This is the first time my mom & I have tried to make Chinese steamed buns from scratch. Given our combined lack of experience, I would say it was a moderate success! We made two batches, the first one veggie, and second one meat, and I would say by the second batch we've already improved some of the minor mistakes we made in the first one.
Steamed buns are really versatile. You can put literally ANYTHING in it. Veggies, meat, sweet beans, sweet sesame paste...anything!
I was particularly craving meat buns. For some reason, I could get very decent sweet buns from Ranch 99 (the Taiwanese food brand I-mei makes good red bean, taro, and black sesame buns), but I could not for the life of me find a meat bun I could tolerate. In particular, I missed a particular flavor of meat bun --- meat buns w/ spicy bamboo sprouts --- that was a staple at 7-11s in Taiwan when I was little. There's just something nostalgic about eating a steamy hot meat bun....
So here we go! There's two parts to bun making. First is the bun itself, which does require careful measurement of ingredients and timing. The second part, the filling, is very liberal and I did not measure anything, just mixed ingredients together through instinct.
To make the bun (makes 16 - 20 buns)
- 600 g all-purpose flour, sifted
- 350 g of warm water with 1 tbp sugar + (optional) 2 tbp powdered milk dissolved
- 1 tbp of vegetable oil (I used corn oil)
- 1 tsp yeast
- 1 tsp baking powder
NOTE: The powdered milk is optional if you want to keep the bun truly vegan. Adding powdered milk to the dough adds a faint sweetness & smoothness to the bun. I've noticed that is one of the major differences between Taiwanese-style bun and Mainland Chinese-style bun. Almost all Taiwanese bun uses powdered milk in the dough but not in mainland ones. I think Taiwanese people just like their things a tad more sweet.
1. Mix all ingredients together, knead well until forms into dough
2. Allow the dough to rise in a warm environment for a minimum of 60 min, up to 90 min
3. Roll out of the dough lengthwise and cut into equal sizes, roll out to a round shape with the edges being thinner than the center since you will be folding the edges together at the top
For (3), we didn't do exactly this cuz we didn't have enough workspace, so we just guesstimaed by grabbing about 1/3 fist size of dough at a time then rolling it out. My mom did the dough rolling and she did end up with some buns being smaller than others, but since we're not selling them, it did not matter ;)
Bun Filling #1: carrot cabbage mushroom mix
- Shredded carrots
- Finely chopped cabbage
- Finely chopped brown mushroom
- Finely chopped green onions
- Sesame oil
- Soy sauce
- White pepper
For the veggie bun, we mixed the ingredients above. I was very light on last three ingredients (the condiments) since my mom likes her veggie buns very healthy and low on sodium and fat. The sesame oil adds a pleasant aroma to the mix and the white pepper adds a little extra punch.
Bun Filling #2: spicy pork w/ bamboo shoot mix
- Fine ground pork (low fat)
- Finely chopped cabbage, only a small amount
- Finely chopped green onions
- Chopped bamboo shoots marinated in chili oil (prepackaged, bought from Ranch 99)
- Spicy red chili pepper oil (La-Yu)
- Soy sauce
- Agave, a very small amount
I ended up not having enough bamboo shoots (only bought 1 package) and too much pork (bought 2 lbs). Next time I will try to up the bamboo shoot portion. I also was a little conservative on the spicy chili oil and turns out I could've put a lot more in and it still wouldn't have been that spicy. The small dash of agave (you can substitute with just sugar) I felt was a good call. It sweetened the meat just a dash.
Tips to steaminig the bun
After the buns have been made, there are two subtle but important steps.
(1) Leave enough room between each buns, because they will continue to rise to about 1.5X their size after the second rising & steaming!
(2) After you have made the buns and before steaming, allow the buns to rise for another 30 min. Otherwise your buns will be more dough-y, stickier, and less smooth.
We have bamboo steamers from Ranch 99. I cannot stand aluminum steamers and these bamboo steamers are great for steaming not just buns but veggies and fish and meat. So if you want to make buns (or even just buy frozen buns and re-steam them for a quick meal), invest in these steamers. They can be stacked up to allow more simultaneous steaming. Also buy the "steamer paper" which are these thin cloth-like paper that you put the bun on.
Some of the recipes from the Internet suggested steaming the buns starting from cold water and time the steam time after the water is boiling. I did not like this method. Instead I just gave the buns more time to rise on their own. Then I boiled the water and put the steamer which contained the buns on.
For the veggie buns, I steamed for 12-15 min. For the pork buns, I steamed for 20-25 min to make sure the pork was cooked through. To tell if the buns are steamed through, you can stick a chopstick through the bun. If it comes out clean, then you can tell at least the bun (the dough portion) is cooked through. This does not guarantee the meat portion is cooked through, so I did have to sacrifice a bun by cutting it open to verify.
This is what they looked like before they were steamed:
You can see after steaming they got even bigger, hence the need for space between the buns:
With the two batches, we made at least 30 buns. Clearly we weren't going to finish all of them in one meal. But buns actually do very well frozen after they've been steamed & cooked! So after the buns cooled down, my mom cut up the buns with the steamer paper, stacked them and put them in a ziplock bag. The steamer paper prevents them from sticking to each other.
This means that if we want to have the buns again, we would just take them out of the freezer, put them on a steamer with boiling water, and steam for 10 min. Another way to reheat buns is to use a microwave. The microwave is less good because it dries out the buns, but if you are really pressed on time or don't have a steamer, put a wet paper towel over the frozen bun and microwave for 1 min 30 sec. For every extra bun you put in, add another 30 sec.
And that's about it! I am very happy we now have a freezer full of homemade buns.