The appearance of these steamed buns, which were inspired by Betty Liu's purple sweet potato mantou, is very dramatic, but the flavor itself is sweet and subtle.
This is a recipe for plain mantou, with instructions on how to color it using pumpkin (step 9), beet (step 10), matcha (step 11), and cocoa powder (step 12). Since the pumpkin and beet add extra moisture to the dough, you'll want to have a little additional flour on hand in case you need to adjust the dough's consistency.
For swirl buns, you'll need to make two different colors (doubling the recipe!), then roll each one out. Brush the bottom dough (this will be the outside color) with water, then place the other dough on top. Roll them together, like you're making cinnamon buns, and cut into little chunks, about 3 inches wide. You can either steam them like that, so that the swirl will be on the side, or turn them over, so that the swirl is on top (as pictured). —Sarah Jampel
Test Kitchen Notes
This recipe is featured in the story, Stunning Steamed Buns Are Impressive to Look at but Simple to Make, sponsored by Miele. In step 7 of this recipe, you can steam a bunch of buns at once by using a combi-steam oven instead of using a steamer basket and a stock pot. —The Editors
- Makes about 12 buns
1 1/2 grams
active dry yeast
neutral oil, like grapeseed
- Whisk together the flour, sugar, and yeast. Incorporate the milk and oil, stirring with chopsticks, a wooden spoon, or a spatula until you have a shaggy dough. If you're making two-toned swirl buns, you'll need to make two doughs, each with a different color.
- Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead again until smooth, 4 to 5 minutes. You can also use a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment. Place the dough in a large, greased bowl, cover, and let sit for 1 to 2 hours, or until doubled in size.
- While the dough rises, cut out 12 squares of parchment paper, about 4- by 4-inches.
- When the dough has risen, punch it down, transfer it it to a lightly floured surface, and divide it in half. Roll into long logs about 1 inch in diameter. Cut into 2- to 3-inch pieces, placing each one on a parchment paper square and on a baking sheet.
- To shape swirl buns, roll each dough out into a rectangle, about 6 by 10 inches. Brush one dough rectangle with water (this will be the outer color), then place the other rectangle on top. Roll into a log, like you're making cinnamon rolls, then cut into 2- to 3-inch pieces. Turn them over if you'd like the swirl to be on top, or leave them standing up if you want the swirl to be side-facing. Proceed as usual.
- Cover the baking sheet with a dish cloth or plastic wrap and let rise for 1 hour.
- When you're ready to steam, bring a pot of water to a boil. Place the buns in the steamer basket with at least 3 inches of room between them (they're going to grow!). Steam for on low for 10 minutes, then lift the top and let the steam disperse for 2 minutes. Then recover the steamer and steam on high for 5 to 8 minutes, until the buns have grown in size and are shiny on top. (This method of steaming, while a bit more fussy, ensures smoother, glossier tops. If you're not in it for appearances, you can steam on medium for 13 to 15 minutes.)
- These buns are best served piping hot. But never fear! You can freeze and reheat them easily. When the buns are fully cooled, seal them into a plastic freezer bag. To reheat, wrap with cling film or place in a sandwich bag and microwave for 45 seconds, or return to a steamer for about 2 minutes, until they’ve re-puffed.
- TO MAKE PUMPKIN/ORANGE MANTOU, reduce the amount of flour to 110 grams (adding more as needed) and reduce the amount of milk to 30 to 35 grams. Whisk 70 grams of pumpkin purée into the milk and oil before incorporating it into the dry ingredients.
- TO MAKE BEET/PINK MANTOU, reduce the amount of flour to 100 grams (adding more as needed) and reduce the amount of milk to 30 to 35 grams. Whisk 70 grams of beet purée into the milk and oil before incorporating it into the dry ingredients. (To make beet purée, we blended boiled beets with a little bit of milk—just 2 teaspoons or so—then passed the mixture through a fine mesh sieve).
- TO MAKE MATCHA/GREEN MANTOU, reduce the flour to 125 grams. Whisk 6 grams of matcha in with the dry ingredients. Proceed as uaul.
- TO MAKE CHOCOLATE/BROWN MANTOU, reduce the flour to 115 grams. Whisk 5 grams of Dutch-process cocoa powder in with the dry ingredients. Reduce the amount of milk to 70 to 75 grams.