I’ve been fascinated with Chinese buns (bao) for years, and when I was writing the “Stuffed Buns” chapter of Asian Dumplings, I wanted to pen a much longer piece on the hows and whys of bao. I know it sounds crazy but I’m a geek over Asian dough. Truth be told, I’ve struggled with bao dough for a long time and finally found a solution for wonderful dough that hasn’t failed me. It doesn’t collapse during cooking, is resilient yet soft, and has the sweet goodness of wheat.
I told Russ Parsons, editor of the Los Angeles Times “Food Section,” about my doughy adventure and discovery and he resoundingly said “yes!” to an article on bao. I’ve experimented lots over the years, and even tested out flour bought at Chinese markets and overseas. The photo at the top of this page is from one round of experimentation where I made five bao dough from five different kinds of flour.
When I felt like I had the perfect dough, I put it up to the test against commercial bao. On the most recent taste test (see the photos below), it was Okami brand of Asian-style bao filled with Chinese bbq pork purchased at Costco vs. my homemade steamed char siu bao. The Okami is light, nearly white in color whereas mine is ecru in color from unbleached flour. What you don’t get is the taste (I need to figure out web-scratch-and-sniff technology!) and the Okami brand is on the sweet side with an odd smoky edge and very soft, marshmallow-like dough. There’s an audience for commercial bao, but I prefer the soft warmth of homemade bao as I can pick and choose my fillings and cooking methods. I can even freeze my bao to create a homemade convenience food.
The LA Times story has a couple of filling options and also a pan-fried bao (sheng jian baozi) recipe for you to try out. Many thanks to Deputy Editor Betty Hallock and the LA Times test kitchen team for putting their energies into the piece. It was published today with how-to photos too(!), and here’s a link for your perusal:
There's a slide show on the LA Times story for shaping the buns. For a video of how to pleat the dough, watch the demo I did on San Francisco’s View From the Bay TV show.