It’s no secret that bread is my all time favourite food. The only things that could possibly come close to that doughy love fest are butter, cheese, and salt and, let’s be honest, all of those things are just made better with the addition of a big old hunk of freshly baked bread.
From watching the yeast wake up from its long slumber and kneading it into a big mound of powdery flour to digging into fresh and lofty loaves, my love affair with bread is totally and completely consuming.
Now, I can’t argue with the fact that a perfect golden brown crispy crust is a thing of pure beauty. Whenever I pull a loaf from the oven or am out and about shopping for my starchy love, I can’t help but think of that scene in Ratatouille where Colette is trying to teach Linguini (and, in turn, Remy) about good bread:
How can you tell how good bread is without tasting it? Not the smell, not the look, but the sound of the crust. Listen… Oh, a symphony of crackle!
But what about bread that has never seen the heat of an oven? When does it get it’s due?
Enter the wondrous culinary invention that is the steamed bun!
No, it does not have a crispy golden crust but, boy oh boy, do I ever love me some steamed buns! Not only is my recipe for steamed bun dough super simple, it cooks up in around 10 minutes so you can be digging in to some excellent eats in no time flat! Another bonus? These steamed buns (or bao) can be totally customized through shaping and stuffing so feel free to let your imagination run wild!
Steamed Bun Dough
Makes 24 - 30 buns
1 cup + 2 tablespoons very warm water
1 tablespoon instant active dry yeast
3 cups all-purpose flour
¼ cup sugar
1 tablespoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons dry milk powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 tablespoons shortening or lard, room temperature
1 tablespoon vegetable oil, if making clamshell shaped buns
In glass measuring cup, combine the warm water and yeast and give it a bit of a stir. Set this mixture aside for about 10 minutes to allow the yeast to develop.
Meanwhile, in a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the flour, sugar, salt, dry milk powder, and baking powder and make a well in the middle. Once the yeast is nice and foamy, pour the mixture into the well, add in the shortening, and mix to combine. Knead the dough on low for 8 – 10 minutes if using a stand mixer, or by hand for 10 – 12 minutes. After kneading, the dough should gather into a ball and be soft but not sticky.
Lightly grease a large, clean mixing bowl with cooking spray and transfer the ball of dough into the bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and a clean kitchen towel and place in a warm area for 1 ½ hours or until the dough had doubled in size.
When risen, punch the dough down and divide into 2 equal pieces.
Now is the time to decide on the shape you’d like your steamed buns to be! If you would like clamshell shaped buns, roll each piece of dough into a 4-5 inch-long oval with a rolling pin. Lightly brush the ovals with vegetable oil, lay a chopstick horizontally across the narrow centre of the oval, and fold over onto itself to form a kind of taco shape. Gently pull the chopstick out, place each bun on a small piece of parchment paper, and allow the buns to rise on a baking sheet, covered in plastic wrap, for 20 - 30 minutes.
If you are looking for a classic bun shape, just roll the pieces into tightly skinned little rounds, place on small squares of parchment paper (about 3” square), and allow the buns to rise on a baking sheet, covered in plastic wrap, for 20 - 30 minutes.
If you want to fill your bao, flatten balls of dough into circles that are a little thicker in the middle, fill, and crimp. Check out this video for a little demo of stuffing bao!
Set up your steamer and, working in batches to avoid crowding, steam the classic round buns for 13-15 minutes or clamshell buns for 10 minutes. Serve warm with anything your heart desires!
If you have any extra buns, they are great stored and served at room temperature, reheated in a steamer, or can be frozen in a tightly sealed zip top bag for up to two months.