I have been having a lot of fun exploring food through national days this year and these Bao buns presented a fun new challenge. They are something that I have always love and admired from afar but never made for myself. They are surprisingly easier to make than you might think and you can fill them with anything you like!
I roasted a pork belly on the grill to fill mine with, and I will be sharing more on that soon! But today we are going to focus on making these beautiful edible clouds. I got to enjoy some on a trip to Portland in the fall of 2018 and had been craving them ever since.
Making the Bao Buns dough
Bao Buns are a yeasted dough. They are kneaded and shaped in the same way as most traditional breads. Where they take a unique spin is in their cooking process, they are steamed, not baked.
Now I read and tested a few recipes, some use traditional flours and some called for rice flour. The difference is really only in color. Traditional flours leave the buns with the slightest yellowish tint, while the rice flour gives them a crisp white.
I came to the decision to use cake flour. It gives a bright color while keeping the dough soft and supple. It also helps the dough stay airy, after all that is what cake flour is all about!
I steer clear of the rice flour. It didn't seem to give me as great a rise and the only benefit to using it was for color. While that is nice, I like to go for flavor and fluffy over color.
Shaping the Bao Buns
Bao Buns are not difficult to make but they do take a little bit of patience to make. After the initial mixing and kneading, they will need to rise for about 2 hours. Then you punch down (this means to deflate and gently knead the dough again) the dough and add in a little baking powder and knead a little more.
After the first rise and kneading in the baking powder, you will shape the dough by rolling out a log and cutting it 18 pieces. Then roll those into balls, rest, and then shape. To achieve a perfect Bao Bun you will roll those little balls out into an oval and then fold them over a chopstick and then let them rise.
They will rest for about an hour and a half and then they are ready to steam. You want to remember which ones you folded first because you will want to steam those first. I only had space to steam 6-8 at a time so I didn't want them to overproof while they waited to cook.
Like I said, I filled my bao buns with a roasted pork belly that I topped with the cucumber kimchi salad. It was inspired by the one that Joanna Gaines shares in her recipe for Mom's Bulgogi in the "Magnolia Table Cookbook". It is a great salad and the perfect topping along with some sliced scallion tops.
You can read my review of the Bulgogi recipe HERE, it's a real stunner. I look forward to making that more. It would even be great in these buns.
This is such a great base recipe. The sky really is the limit here. Fill them with anything you like, they even lend themselves to fusion greatness.
I'd love to know if you make these. Drop me a line below and let me know what you fill them with. Enjoy!
For more Asian inspired dishes...
Take a look at my homemade Ahi Tuna Tower recipe, it is something I worked on a recreated at home during quarantine 2020 and is one that I think I will make again and again!
My General Tso's Chicken is a dish I would eat every day, and at a minimum, I cook every week at home.
A good soy sauce turns this fall favorite into a dream, try my friend Kristi's mom's recipe for Soy Sauce Pumpkin Seeds.
If you want a little more info on shaping take a look at this photo tutorial from Bon Appétit.