Start with 150 ml (about 1/2 cup) to 185 ml of milk or water (room temperature)You may need more if you add more sugar, plus more to dab the buns later
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. 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
Wrap the dough with a plastic wrap and let it rest for 15 minutes before shaping. This rest is not to let the dough rise. It's just a rest so the gluten relaxes and easier to shape the buns.
Shaping into ultra smooth round buns:
Lightly dust your work surface with all-purpose 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
Pull and tuck the dough from top to bottom so the seams are at the bottom and the surface is relatively smooth
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. 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:
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
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 10-15 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 5-5 minutes for plain medium-large buns with no filling, 10-12 minutes for large buns with filling
After steaming, turn off the heat. DO NOT OPEN THE LID of the steamer. Let the buns sit there for 1 minute 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, 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 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 replace all 300 gr of all-purpose flour with cake flour or premixed Hongkong/Vietnamese bao flour and omit the wheat starch/corn starch.