tan) and I knead and let stand for a bit longer – I have also halved the amount of yeast (the first batch tasted of yeast).
    The buns turn out fantastic :-).
    I thought I would not be able to eat bao again once I was put on a FODMAP diet.

    Thanks once again,

    Stephen

  19. Greg February 5, 2010 at 1:37 pm #

    Am trying my hand at these buns this weekend — they look wonderful.
    My question though:
    Is the Baking Powder Double Acting or Single?

    Here in the UK we only have the usual Single acting type available…

    Thanks for the help! 🙂

  20. Leela February 5, 2010 at 2:51 pm #

    Hi Greg – I usually use the double acting type. But you can most certainly use the single type. Instead of adding the baking powder in two installments, add all of it after the first rise. One of my friends in Thailand who had the same problem has done that before with great results. 🙂

  21. Anonymous March 3, 2010 at 6:01 pm #

    Hello, just want to drop some tips for avoiding water drops during steaming. just cover the under side of the lid with cloth or tie it around the handle. it will catch the water vapour and prevent wet buns.

    also do not open the lid hastily once you hit 10/12 minutes. if you that, most likely you get a wrinkled buns. move the lid just a bit first to let the steam and pressure out.

    cheers!

  22. Leela March 3, 2010 at 6:02 pm #

    Anonymous – Thanks so much for the tip! You’re so kind. 🙂

  23. Anonymous June 29, 2010 at 1:08 am #

    Hi,I really like your recipe since it is easy. I followed with a small change (I used instant dry yeast instead of active dry east); however, my buns seemed nearly perfect. The buns were delicious but perhaps, they were not as white as yours. Can you help me?

  24. Leela June 29, 2010 at 1:44 am #

    Anonymous – Great tip on the instant dry yeast. I’ll remember that. Thanks. As for the buns being not so white, did they have brown spots? If so, you need to knead in the baking powder until it blends into the dough better. But if “not white” means light beige color overall, then it could be because you use unbleached all-purpose flour. Cake flour is always bleached, so you may want to use the AP flour + cake flour method. Actually, mine isn’t bright, sparkly white either. The color is more like off-white.

  25. Anonymous June 29, 2010 at 5:43 am #

    Hi there,
    Thanks for your advice 🙂

  26. Anna September 2, 2010 at 10:39 pm #

    I’ve been dying to make these for a while and finally found the time. I realized as I was putting the first batch into the steamer that I’d forgotten the oil. They came out a little dense, but good nonetheless. Thanks for the recipe!

  27. Anonymous September 9, 2010 at 6:04 pm #

    If I use instant dry yeast, do I still use the same amount mentioned here and do the sponge starter method too?

  28. Leela September 9, 2010 at 8:57 pm #

    Anon – Yep. I’ve tried both regular active and instant yeasts and it seems starting off with a sponge starter produces better results.

  29. Anonymous September 10, 2010 at 8:35 am #

    Thanks for your reply, Leela. I just made this (with instant yeasts) follow the method exactly, the dough was very smooth and silky but after steam, they doesnt look as good as it should be ( since the dough looks nearly perfect) and my bun has a lot of yellow spots I dont know why..

  30. Leela September 10, 2010 at 5:54 pm #

    Anon – That’s the baking powder that wasn’t fully incorporated into the dough. It happened to me a few times before I figured it out too. 🙁

  31. Anonymous September 11, 2010 at 3:34 am #

    uh..I see..any tips for this? also my bun surface was wrinkly..wonder was it overproofed or the steaming heat was too high? Any idea?
    Guess I don’t have bakers hand, everytime I make bread/bun/cake, there’s always something go wrong. 🙁 Might as well just stick to cooking. 🙂

  32. Leela September 11, 2010 at 6:15 pm #

    Anon – Could be any of the above. Most likely steam condensation that drips down to the buns. I’ve found the stainless steel tiered steamer to be the best tool for this. If 2-tier bamboo steamer is used, leave the bottom tier empty and steam the buns on the top tier.

