How to Make Soft Fluffy Asian Steamed Buns Every Time – You can now make soft fluffy Asian Steamed Buns at your very own kitchen and important tips you need to know to make ULTRA SMOOTH steamed buns.
BASIC CHINESE STEAMED BUNS
Soft and fluffy steamed buns are favorite and well-loved food by many across Asia. The steamed buns can be filled with nothing (plain), sweet or savory filling. Before I started cooking at the kitchen, making steamed bao was never on my list. I could easily go out and got as many as I wanted. I can get soft fluffy steamed bao zi here in Minnesota too, but making them have been on the list for the longest time since I started this food blog and I finally decided to hop on it!
*Recipe is updated on 12/18/2018 after rounds and rounds of testing. Finally, I can achieve the ultra smooth surface on the steamed buns with even softer cake-like texture using cake flour, proofing the dough only once, and shaping technique that is totally a game changer*
WHAT MAKES SOFT AND FLUFFY STEAMED BUNS?
1. The flour you use
*Update 12/18/18*: I prefer to use cake flour instead of the combination of all-purpose and cornstarch. The bleached cake flour gives whiter steamed buns while the unbleached cake flour gives slightly yellowish buns, but equally delicious.
Before I updated the recipe with cake flour, it used to use a combination of all-purpose flour and cornstarch. While they are soft, but everyone in the family loves the cake flour version. It’s softer and more cake-like and not spongy and airy.
This is just the example of the cake flour I use. You can use whatever brand of cake flour you like.
Like in many cases, the oil helps to make the dough soft and not dried out (sort of like a moisturizer)
The yeast helps to leaven the bao. I used to add baking powder to the recipe too, but I found that the texture of the buns are too spongy and I prefer the soft fluffy cake-like texture, besides, you have yeast, you don’t need the baking powder, it’s kinda an overkill IMHO. I recommend using instant yeast instead of active dry yeast because it saves times and the proof faster too. BUT, I understand that some people still prefer to use active dry yeast, which will work for this recipe too (refer to recipe card’s note). Some people said instant yeast gives a stronger yeasty flavor compared to active dry yeast. It’s really a matter of preference I suppose. I don’t feel like the steamed buns taste yeasty. You be the judge and follow your preference
I remember back in my grandma days when stand mixer or bread maker wasn’t available yet, the big bulk of the task of making soft fluffy and smooth steamed buns lie on the kneading the dough. Lots of kneading! If you have a stand mixer to knead the dough for you, then that’s really good!
WHICH INSTANT YEAST TO USE
There are so many kinds out there and the naming can be quite confusing. I’m not going to elaborate about yeast here, but just to share with you what you need to know within the context of this post.
FOR THIS RECIPE (low sugar content): I like this SAF Instant Yeast (Red Label). This instant yeast can be used for all kind of doughs, from bread, steamed buns, to refrigerated or frozen dough. It works very well. It’s suitable for dough that is not sweet. This recipe only calls for 3 teaspoons of sugar per 300 grams of flour.
IF YOU PLAN TO INCREASE SUGAR AMOUNT: Yeast can thrive with a bit of sugar, but too much sugar can inhibit their activities. If you plan to use the amount of sugar of 10% or more of the flour weight (10% of 300 grams is 30 grams of sugar or more), use this SAF Instant Yeast (Gold Label). It works so much better for sweet dough.
You can definitely use whatever instant yeast or even regular active dry yeast if you like, just know that once you increase that sugar amount, the yeast will work much slower and will take much longer to proof the dough.
HOW TO MAKE ULTRA SMOOTH STEAMED BUNS
I’ve been getting some questions from my readers that their steamed buns come out not smooth even after pushing out all the air. I have inconsistent result sometimes with the steamed buns being not smooth. Here are some tips I’ve learned after making probably 6 batches of steamed buns in one week:
1. ONLY PROOF ONCE
But wait, you used to say that we must proof the steamed buns TWICE!
The first proofing in this recipe is to let the yeast to do its work by fermentation and leavening the bread. The second proofing is to punch out most of the air created by first fermentation and also to let the yeast does its work again. This will help the steamed buns to hold its structure later. While there are some truths to that statement, proofing the dough twice does make the dough stronger and more resistant to collapsing due to temperature changes, BUT, I found that no matter what I do, if I overproof the steamed buns, they come out not smooth, even when the buns appear to be smooth when I shape them!. In conclusion, ONLY PROOF THE DOUGH ONCE!
HOW TO PREVENT OVERPROOFING THE BUNS? Most likely your steamer won’t be able to accommodate all at one go. You may need to steam in 2-3 batches, which means, the rest of the batches will sit longer and continue to proof while waiting for the steamer. Not good for the buns! Here’s what you can do: Make sure the cover them with plastic wrap and then place them in the refrigerator to slow down the yeast activity or halt it all together until they are ready to be steamed
2. SHAPING TECHNIQUE
This is the part that really helps to achieve that ultra smooth and “tall” steamed buns. I learned about this shaping technique from a youtube video by Michael Lim. A lifesaver!!
