Vegetarian Bao

Whether you call them Bao, Baozi, or Bau, these doughy buns can be filled with any delicious combination of ingredients that strikes your fancy. Meats slathered in sauce are traditional but I’ve made these with roasted vegetables, mushrooms, and today, some more traditional Chinese flavors in honor of Lunar New Year.

Truthfully, I made these on the New Year but spent last week completely immersed in some work stuffs and an amazing EatWith dinner we hosted last Friday night. Gathered at our table was probably the most varied group of people we’ve had to date. Our guests were incredibly interesting folks who represented different generations and countries. I was so thrilled to be sharing our table with them.

Even though we’re about a week late (on the blog) to celebrate Chinese New Year, bao are an anytime food. I’m even working on crafting some breakfast bao – which is how they’re usually eaten! For breakfast that is, not necessarily with the egg yolk I’m trying to engineer to stay inside the bao. The dough is pillowy, sweet, and takes on the flavors of what you choose to fill it with.
They also take very little time to make and would serve as a great snack or as hors d’oeuvres at your next party since they fit so nicely in a hand and, depending what you put inside, aren’t terribly messy.
It’s also a good to make them when other people are around because they’re best when eaten right away and, trust me, you’ll feel pretty terrible after  eating a (nearly) full batch of them.

You don’t need any special equipment to make these happen. I use a metal steamer basket in a stock pot to steam them. Every time I walk down the Bowery I’m eying the bamboo steamer boxes but I have limited enough space already and the same piece of equipment that steams my broccoli does a find job of steaming my buns…er, bao!

Next time you have a couple of hours free, give these a shot. It takes a little practice filling and sealing the buns and the day that I made these I was a bit out of practice. Here’s a video that beautifully demonstrates how to create the petal-like seal. I might be making some more of these soon to work on my form. Keep an eye on my Instagram account (@SaritWish) for more bao soon! Did you do or eat anything special to celebrate the Lunar New Year?

Vegetarian Bao

Serves: 8 Buns

Ingredients
  • 2 cups white all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp instant yeast
  • 4 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 1 Tbsp sesame oil (or you can use another oil if you don't have sesame!)
  • ½ cup warm (not hot!) water
Instructions
  1. Whisk together the dry ingredients in a large bowl.
  2. Drizzle in the sesame oil and mix lightly. Add the water and mix together. As the dough begins to come together, take it out of the bowl and onto a surface to knead. Knead until smooth (a few minutes).
  3. Place the dough ball into a clean bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Place it in a larger bowl that has a couple inches of hot water at the bottom and place the bowls in the oven (I like to warm it to 170°F or the lowest temp and shut it off) or in a warm, draft-free place for a half an hour or until the dough doubles in size.
  4. Meanwhile, make your filling. I don't have an exact recipe to share here but I used a combination of steamed boy choy, shitake mushrooms, and scallions all chopped up and tossed with some chile pepper, minced ginger, soy sauce, sesame oil, and hoisin sauce and threw some crushed peanuts on top before sealing up the bao. Throw in some roasted veggies is or sauté some eggplant or tofu! Mix up whatever ingredients you have on hand and let the bao be your delicious blank canvas.
  5. Once the dough has risen, take it out and lightly press the air out of it. Divide into 8 equal pieces, and with a little oil on your palms, roll into balls and place them under a wet kitchen towel to rest for about 10-15 min.
  6. While the dough is resting again get your steaming vessel ready. I used a stockpot with a few inches of boiling water and my metal steamer basket. You can also use a bamboo basket or rice cooker. Also, cut out 8 squares of parchment or wax paper. You'll place your buns on the paper to keep them from sticking during steaming.
  7. After 10-15 min, once the buns are well rested and have puffed up a little more, you're ready to fill! Roll out each ball in a circle to about 4/4.5 inches in diameter. Try to leave the center of the circle a little thicker to help hold your filling. Place a small ball of your filling in the middle and begin to seal the bao by pleating along the edges.
  8. Unless you have a very large steamer you'll need to work in batches. If you're using a steamer basket like a did, place the buns with their paper bottoms in the basket. Drape a towel over the top and then cover the pot with the lid. The towel will help keep the steam inside! Let them steam for about 15 min-18 min.
  9. Take them out carefully, wait a couple minutes so they cool a little, and enjoy!