Learn how to make soft fluffy Chinese Steamed Buns. All the tips you need to know and a step-by-step video to help you make smooth soft steamed buns with this recipe.
Are you getting tired of making steamed buns that come out wrinkly or collapse or simply just not smooth? I used to wonder why in the world a perfectly proofed buns come out horrible after steaming. As you read through the post below, you will find the reasons why. Making basic steamed buns is not complicated if you get the right tips and of course like they say practice makes perfect. Let’s get started guys!
WHAT MAKES SOFT AND FLUFFY STEAMED BUNS?
Basic plain steamed buns recipe only need 5 ingredients: flour (more in details on the type of flour), instant yeast, cooking oil, sugar, and salt. Simple as that.
1. The flour you use
Here are what I’ve tried and the family really like:
1. All-purpose flour + wheat starch
2. Cake flour
3. Premixed Hongkong/Vietnamese bao flour
If you don’t have any of the above, try this combination: all-purpose flour + cornstarch
Like in many cases, the oil helps to make the dough soft and not dried out (sort of like a moisturizer)
You can use active dry yeast, instant yeast (which is what I use), and fresh yeast. 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 or fresh yeast because it saves time 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.
If you use fresh yeast, the general rule of thumb is to use 4 times the amount of instant yeast. So in this case, 4 grams of instant yeast would be 16 grams of fresh yeast.
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
In general, any type of instant yeast will work. 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 a 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, not a big issue just a tad longer.
SOFT FLUFFY CHINESE STEAMED BUNS (MANTOU) STEP-BY-STEP MAKING GUIDE
1. MAKE THE DOUGH
Place the flour, instant yeast, sugar, in a mixing bowl. If you are using a stand mixer, use a dough hook attachment. Add cold milk or room temperature water. Add cooking oil. You may need to add more milk/water if the dough is still a bit dry. Add more teaspoon by teaspoon until the dough comes together and continue to knead for 5 minutes.
Then add in the salt and continue to knead until the dough is smooth again
Wrap the dough with a plastic wrap and let it rest for 15 minutes before shaping
2. SHAPE AND SMOOTH THE DOUGH
Divide the dough into 10-12 equal portion (depends on how small or big you want the steamed buns to be)
Work with one dough at a time
Pull and tuck the dough from top to bottom so the seams are at the bottom and the surface is relatively smooth
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.
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
Lightly dab the surface of the bun with some milk using your finger to smooth the surface.
Place on a piece of parchment paper.
3. PROOF ONLY ONCE
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 the lowest temperature and then turn off and after 15 minutes, place the shaped buns in there to let them proof until about 50% of the original size
4. STEAM THE BUNS
Bring the water in the steamer to a boil. Wrap the lid of the steamer with a cloth
LOWER THE HEAT TO MEDIUM. Place the buns in there, leaving about 1-inch space in between. Close the lid and leave about 1/4-inch of gap to let some steam escape
Steam for 15 minutes for medium to large buns with no filling, 18 minutes for larger buns with filling
After steaming, turn off the heat. DO NOT OPEN THE LID of the steamer. Let the buns sit there for 5 minutes like this. The buns will not sink or wrinkle due to the sudden change in temperature
COOK’S TIPS TO MAKE 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 results sometimes with the steamed buns being not smooth. Here are some tips I’ve learned after making LOTS of steamed buns:
1. USE ROOM TEMPERATURE OR COLD LIQUID
Instead of using warm liquid (milk or water), I start with room temperature liquid, such as cold milk or room temperature water. 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
2. SMOOTH AND SHAPE IT TALL
Please refer to the video in the recipe card below to see how few simple steps can help you to make the buns smooth, round, and tall
3. ONLY PROOF ONCE
It takes about 10-15 minutes (usually not longer than that, but don’t go by time) for the dough to rise to about 50% of its original size at a warm temperature (between 75-95 F / 24-35 C). If it’s colder where you are, it will take longer.
4. 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
5. STEAM THE BUNS OVER MEDIUM HEAT
High heat will make the buns not smooth and expand to the side. I set the fire in between on medium now. I used to do Medium-high 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-medium heat
6. LEAVE ABOUT 1/4-INCH GAP TO LET STEAM ESCAPE DURING STEAMING
I’ve tested this method several times and the results were pretty good when you steam over medium heat this way, by leaving about 1/4-inch gap between the lid and the pot. Even when you have overproof the steamed buns, the steamed buns do not collapse and wrinkle
7. DON’T RUSH TO OPEN THE LID AFTER STEAMING
Let the steamed buns rest in the steamer for 5 minutes or so before opening the lid so your steamed buns won’t collapse and shrink due to the sudden change in temperature
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT CHINESE STEAMED BUNS
I have made steamed buns for A LOT in the past few years 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. WHAT TO SUBSTITUTE FOR CAKE FLOUR?