    Hey, don’t give up! 🙂

  33. happycao January 2, 2011 at 2:58 am #

    OHH my goodness!!! I’ve been wanting to make this forever. and finally I did today, and I’m soooo happy with my results. I created a smooth shiny exterior and it was still fluffy inside, but a little dense/chewier than I like. I might try more cake flour next time. But this was amazing! Thanks for this thorough post or else I wouldn’t have been successful. I also found it to be a little more…saltier or sour than I’m used to, I wonder if it had to do with letting my sponge starter sit for almost three hours before I added the rest of the ingredients? Or I just need to add more sugar?

  34. Leela January 2, 2011 at 3:17 am #

    Happycao – Thanks for the report! Yeah, the sourness may come from over proofing the sponge. The specified time frame is just a suggestion; things ferment more quickly or slowly due to the temperature in the kitchen. A tad more sugar may help with the taste. I’d add it in the dough stage instead of to the sponge, though. Good luck! Let us know if using more cake flour helps.

  35. Anonymous March 29, 2011 at 12:41 am #

    Hi, I was searching for name of bread in Jackie Chan movie “Shaolin wooden men” and I have finally found out it’s Chinese steamed bread.
    Could you confirm please if it’s really that bread and what could be recipe for bread in that movie. It looks it has no filling inside so it’s not bun?

    Thank you
    Andreja

  36. Leela March 29, 2011 at 1:18 am #

    Andreja – I believe it’s mantou
    Traditional Chinese 饅頭
    Simplified Chinese 馒头

  37. Anonymous March 29, 2011 at 3:58 pm #

    I’ve made the buns twice now and think I have a solid handle on how to do it now. Thank you so much for sharing the recipe.

    This last time I let the dough rise overnight because I didn’t have three hours after I got home from work to finish the same day. I also used half cake flour this time as well with very good results.

    Letting the dough rise over-night made me wonder if I could use a little less active dry yeast in the starter if I did let it go over-night. Anyone here ever try that, or skipping the starter (if using more time to let the dough rise)?

    I’m also curious to see if sifting the all purpose flour will yield results similar to the half cake flour result.

    As you can see I’m cheap, but I won’t skimp if the buns don’t turn out right.

    -darren

  38. Leela March 29, 2011 at 4:10 pm #

    Darren – Interesting questions. I hope those who have experimented with these methods come in and share their experiences. I have never tried letting the dough rise overnight in the fridge, but I’m thinking retarding the dough would eliminate the need for the starter as you said.

    Not sure about how sifting the all-purpose flour would make a difference, though. The reason for the cake flour is due to its low protein content. We still need the same amount of flour, only with lower protein. Would be interesting to test your theory, though!

    Thanks, Darren. Please do keep us posted on your results. 🙂

  39. Anonymous April 3, 2011 at 7:33 pm #

    A follow-up on the “less yeast” question –

    I cut the amount of active dry yeast (ADY) from a tablespoon to a teaspoon and let the dough rise overnight. Happily, the results turned out more or less the same (nice).

    I wouldn’t try this if you’re attempting the three-hour rise in the original recipe, but it’ll help me conserve a little since I plan on making these regularly now that mantou is back in my life (ha ha).

    One other thing I noticed, was that the buns in the lower steamer (closer to the water) seemed to puff up a lot more that the upper tier. I may need to lower my burner a little more, I guess – Or is this normal?

    A post script on preparing things for cooking a day in advance, I find it helps me cook things during the work week, that I would otherwise not attempt ’til the weekend. The fresh mantou in the morning with coffee is really good before work. Reminds me of the bakeries in the west coast Chinatowns (and my coffee’s better).

    Thanks again, Leela, for sharing this recipe with us.

    -darren

  40. Leela April 3, 2011 at 7:39 pm #

    Darren – Thank you so much. Lots of helpful information here. I love it when people drop by and report their results. 🙂

  41. QYZ February 19, 2012 at 4:41 pm #

    Hi there, I was just reading on of the comments above, and I was wondering does ovenproofing really cause wrinkly skin? Can you tell me why? So where should I put my buns to rise? Cause I can’t think of any warm spot besides my oven. Thanks for reading

  42. Carol June 15, 2012 at 7:35 pm #

    Carol

    I have made steamed buns quite a number of times but I have never tried combining cornflour with plain flour or used the sponge method. Yours look really good. I am always trying to improve on the recipe(I just use plain flour) that I use. Can this dough be doubled or tripled as I like to make at least 2 to 4 dozen at a time when we are entertaining.

