Pillowy east-Asian buns from demo chef Jeremy Pang
Fluffy, pillowy white baos hit high streets across China, Hong Kong and Japan many, many years ago, but it wasn’t until recently that they became a mainstream street snack in the West. With our clear love of burgers and all things bread in Europe and the US, it’s no wonder these softer, slightly sweeter breads are so moreish for all palates, no matter where in the world you are from.
The airy texture of baos is great for mopping up sauces, but at the same time their firmness makes them the perfect bun to keep a sandwich together, even when doused in sauce. This simple base bao dough recipe will get you going—but be warned, you might find yourself getting a little addicted to trying out different folds and spending a whole day just playing with the dough! It’s like playdoh but for (hungry) grown-ups.
530g middle-gluten wheat flour or plain all-purpose flour, plus 2 tbsp for dusting
7g fast action dried yeast
40g caster sugar
15g baking powder
25ml vegetable or sunflower oil, plus 1 tbsp for coating
Using a free-standing mixer fitted with a dough hook attachment (if available), pour in the dry mix ingredients and ½ tsp salt.
Mix the liquid ingredients in a measuring jug with 200-250ml warm water (depending on how humid your room feels—if the air feels very dry you’ll want to add a little more water, but if it is very humid, a little less is required). Slowly pour the liquid into the mixer while kneading on a low speed for around 2 mins, until all the water 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.
Once the dough has been well kneaded dust it with 2 tbsp flour, scraping off any additional dough on the sides of the 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, preferably moist, draught-free location (such as inside a room-temperature oven) for 1-1½ hours.
Once the dough has doubled in size, you can make it into whatever shape you wish before steaming. I recommend rolling the proved bao dough out until completely flat and roughly 4mm in thickness, then cutting into either rectangles or circles. If cutting circles, roll them out again once cut, to make elongated oval shapes.
Once all the shapes have been cut out, lightly brush the top of each pastry with a dab of vegetable oil. Place an oiled chopstick across the centre of each pastry and fold one side over the top to form a ‘lip’, then remove the chopstick. Once you have made the sandwich shapes, cover with a damp cloth and set aside to rest for 15-20 mins. Your sandwich is now ready to steam.
Steam for around 8 mins in a covered steam basket inside a wok half-filled with boiling water, without opening the lid, until cooked through and risen well. Steaming time will vary between 8-15 mins, depending on the shape and size of your finished buns (the thinner the bun, the shorter the steaming time).
Recipe: Jeremy Pang