Thursday, April 26, 2007

full steam ahead!

growing up, i had a direct source for chinese food.

it came via my friend's mother and grandmother who cooked all sorts of things and whose family owned a restaurant. though completely not kosher, i remember being fascinated by the different things they ate and how different their kitchen, or rather pantry, was compared to mine and my other friends' .... it was a world away from anything i knew.

one thing i particularly remember well were spongy cakes and other sorts of breads that were texturally very different from what i recognized as cakes and bread. they were very sweet and called things i could not pronounce. the funny part is that my, at that time, six year old friend would always try to snatch the stuff given me by the grandmother as soon as she left the room and throw it in the garbage! she told me not to eat it because she thought it was gross and then went to the pantry to grab cookies bought at the grocery store. little did she know, i actually liked the things i had tried.

i always end up thinking of this when i make mantou or chinese steamed buns. these breads can be made plain or stuffed with a filling, where they are called baozi. mantou can be a bit tricky in that if not made properly, they can turn out very dense after being steamed or shrivel up and become hard. there are many different recipes for mantou and baozi and, depending upon from which country the recipe comes, various versions ask for different types of flours and leavening agents.

the recipe i use here is pretty straightforward: bread flour, yeast, water and sugar. nothing fancy or strange for bread. what is different is the way they are cooked. they are put in a steamer and cooked by the vaporized water whereupon they swell up to round spongy masses which can be used to mop up the sauces from a dinner dish or just eaten plain as a snack. they can also be kept in the fridge for a few days and reheated by steaming them again.

what i do find important in making these successfully is that the dough be somewhat sticky and that it be fully proved. if it has not risen long enough, they usually turn out dense. they can be steamed in the traditional bamboo steamers or in a stainless one which fits on top of another pot.

most importantly, to get big spongy mantou buns, we have to look at the world of physics. the secret in not getting shriveled up (and often hard) buns is to keep the lid on! do not peek until after they have fully cooked and rested. if the lid is taken off the steamer before the buns have had time to rest, the exchange of temperature (pressure) cause them to lose their shape. so, now you know ...... go steam those buns! :)

plain chinese steamed buns

this recipe only makes 6 fist sized (ok, a little smaller) buns. double it if you want more.


1/2 tsp regular dry yeast
1/4 tsp sugar
2 tbsp warm water

1 1/2 c bread flour (or all purpose)
2 tbsp sugar

1/2 c + 1 tbsp warm water


prove the yeast first with the water and sugar.

in another bowl, mix the 2 tbsp of sugar with the flour.

make a well in the center of the bowl.

add the yeast mixture to the well.

add the warm water to the yeast in the well.

with chopsticks or a wooden spoon, mix the dough into the liquids.

stir until you have a shaggy dough.

make a ball and knead the dough for a good 10 minutes. it may be a bit sticky. don't add more flour until it is absolutely necessary. the more you knead it, the less sticky it will become.

place the dough in a bowl and cover. let rise for 2 hours in a warmish place like in an oven with the pilot light on or in your microwave.

once it has risen, punch it down.

make a log which is about 6 inches long.

cut 6 one inch pieces.

make a ball from each of them.

place the balls on a floured place and roll them in the flour.

cover the plate and let it rise again for about an hour. make sure the balls have some flour on the tops of them so they do not stick to the plastic wrap. this is important.

set up your wok and bamboo steamer(s). i do it in 2 batches as i only have one steamer.

i use my le creuset and make foil balls to rest the steamer on top of.

fill the pot or wok with enough water to steam the buns. do not place too much so that it touches the bottom of the steamer.

place the buns on the steamer which you have lined with a cloth. i use a damp j-cloth i have for cooking.

steam them on high heat, for 15 minutes only, watching that the water does not boil away. add more if needed.

turn off the heat and let the buns steam further untouched for another 10 minutes.

remove the steamer and the buns. repeat with the last 3 buns.



Linda said...

wohoo! i love steamed buns! thanks so much for this one!

Lydia said...

