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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 | two red bowls
Makes 18-24 buns
teaspoons active dry yeast (1 packet)
cup milk (any kind will do; I used 2%)
tablespoon vegetable oil
cups all-purpose flour
tablespoons sugar (less if you prefer a more savory dough)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.