I RECOMMEND WATCHING THE VIDEO IN THE RECIPE CARD AS YOU SCROLL DOWN BELOW BEFORE MAKING THE STEAMED BUNS
3. WRAP THE LID OF STEAMER WITH A CLOTH
The condensation collected on the lid will drip back to the steamed buns and create burn spots. By wrapping the lid with a cloth, you easily preventing this from happening
TOP TIPS YOU NEED TO KNOW BEFORE MAKING STEAMED BUNS
1. You can definitely use active dry yeast, but I like using instant yeast now because I save me one step 🙂
2. Instead of using warm liquid (milk or water), I start with room temperature liquid. That way, the yeast doesn’t work immediately while you are trying to shape the buns. It helps a lot not to have all those air bubbles while shaping
3. Only proof the dough once and do not proof for too long, it will probably take about 15-20 minutes (usually not longer than that, but don’t go by time) for the dough to rise to about 50% of its original size and they are ready to be steamed. How do you know if the buns are done proofing? They won’t increase in size by much, but when you lift it up, it’s light and airy, no longer dense like a dough, then they are ready to be steamed
4. The shaping technique is the key in making this steamed buns ultra smooth (I recommend watching the video above on how to shape it ultra smooth before making!)
5. Steam the buns on LOW heat. Medium and High heat will make the buns not smooth and expand to the side. I set the fire to low now. I used to do Medium heat and the results weren’t consistent, sometimes I got smooth buns, sometimes I didn’t. But I always get smooth buns when I steam on LOW heat
6. Let the steamed buns rest in the steamer for 3 minutes before opening the lid so your steamed buns won’t collapse and shrink
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT HOMEMADE STEAMED BUNS
I have made steamed buns for A LOT in the past few months and I’ve learned from some of the flops to share with you and hopefully, you don’t have to go through the same.
1. WHY DO HOMEMADE STEAMED BUNS ARE YELLOWISH IN COLOR?
This is the question I was asked often when it comes to making steamed buns at home. If you use the premixed steamed buns flour that you bought from the store, the result usually is white in color. The answer is because of the flour. The flour has been treated or bleached to give you that white result. I like to use bleached cake flour (low gluten content).
2. DOES ADD VINEGAR TO THE STEAMING WATER HELP TO WHITEN THE STEAMED BUNS?
I tried that before several times and the answer is No. I thought it would work some magic, but it didn’t happen.
3. DO WHITE STEAMED BUNS TASTE BETTER?
Not necessarily. Don’t let the color fools you. Just because you produce some yellow buns, they can still be soft, fluffy and delicious! The color doesn’t really affect the taste.
4. MY STEAMED BUNS COLLAPSE OR COME OUT WRINKLY
Yes, over proofing is a problem too. When you let it proof for too long, it will weaken the dough and when you steam it, it will collapse and cause that wrinkle and the buns will spread to the side making them look wide and flat.
-Air bubbles and not shaping them smooth
Make sure you push all the air bubbles out after the first rise. Re-knead the though few times and then shape the buns. Make sure the surface of the buns are smooth or they will come out well..not smooth after steaming.
-Steaming over medium-high heat
When I steam the buns over medium-high heat, they always come out wrinkly. But once I adjust the heat to medium-low (almost low), the buns come out smooth.
-A sudden change in temperature
This is less likely the cause for severe wrinkles on the steamed buns, but the sudden change in temperature may sometimes cause the steamed buns to retract and sometimes even collapse and shrink causing the wrinkles once they cool down completely. Let them stay in the steamer for 3 minutes after you turn off the steamer.
-Another culprit usually is the filling inside the buns. Too much moisture in the filling will make the bun wrinkles and collapse too.
WHAT CAN YOU EXPECT FROM THIS SOFT FLUFFY ASIAN STEAMED BUN RECIPE?
1. If you stick to the instructions, you should be able to recreate these soft fluffy steamed buns at home every time and ULTRA SMOOTH TOO!
2. The steamed buns are soft, fluffy with cake-like texture.
3. This recipe can be used for other typed of steamed buns that are filled with savory or sweet fillings such as these:
Dou Sha Bao
Char Siu Bao
Pumpkin Flower Steamed Buns
Momofuku Steamed Buns
Just to mention a few!
HOW TO STORE AND REHEAT STEAMED BUNS
Storing: If you make extra and plan to store them, place them on a baking sheet, not touching each other, and then put the entire tray inside the freezer for about 1 hour. They will harden, but not completely frozen yet. Transfer to a freezer bag and they will not stick to each other anymore. Try not to keep for more than 1 month.
