They’re a staple of Chinese and Southeast Asian menus and, at first sight (probably on a Dim Sum trolley), you probably told yourself there was no way you could make them at home. Well, there’s no magic involved. And they’ll open the the door to a whole new world of Asian culinary delights.
Bao simply means ‘Bun’ in Chinese, and it’s found in a plethora of variations from Mongolia to Malaysia. It’s basically a round, puffy Bread blob filled almost anything you want and steamed like Dim Sum Dumplings. In some places, they are also stuffed with sweet Cremes and other goodies and served as desserts. Sizes range from about 2 in. (common on Dim Sum trolleys) to almost a foot (about 30 cm.) across, which are sliced into individual servings.
One of the most popular kinds is the Xiaobao, or ‘small bun’, 2-3 in. (5-8 cm) across, often filled with Barbecued Pork. Other popular variations include Pork with Vegetables, Black Bean Paste, Vegetable Medley and Curried Chicken. In some Southeast Asian countries they use un-stuffed Bao like they use Arepas in Central America: Split, as Sandwich Rolls, or rolled out flat and folded over like Tortillas, for Tacos – or whatever they call such ‘fist food’ in Asia…
Here’s a basic Bao Bun dough recipe to get you started:
2 cups Bread Flour
1 cup Light Coconut Milk
Pinch of Salt
Pinch of Sugar
Add the ingredients to the bowl of a food processor and whizz up into a light soft dough.
Roll out dough into a sausage and divide into equal-sized pieces – eight for large Bao, 10 or 12 for smaller Xiaobao.
Roll out each piece of dough into a round about 1/4 in. (.5 cm) thick.
Place a dollop of filling in the centre of each round and pick up the edges all around twisting at the top to close. Set Baos on a sheet of non-stick (parchment) paper for steaming.
Steam in a standard steamer basket set-up until the Bao is firm and no longer sticky on the surface.
Tips and tricks…
All savoury Bao fillings should be pre-cooked and very moist (though not dripping with watery liquid). This will help steam the Bao from the inside out, insuring even cooking.
Bao Buns are very filling and you should not make Bao that are intended as single servings too large. Trial and error will guide you.
Fill sweet Bao buns as you would Doughnuts, injecting filing using a pastry piping bag after the Bao are steamed..
Savoury Bao are definitely best served piping hot from the steamer accompanied by various dipping sauces – whatever sort of sauce you like!
~ Maggie J.