Here in the U.S., cake flour is widely available, but it has brought to my attention that cake flour is not available or any bleached flour is banned in Europe and Australia. You can use regular plain flour (we call it all-purpose flour in the U.S.) and add cornstarch to it. Here’s how to make homemade cake flour: For every 1 cup of plain flour (about 115 gr) add 2 Tbsp of cornstarch. This will help to soften the steamed buns compared to just using all plain flour. DO NOT SUBSTITUTE CAKE FLOUR WITH SPONGE MIX (Cake flour is not available in Europe and sponge mix is more common).
2. WHY 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. You don’t have to use bleached flour. Regular unbleached flour will still give you great steamed buns.
3. DOES VINEGAR HELP TO WHITEN 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.
4. 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.
5. STEAMED BUNS COLLAPSE OR COME OUT WRINKLY
-Make sure the liquid is not warm
You want to start the dough “cold” by using cold milk or at least room temperature water. So the yeast is not active while you are shaping the dough, which creates lots of air bubbles and hence, an unsmooth surface.
-Overproofing (read how to tell if the dough is done proofing and how to prevent overproofing below)
Yes, over proofing is a problem too. When you let the dough proofs 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 resting for 15 minutes. Re-knead the though few times and then fill and shape the buns according to what you want to do. Make sure the surface of the buns are smooth or they will come out well..not smooth after steaming.
-Steaming over high heat
When I steam the buns over high heat, they always come out bumpy and simply not smooth. But once I adjust the heat to medium with the lid slightly ajar, 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.
6. HOW TO TELL IF THE SHAPED DOUGH IS DONE PROOFING AND READY FOR STEAMING
They won’t increase in size by much, ideally, only about 50% of its original size
The dough feels light and airy when you lift it up, no longer dense and heavy like dough before you shape them
3. FINGER TEST
When you gently push on the dough, it will leave an indentation but will spring back slowly. This dough is perfectly proofed. If it springs back right away, it needs to be proofed a bit longer. If it never springs back, then you have over proofed the dough
7. HOW TO STOP THE DOUGH FROM PROOFING?
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
8. HOW TO RESCUE OVER-PROOFED DOUGH?
So, you did a finger test, you gently push on the dough and it never springs back. Ouch!! over-proofed! If you continue to steam them, they will collapse and come out dense. Here’s how to fix it: Gently push down on the dough to flatten and then reshape it and let it proof again follow the same instruction as before for proofing
9. HOW TO STEAM BUNS WITHOUT A STEAMER OR BAMBOO BASKET
You don’t need actual food steamer or bamboo basket to steam food. I don’t have any food steamer. You can set up by using:
– Large wok/large pot with a lid
– Metal trivet or wide and low heat-proof glass jar: this is to put a plate/tray on top for the food you want to steam
– A heat-proof plate or tray (that can fit into your wok or pot) to sit on top of the trivet: this is where you put the buns to be steamed
10. HOW TO STORE AND REHEAT STEAMED BUNS
Storing: If you make extra and plan to store them, let the already steamed buns cool down completely and then 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 the freezer to steamer. Steam on medium-high heat for 5 minutes
THIS RECIPE CAN BE USED FOR OTHER STEAMED BUNS WITH FILLINGS
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 Pork Buns
Easy Sweet Piggy Steamed Buns
Scallion Steamed Buns (Hua Juan)-2 ways
Spiral Mantou Recipe
Pandan Liu Sha Bao
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!
*I continue to update this post as I discover or learn something new when I make steamed buns to make sure others can replicate the same result (if not better!)*
I highly encourage to weigh ingredients with a digital kitchen scale instead of using measuring cups as they are not very accurate especially when it comes to recipe that requires precision.GRAMS TO CUPS CONVERSION (UNSIFTED)
- 300 gr all-purpose flour - About 2 cups + 2 1/2 Tbsp (unsifted), plus more for dusting. See note 4
- 60 gr Wheat starch - about 1/2 cup (unsifted), or use cornstarch or potato starch (not potato flour)
- 4 gr Instant yeast - About 1 1/4 tsp, see note 1,2,3
- 60 gr sugar - 5 Tbsp, you can cut down on the sugar or add more to your taste
- 1 Tbsp cooking oil
- 1/2 tsp salt - optional
- Start with 150 ml (about 2/3 cup) of milk or water (make sure it's cold or room temperature, NOT warm) - plus more to dab the surface of the buns later, see note 5
Prepare the dough with a machine:
- Place the all the flour, cornstarch/wheat starch, instant yeast, sugar, oil in a mixing bowl. If you are using a stand mixer, use a dough hook attachment. Add cold milk or room temperature water. If I use cake flour, I need less liquid, but if I use combination of all-purpose flour and cornstarch, I need close to 200 ml of liquid. So, start with 150 ml and add more until you can form a dough. You will most likely need to add more milk/water if the dough is still a bit dry. I would rather you start with a the lowest amount of liquid and add more teaspoon by teaspoon until the dough comes together and continue to knead for 5 minutes
Prepare the dough by hands:
