I think we can all agree that “savory, filled dough pocket” is the most delicious food category on this beautiful planet we call home. Empanadas, gyoza, ravioli, pierogies, samosas. They’re all so different, but they all take me to sweet, sweet ecstasy! I especially love bao, soft, puffy steamed buns with savory fillings. I’ve been intimidated by them for a while because they require a yeast dough, but they ended up being pretty easy! They just require some time and patience. They can be filled with anything your little heart desires. This filling was very delicious– savory, rich but not heavy, and salty with a bit of bite from the vinegar.
For the dough
3 c. all–purpose flour
2 tsp. instant yeast
1 tsp. baking powder
3 to 4 tbsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tbsp. sesame oil
1/2 c. stock, nondairy milk, or water
For the filling
1/2 tbsp. sesame oil
1/2 tbsp. vegetable oil
1 pint mushrooms (whatever kind you prefer– I just used baby bella)
1/2 medium onion (about 1/2 cup chopped)
1 rib of celery
3 cloves garlic
1 knob of ginger, about 1 in.
2 tbsp. soy sauce
1 tbsp. rice vinegar
1 tsp. maple syrup
1/2 tsp. smoked paprika
1/2 tbsp. red miso paste
- In a bowl, mix the flour, yeast, baking powder, sugar, and salt together so that everything is evenly distributed (a whisk is useful here).
- In another bowl or liquid measuring cup, combine the broth and the sesame oil. Heat lightly in the microwave (could also be done on the stove) until lukewarm.
- Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir to combine until the dough starts coming together. Once it’s pretty chunky, knead the dough (you can do this in the bowl, which is what I did, or turn it out onto a floured surface) until it’s smooth. Place the dough ball into a bowl and cover it with something (I used a Pyrex bowl with a lid so I didn’t have to use plastic wrap, but that’s what most recipes say to use).
- Let the dough rise for 30-60 minutes, until it just about doubles in size.
- While the dough rises, you can work on the filling! First, prep your vegetables. Dice the celery, mushrooms, and onions. Julienne the carrots. Mince the garlic. Peel the ginger.
- Heat the vegetable oil and sesame oil in a skillet or wok over medium-high heat. Once the oil is hot, add your onions, carrots, and celery. Saute for about 4 minutes, or until the onions are somewhat translucent. Then add the mushrooms and garlic, and grate the ginger into the filling. Let cook for a few more minutes longer.
- Once the vegetables are soft and a little bit browned, add the soy sauce, rice vinegar, maple syrup, smoked paprika, and miso paste. Stir. Cook for another couple of minutes until the liquid is almost fully absorbed by the vegetables. When it’s fully cooked, remove the filling from the heat to let cool before forming the buns.
- Now it’s time to make the buns! Whoohoo! Uncover your dough, and knead it lightly to deflate it a bit. You can do this next step a couple of ways: you can either roll the dough out and cut it into equal pieces before rolling those pieces into little balls, or you can just pull pieces of dough off as you go. Doesn’t really matter. Cutting all the pieces first will probably result in slightly more consistently-sized buns.
- Once you have your little piece of dough using whichever method, roll it into a ball in your hands. Then roll the dough ball into a flat circle, about 3-4 inches in diameter. Put a teaspoon or so of filling in the middle, and then seal the bun by forming pleats. (Or do whatever you have to to get it to stay shut.) While you’re working, keep the unformed dough and the formed but unsteamed buns until a damp towl to keep them from drying out.
- When you’re ready to steam, prepare whatever steaming method you’re using (I used a metal steamer and a small pot). Turn the heat on medium, and put parchment paper on the bottom of the steamer. Once the water is gently simmering, put the buns in the steamer and the steamer into the pot. Steam for about 15 minutes. The buns should get puffy and big. It’s hard to feel confident that the buns are done if this is your first time making them; they should be springy to the touch (when you poke them, the bread bounces back) and cooked on the outside. (This might just be trial and error. But 15 minutes of steaming on a very low simmer was enough for all of my buns, and they were a variety of sizes. So hopefully 15 minutes will not lead you astray.)
- Yum!!! You have bao!! You can now eat your first batch and steam the next batch, and then eat those, and steam more….on and on until your appetite for steamed buns is satiated (never). These are yummy by themselves, with soy sauce, with sweet chili sauce, with hoisin sauce, and probably with other sauces I don’t know about.