Bureka boy, congrats!
What I like most about your recipies is the step by step presentation. You make cooking look so easy - anyone is motivated to try!
Many thanks & Keep going


burekaboy — said...

linda - i love 'em, too :p have to say, though, i like them better when they have a stuffing inside. i was too lazy to make them that way when i did this ... oh well, that's another posting for later! thanks for your comment.

lydia - hi there :) glad to hear you like the step by step pix. it's more work on my part sometimes but i think it makes it easier to follow along, especially when one is not familiar with a particular food.

thanks for your visit; hope to "see" you again :D lots more planned for the future.

Chennette said...

Hey, you and the TriniGourmet thinking alike this week?

The TriniGourmet said...

hey! how yuh tief meh pow post?! grr!!!

your yeast is round :)

burekaboy — said...

hey chennette - we must be :D that was totally a random event (unless SOMEONE eh..hem is reading my mind). nice to see u :) hope all is well your way.

SARINA!! - LOL. say what?? who's tiefin who?!!? i'll try yours and see if they beat these :P

as for the yeast, yeah, it's round. what shape is yours?? the instant one is much much smaller and rectangular (tube) shaped.

The TriniGourmet said...

HEE!!! mmm this is the 3rd time we've posted variations on the same recipes at the same time :) so strange!!!!

Lannae said...

Wow, now I am impressed with your steamed buns! You could break them open and put sweet bean paste, shreaded steamed chicken with garlic and ginger, or roasted red duck with plum sauce in it to make a really amazing treat. I am now officially hungry for a Chinese steamed bun!

burekaboy — said...

hi lannae - next time i make these, i will try them with one of those suggestions :) now i'm hungry!! (lol, or take the easier route and get them from my friend's mom ;p)

Coffee said...

How come I missed this post??!!!

My hubby loves this!!!!! In singapore you get different fillings in this bun!!!!! And its steaming like it burns your tongue everytime you eat them!!!!

burekaboy — said...

coffee - LOL, you were sleeping on the job, that's why!! hehe.

i can only imagine all the different kinds you can get in s'pore. must be dizzy-ing and amazingly good.

Emily DeVoto, Ph.D., said...

I know what Trini's talking about; my yeast is much more like a powder than those little beads. Hmm...

So no char siu bao for you, eh? Oh well... you'll have to come up with some kind of kosher alternative.

burekaboy — said...

hey em - wwwwwhat??? char siu bao's NOT kosher?!!? LOL.

i'll have you know that's 100% fleischmann's yeast!! hehe. what kind are u using? must be something like SAF. they are the only kind i know of that are powdered. at least, here that is.

Nafeesah said...

Hey BB!! I made these yesterdayyyyyyy ! I'm so happy! lol, I couldn't beleive my eyes when I saw this recipe, I've been craving for these buns for the past 3 years since I left Malaysia but I had no idea how to make them, I had no idea that the dough was like your regular bread dough!

Anyway, mine came out a bit was only later I realized it was because I had spaced them too far from each other, I always make that mistake time after time with bread *sighs* but the taste was of course still there :)

In malaysia we call these Kuih Pau, and they come with allllll types of fillings, I was going to fill mine with some Kaya I had made (it's a coconut milk custard/jam) but then the Kaya was taking forever to cool so I was like forget it :p

It's a good thing though you warned against lifting up the cover to see because that's a bad habit of mine, Opening up ovens/steamers to check on my cooking :)) my mom always says thank god for pilot lights other wise all of your cakes would be flat :))

Thanks again for a great recipe Burekaboy :)

burekaboy — said...

hi nafeesah - you're very welcome :)

yes, when making these, you need to have them next to each other in the steamer basket. i guess that provides some support for their structure as they steam and rise during the baking/cooking process. it is essential not to peek!! we'll have to break you of that habit ;p i can only imagine all the different kinds of these in malaysia!! that filling sounds very good, indeed (can u email me how you do it? i'd like to try it). hope the filling doesn't go to waste and you try them again with it; send me some, too!! :))

as usual, thanks for the comment and testing the recipe out. oh yeah, when you have them rising in the basket they should be touching each other by the time the rise is finished. if they're not, your steamer tray is too big or you didn't put enough of the buns in. i think there are different types of flours used in making these depending on the country (s'pore, malaysia, china, etc). some recipes even use milk in the dough. this is how my best friend's mom makes them and i've been successful most of the time with them. hope that helps.