- Place the all the flour, cornstarch/wheat starch, instant yeast, sugar, and oil in a mixing bowl. Start with 150 ml of liquid, most likely you will need more liquid than called for in the recipe. Mix until you get a rough dough (it's not going to be smooth yet). Cover and rest it for 15 minutes. Then go back and knead it. You'll be surprised by how easier it is to knead it now. Knead until the dough is smooth and pliable, about 10-15 minutes. At any point during kneading, you can always stop and rest the dough if you find it hard to knead. This is to relax the gluten. Then go back to knead again and you'll be surprised by the difference it makes by just resting the dough before kneading again. It's easier for you too
Rest the dough (to relax the gluten, not to proof the dough):
- Cover and rest the dough for 15 minutes. This is not to proof the dough. It shouldn't double in size. This is to relax the gluten for easier shaping and rolling the dough, then proceed to next step that's applicable to you
If you are going to make steamed buns with filling:
- Divide the dough into 12 equal portions. Lightly dust the work surface with some flour. Work with one dough at a time. Knead the dough a few times to push out any air bubbles (if any). 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. Place the filling at the center and 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. Repeat with the rest of the dough. Cover with a clean kitchen towel and proceed to proofing
If you are just making plain steamed buns with no filling (round shape):
- Divide the dough into 12 equal portions. Lightly dust the work surface with some flour. Work with one dough at a time. Knead the dough a few times to push out any air bubbles (if any)
- Then pull and tuck the dough so the seams are at the bottom and the surface is smooth and round. 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.
- 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 clean kitchen towel to prevent drying. Work with another dough and do the same. Proceed to proofing after that
For mantou shape:
- Roll the dough into a long log and use a dough cutter to cut into 8 equal portions using serrated knife is best so it won't squish the dough down. Lightly dab the surface of the bun with some milk using your finger to smooth the surface. Proceed to proofing step below
- Let the dough rise at room temperature or at a warm place. 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 10-15 mins at warm temperature. For active dry yeast and fresh yeast, you may need a bit longer for it to proof compare to instant yeast. If you use more sugar in the recipe, you may need to proof a bit longer too. Do not overproof your dough however
- How do you know if your buns have proofed ? They will be about 50% bigger than their original size AND when you lift them up, they should feel lighter. If not, let them proof a bit longer. They won't visually look bigger. Use a finger test too. When you gently push on the dough, it will leave an indentation but it will spring back slowly. This dough is perfectly proofed. If it springs back right away, it needs to be proofed a bit longer. If it never springs back, then you have over proofed the dough. Read above on FAQ on how to rescue over-proofed dough
- Most likely your steamer won't be able to accommodate steaming all buns at one go, unless you have something like this 3-tier food steamer (which I really love). 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 to 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 MEDIUM. Place the buns in there, leaving about 1-inch space in between. Cover with a lid but leaving it about 1/4-inch gap for some steam to escape. Steam on medium heat for 15 minutes for plain medium-large buns with no filling, 20 minutes for large buns with raw meat filling. This is especially important if you see that you have overproof the steamed buns (the steamed buns have doubled in size and they have widened to the side). As long as you steam them like this, the buns will not wrinkle and collapse later when you take them out from the steamer
- After steaming, turn off the heat. DO NOT OPEN THE LID of the steamer. Let the buns sit there for 5 minutes or longer like this. The buns will not sink or wrinkle due to the sudden change in temperature
- Immediately 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, let the already steamed buns cooled down completely and then 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 dissolve and be all foamy, about 10 minutes. If it's not, your yeast is no longer good. You can add the rest of the sugar into the dough later
- You can also use fresh yeast, the amount would be 4 x the amount of instant yeast. So you'll need 16 grams of fresh yeast
- I highly recommend testing the yeast for activity before starting to work on this recipe. You don't want to wait for hours only to find out your yeast is no longer good. Here's how:
Add 1 teaspoon of sugar and 2 1/4 teaspoons of yeast (one envelope) to 1/4 cup of warm water. Wait for 10 minutes and if you see foams and bubbles and you smell that yeast aroma, your yeast is still good to go. If not, then you need to get fresh yeast.
- You can also replace all 300 gr of all-purpose flour and 60 gr cornstarch/wheat starch with 360 gr of cake flour or premixed Hongkong/Vietnamese bao flour and omit the wheat starch/corn starch.
- I recommend to start with small amount of liquid and add more as you go because it really depends on the type of flour you use (they absorb liquid differently) and that's why I can't give you an exact amount but 150 ml is a good start and add as you go.
These Soft and Fluffy No-Yeast Chinese Steamed Buns are so good and super easy to make! Worth checking out especially if you don’t like to work with yeast or just don’t have any yeast on hand!
ALSO CHECK OUT THIS SOFT AND FLUFFY WHOLE WHEAT (WHOLEMEAL) STEAMED BUNS!
DID YOU MAKE THIS SOFT FLUFFY STEAMED BUNS RECIPE?
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