  43. Admin June 15, 2012 at 10:56 pm #

    Carol – The recipe can be doubled or tripled. I would, however, divide the dough into 2 (or 3 — if tripled) equal parts and add the baking powder to each part. You get the baking powder to intersperse better that way.

    Also, it’s cake flour, not cornflour. I just wanted to make sure you don’t confuse the two.

  44. Carol June 16, 2012 at 6:51 am #

    Thank you for that. That is a big help. The combination of cornflour and plain flour I meant was a substitution for cake flour. I am in Australia and we cannot get cake flour here and apparently our flour is high in gluten so as I understand it, in order to mimic cake flour we have to combine 1 part cornflour to 3 parts plain flour.

  45. Rich June 21, 2012 at 8:44 pm #

    Good job! Very nice post.

    I also have been making Chinese steamed buns for about 2 years. You have my respect for having the patience and using the foam method. It just shows that buns can be made in many ways.

    My ingredient list is short, just 3 cups of all purpose flour, 1 teaspoon of sugar, 1 teaspoon of yeast, and 1 cup of warm water. I proof the yeast first with warm water mixed with sugar. Then mix, knead, and raise for about an hour, double in volume. Then punch down, knead, shape and straight into cold steamer. On medium flame, once it boils, I set the timer to 10 minutes. Shut off the flame wait 5 minutes before removing the buns.

    My current problem is wrinkles…. Perhaps uneven mixing of the yeast.

    Check out my blog:

    http://hungrytigr.blogspot.com/2010/07/love-and-buns-steam-buns.html
    http://hungrytigr.blogspot.com/2011/05/chinese-steamed-bun-looking-back.html

  46. Pter May 15, 2013 at 8:18 am #

    Thank you for this easy to follow recipe, it was my first attempt at any type of bun, I substituted the water for light coconut milk but followed all other bits of the recipe and got a 10 out of 10 from the family or they might have been a little hungry waiting 4hours but well worth it 5stars

  47. Averydae May 20, 2013 at 10:53 pm #

    Hi Leela, Thanks for sharing the recipe. This will be repeated. My other recipe calls for milk powder and I was out of stock so I tried yours and it came out successful the first time but the first rise took only 1 hour instead of the 3 hours mentioned in the recipe. Nevertheless, I went ahead and it came out good and my children were happy. Thanks again.

  48. Abigail July 28, 2013 at 3:38 am #

    Thanks a lot for sharing the recipe.

    I just tried this and although the dough turn out super fluffy and soft my bun smell of really strong alcohol and tasted sour-ish yeasty.

    Other than a reader who posted having similar problem as me, I’m wondering if others have this issue? I suspect there’s too much yeast. As we know yeast ferment sugar and the byproduct is alcohol, which is why eating the dough feels like drinking wine.

    I proof the sponge dough part about 25-30mins. So I guess it is not due to over proofing. Any suggestions other than my suspect of too much yeast?

  49. Mariya August 29, 2013 at 2:44 pm #

    I have used your recipe countless times and every time I make it the buns finish within 12 hours! I fill mine with a breakfast mixture of scrambled eggs, cheese, hashbrowns, and diced hot dogs and they taste amazing! I have tried it on it’s own as well and it reminds me of my childhood when my Chinese friends would bring it to lunch and let me have a bite. 😉

    The only problem I have ever had is me getting too hasty and adding too much water =(

    This is the best recipe I have come across though the wait time for the dough kills me! Thank you so much for sharing!

  50. John February 3, 2014 at 5:07 am #

    First attempt at buns, and this worked out well, thanks! I proved in my oven with the bread proving setting, and it seemed well done at 2 hours.

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