Make Ahead

Plain Steamed Buns (Mantou)

March  5, 2014
3 Ratings
  • Prep time 3 hours
  • Cook time 30 minutes
  • Makes 18-24 buns
Author Notes

A simple, six-ingredient recipe for plain steamed buns (or mantou), adaptable to make steamed buns with filling (baozi). Replace one cup of the flour with cake flour for a finer, fluffier bun. —Cynthia Chen McTernan

What You'll Need
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast (1 packet)
  • 1 cup milk (any kind will do; I used 2%)
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3-4 tablespoons sugar (less if you prefer a more savory dough)
  1. Warm the milk and oil in a pot over low heat until lukewarm but not hot. It should feel comfortable to the touch. Remove from heat and pour into a bowl. Sprinkle the yeast over top the liquid and let sit for 8-10 minutes.
  2. Sift together flour, salt, and sugar. Trickle the yeast liquid slowly into the flour, mixing with a spatula or chopsticks as you go. (You can also just alternate between pouring and stirring.) Once all the liquid has been poured in, knead for 10-15 seconds until dough comes together.
  3. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead again until smooth, at least 4-5 minutes. Place the dough in a large, greased bowl, cover, and let sit for 1-2 hours, or until doubled in size. I prefer a slower, cooler rise, but you can do whatever you’re used to.
  4. While it's rising, decide whether you'd like to make plain mantou or stuffed baozi. If you're going the filling route, this is the time to mix together your filling of choice (red bean paste, yellow egg custard, pork and vegetable, char siu, etc.). Either way, once the dough has doubled in size, punch down the risen dough. Turn onto a floured surface again and knead for just a few strokes. If the dough is too sticky, add more flour.
  5. If making plain mantou with no filling: Divide the dough into two or three pieces and roll into long logs about an inch in diameter. Cut the dough into inch-wide pieces. At this point, you can let the dough proof again if you like, but it's not really necessary. Skip to Step 7.
  6. If making baozi: Pinch or cut off a ping-pong ball size piece of dough and roll into a flat circle of dough about 3 inches in diameter. Place about a tablespoon of the filling of your choice into the circle and fold the dough up around the filling, pinching and pleating in a concentric circle until the top is sealed. It doesn’t have to be perfect -- you can always place it seam-side down for a smooth and uniform top. In my experience, a thinner dough is easier to pleat -- but, of course, will result in a thinner bun. Place the finished buns on a baking sheet and cover with a damp towel to avoid drying out as you fold the others. You can let the buns proof again at this point if you like, but I find that the second rise is somewhat built into the process -- since pleating the buns takes some time, the buns I prepare first have usually had time to rise again by the time I’ve finished pleating the last ones. On top of that, you’ll likely have to steam these in several batches, so that the buns you prepare last will have proofed by the time the first ones have steamed.
  7. When you’re ready to steam the buns, line your basket or steaming tray with a circle of parchment paper. Place the folded buns at least two to three inches apart inside the tray. They will expand significantly, so give them room. I only steamed about three or four per tray.
  8. Fill a wok (or pot, or rice cooker, depending on what you’re using) with about an inch or two of water and bring the water to a simmer over medium heat. After the water has begun to simmer, set the basket over the water, covered, and steam for about 15 minutes, or until buns are resilient when touched and filling inside is cooked. Make sure to refill the water between batches, as it will likely boil dry. You may also need to adjust the heat to low as the water boils -- a low simmer is all you need.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Liza Posas
    Liza Posas
  • Cynthia Chen McTernan
    Cynthia Chen McTernan
  • Jessie Agatstein
    Jessie Agatstein
  • macyi

6 Reviews

Liza P. January 17, 2022
My dough isn't rising. My husband is the bread maker in the house and he wanted to stir the yeast into the milk, but I followed the instructions and didn't mix. Should we have stirred the yeast into the milk after all?
Jessie A. March 27, 2016
Loved this simple recipe—made some very tasty buns without the huge amount of work and ingredients in some other recipes!

I noticed that the buns that I let sit for the longest before steaming were my favorites. I'm thinking about letting all of the buns proof for at least 20 min. before starting to steam to give them an extra bit of fluffiness.
macyi December 31, 2014
I made the dough but I am not planning to fill it until tomorrow. What's the best way to store the dough?
Cynthia C. December 31, 2014
Hi Macyi, thank you so much for trying the recipe! Honestly, I'm not sure how well the dough will keep if you have already let it rise at room temp until doubled, but it should definitely be refrigerated -- I think it should theoretically be okay if kept cold! I would love to hear how it goes! Good luck!
Sakura2m December 30, 2014
Is it possible to let it rise overnight in the fridge and split the work in 2 days
Cynthia C. December 31, 2014
Hi, I haven't done an overnight rise for this particular dough, but have had good results with other yeast doughs with an initial overnight rise, so I think it theoretically should work well! Let me know how it goes if you try it!