Reheating: They can go straight from freezer to steamer. Steam on medium-high heat for 5 minutes
So, yes you can still make soft fluffy steamed bao buns without any premixed flour and with just a few basic ingredients you probably already have at home! They won’t be as white as the ones in dim sum restaurants, but you won’t be disappointed either!
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How to Make Soft Fluffy Asian Steamed Buns Every Time (Bao Zi)
- Place the flour, instant yeast, sugar, and cooking oil in a mixing bowl. If you are using a stand mixer, use a dough hook attachment. Gradually add in milk or water. You may need more than 150 ml or not. Add more teaspoon by teaspoon until the dough comes together and continue to knead for 5 minutes. If you are kneading by hands, about 10 minutes until the dough is no longer sticky and smooth. Then add in the salt and continue to knead until the dough is smooth again
Shaping into ultra smooth round buns:
- Lightly dust your work surface with cake flour. Not too much. If you use a silicon pastry mat, you may not even need to dust with flour. Divide the dough into 12 equal portions. Keeping the dough covered and work with one dough at a time
- Roll the dough into a long strip
- Fold it like this
- Roll it into a long strip again and try to push out any air or bubbles if any. Repeat this process 2 more times
- Roughly roll it into a ball and then flatten with your palm into a circle
- Tuck the edge into the middle with your finger and then press with the palm of your hand and continue with this tuck and press motion until you go around all the edge about 2 rounds at least. Please refer to my short video to make more sense
- Then roll the dough into a smooth round ball in between the palm of your hand or as I did in the video. REALLY make sure the dough is smooth. If you going to fill the buns with filling, flatten the dough with your palm and then use a rolling pin to roll it out to form a circle about 4-5 inches, with a slightly thicker middle part. This is to support the weight of the filling. Don't roll the dough too thin. If you roll the dough too thin, the filling might make the steamed buns "wrinkle" later when you steam then gather the sides to enclose the bun and pinch to seal. Flip the bun so the seam side is down now
- Cup the dough with both palms and move the dough in a circular motion to shape it taller. This part is important so your steamed buns come out tall instead of spreading to the side after steaming
- Place on a piece of parchment paper. Lightly dab the surface of the bun with some milk using your finger to smooth the surface. Loosely cover with a saran wrapper or clean kitchen towel to prevent drying. Work with another dough and do the same
- Let the dough rise at room temperature. If it's winter where you are, you can use your oven "bread proof" function to let them proof in there, or simply turn on your oven to lowest temperature and then turn off and after 15 minutes, place the shaped buns in there to let them proof. They won't necessarily double in size, but at least puff up to about 50% of original size. This may take about 15 mins at warm temperature. Do not overproof your dough
- Most likely your steamer won't be able to accommodate steaming all buns at one go. You may need to steam in 2-3 batches, which means, the rest of the batches will sit longer and continue to proof while waiting for the steamer. Not good for the buns! Here's what you can do: Make sure the cover them with plastic wrap and then place them in the refrigerator to slow down the yeast activity or halt it all together until they are ready to be steamed
- Bring the water in your steamer to a boil. Wrap the lid of your steamer with a kitchen towel to prevent moisture dripping back on the steamed buns as this will create "burn" spots
- LOWER THE HEAT TO LOW (Yes, I type this in caps so you don't miss it!). Place the buns in there, leaving about 1-inch space in between and steamed on LOW heat for 8 minutes for medium buns like this
- After 8 minutes, turn off the heat. DO NOT OPEN THE LID of the steamer. Let the buns sit there for 3 minutes like this. The buns will not sink or wrinkle due to the sudden change in temperature
- Remove the buns to wire rack to let them cool down. This is to ensure the bottom of the steamed buns will not be wet and soggy
- If you make extra and plan to store them, place them on a baking sheet, not touching each other, and then put the entire tray inside the freezer for about 1 hour. They will harden, but not completely frozen yet. Transfer to a freezer bag and they will not stick to each other anymore. Try not to keep for more than 1 month
- They can go straight from freezer to steamer when you ready to eat them. Steam on high heat for 5 minutes and they are as good as new
- You can use active dry yeast, but make sure to rehydrate the yeast in water or milk with 1 tsp of sugar. It will dissolves and be all foamy, about 10 minutes. If it's not, your yeast is not longer good. You can add the rest of the sugar into the dough later
- You can also use 255 gr all-purpose flour (about 2 1/2 cups) + 45 gr (3/8 cups) cornstarch (or Chinese wheat starch (not wheat flour)) if you don't have cake flour. The texture is not really the same. Both are soft, but using cake flour has an even softer cake-like texture, which I like.