Lorrie said...

Is there something other than cloth I could use in the steamer, maybe a paper towel? Or how about nothing? I am a bit squeemish when it comes to having fabric on my food. : } I'm a little strange that way...I know!

burekaboy — said...

lorrie - hi. yes, you could probably use paper towel. we all have our hangups ;p — i would suggest picking up a piece of tightly woven cheesecloth (unused & washed, of course) as it is very useful in the kitchen. hope that helps. just double the papertowel, wet & wring it dry first. can't vouch for its success however as i've never done it that way but i don't see why it wouldn't work as long as its moistened first.

Anonymous said...

Hi - I saw this recipe while trying to find a matching recipe for some steamed buns I had in a Chinese bakery in Chinatown New York City. I haven't tried to make these yet - but are these the same ones? They were not filled with anything, and were served warm, and tasted slightly sweet. They also looked pure white. Thanks!

burekaboy — said...

anonymous - hi - they are the same thing however they are made with all purpose flour here as the 'authentic' ones (like you had in chinatown) are made with something called hong kong flour which is a different type of flour (diff protein content & type of wheat); if you can find it, use it. the hong kong flour leaves them their white colour whereas these have a yellowish tinge.

Anonymous said...

Hi, your steamed buns looked really good and would like to try it out. Since I have Instant yeast at home, can I just use it instead of dry yeast??

burekaboy — said...

anonymous - yes, you can use whichever yeast you have available. just note however that if use unbleached flour, there will a yellow tinge (colour) to the steamed breads. you need to either use hong kong flour or BLEACHED white flour. also, the texture is not exactly the same as the kind you get in dim sum places. i'll try to post another version in the near future. hope that helps. if you have other questions, you can leave another comment or email me.

Sketched Soul said...

Hey Bureka Boy.. hope all is well at your end.

Wow.. I'm totally impressed.. you even have a recipe for Chinese steamed buns! I'm lucky enough be be able to purchase them from a store half an hour away from me.. but there is no comparison to being able to make them at home!

Do you have book out yet?? Really.. I'd buy it! Think about it, if you don't.

Anyway.. thank you for sharing this recipe (and the many others) with us. I'm adding this to my to-make list.. and I will let you know how it goes.

Take care,

burekaboy — said...

hi farhana - apologies in the delay in answering you! first off, thanks for the nice comment. doing well but busy as usual. i hope your ramadan is going nicely and fasting hasn't been too rough.

i wish i could buy the mantou - the places that sell them though use pork fat/lard in some of their things so.....

these are simple to make at home but you need BLEACHED all purpose flour to get the really white colour. also, the texture is a bit "bread-ier" than what you'd get from a chinese bakery - they use a different kind of flour (hong kong flour) which gives a different result. nonetheless, these are not too bad and are better when you put a stuffing.

a book? me?? LOL. perhaps one day ;) thanks for the vote of confidence!

speak to you again!

Sketched Soul said...

Hello Burekaboy,
Oh yes, my Ramadaan is going wonderful, thank you for ask. I hope all is well at your end.

Okay.. your comment about pork fat/lard in the buns is bothering me.. humm, I must really look into this, in that case.. I'll definitely be making them at home. Thank you soooooo much for the heads up, much appreciated.

Yuppers, I agree they are nice with stuffing. The ones we buy come with different stuffing, from tuna to a sweet coconut filling.

Oh hey I'm not kidding about the book. Make sure I get the first copy!

Take care,

burekaboy — said...

farhana - you'll be first on the list for a signed copy! :)

didn't mean to alarm you - just wasn't sure if you knew. i was a bit surprised that you were able to buy them since a lot of chinese pastries and breads are (still) made with lard often. who knows, they may be using things that are "halal"-like, i.e, vegetable shortening, etc. anyway, they're easy enough to make at home. just use the BLEACHED white flour if you want that same pure white colour. i didn't in the recipe, i used unbleached so they had a bit of an off-white/yellow tinge. the taste is still the same.

i love these stuffed with either a spicy chicken or beef filling, or a vegetable one. YUM! :))