20 mins + 1½ hours proving
For the spring onion oil
- 3 spring onions, finely chopped
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil
- ½ tsp salt
For the dry mix
- 530g plain flour
- ½ tsp salt
- 7g fast action dried yeast
- 40g caster sugar
- 15g baking powder
For the liquid
- 50ml milk
- 200-250ml warm water (depending on humidity – if the air is very dry you’ll need a little more water, if very humid, a little less)
- 25ml vegetable or sunflower oil
Pour all of the dry ingredients into a free-standing mixer fitted with a dough hook attachment (if you have one – otherwise you’ll be using your hands!).
Mix the liquid ingredients in a measuring jug, then slowly pour into the mixer while kneading on a low speed for around 2 mins, until all the liquid is mixed into the flour. Once combined, turn the speed up to high for a further 2 mins, until the dough has a smooth yet tacky feel to it.
Dust the dough with 2 tbsp flour, scraping off any additional dough from the sides of the mixer bowl. Shape the dough into a rough ball, then coat it lightly with 1 tbsp vegetable oil, cover the bowl with a damp cloth and leave aside in a warm, moist, draught-free location (such as inside a room-temperature oven) for 1-1½ hours to double in size.
Meanwhile, make the spring onion oil. Place the finely chopped spring onion in a heat-proof bowl. In a pan, heat the vegetable oil to a high heat. Once smoking hot, pour the oil over the spring onions to sear, then mix in the salt.
When the dough has proved, roll it out into a rough 4mm-thick rectangle. Lightly brush with the spring onion oil, then roll the sheet of dough back up like a Swiss roll. Cut the roll into 16 equal portions and sit each piece on its end so that it’s upright. Lastly, press each piece gently down with the palm of your hand and shape into slightly domed, uniform rounds. Each piece should look a little like a snail shell with a few spring onion bits poking out!
You will probably need to cook the baos in a couple of batches to avoid overcrowding the pan – they can be kept warm in a 100C oven while you finish the job. In a frying pan, heat 1 tbsp vegetable oil to a medium heat. Once the oil is hot, place the baos into the pan, evenly spaced, and fry until crisp and golden brown on the bottom.
Now, pour hot water from a kettle into the pan to a depth of about 2cm, then immediately cover with a lid. Steam the bao for 6-8 mins, topping up with a splash more water if required, until all the water has evaporated. Remove the lid and allow the baos to crisp up on the bottom for 30 seconds, then turn over to crisp up the other side.
Image: Dominique Woolf