We've been doing a lot of experimental cooking during the pandemic, much as everyone else has been. Some notable highlights have been the TikTok Baked Feta pasta dish (with our garden basil, some added whole garlic, and sundried tomatoes because why not riff?), the Lion's Mane crab cakes which surprised us by how GOOD they were, and the usual meanderings about sourdough, which are too numerous to actually link, though I ended up basing my experiments off of The Woks of Life's dad's recipe, as he went at it like an engineer.
All good things, but Jet recently asked me for my bao recipe, AND he asked for all the changes I made to it for our food. Jet knows me way too well. So I'm gonna write it up as I would make it. The only reference I have is the Wei-Chuan's cookbook "Chinese Snacks" and it's entirely for the dough, not the filling, and I've modified it heavily for baking at 5000 feet.
Dough Ingredients and Instructions
6 c flour
1/4 c sugar
2 c warm water
2 tsp instant yeast
2 tsp baking powder
2 T coconut oil
To make the dough, just mix it all together, knead it until smooth (about 3-5 minutes, don't over knead) and then let it rest in a bowl at room temp for about an hour until it's doubled, it's okay to let it go longer until it's tripled in bulk, so if you forget about it, it's not a problem.
Filling Ingredients and Instructions
1 lb ground pork (or crumbled tofu or chicken or a mix of chicken and pork or... you get the idea)
1 lb green leafy vegetable (cabbage, bok choy, napa cabbage, spinach, etc will all do)
1 bunch allium (about the equivalent of a whole bunch of green onions, but you can use garlic scapes, garlic chives, chives, etc instead of green onions, but you can also do scallions or green onions if you can only find those)
Ginger to taste (I usually do about a tablespoon finely minced)
Garlic to taste (With Jet in the house it's 2 or 3 cloves, otherwise I actually skip this, but mince it very finely.)
3 Tbs soy (a very long pour... uhm....)
3 Tbs Xiaoshing wine (dry sherry will do too or any white wine)
1 tsp sesame oil, toasted if you can get it
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp five spice powder (a recent addition that I like a lot) or just some grinds of black or white pepper
- With the leafy greens, you have to blanch them until just cooked through (10 minutes for most of them), and shock them after in an ice water bath to stop the cooking. Chop them thoroughly (but not as finely as the ginger and garlic) and then squeeze all the water out of them.
- In a large mixing bowl, put the ground protein with all the seasonings and mix thoroughly, then add the vegetable mass and the alliums. Then either dat the mixture (picking it up and slamming it against the wall of the bowl) or mix it until strands of proteins start to form between clumps of meat. You have to break down the proteins enough so that they start binding across elements in the filling mix, because that will make for a more coherent filling ball in the bao when it's cooked.
How to Fill and Steam
I'm gonna cheat. Seonk Young did a fun video of her pan-fried dumplings, which are quite good, but the dough in her recipe is about HALF what she says it ought to be (there's only 20 ounces of finished dough instead of the 40 she says there ought to be but it does fit the amount of filling she calls out). Still, she does a really good demonstration of How To Roll Out the Dough and Fill a Bao
, which I've linked there with the time stamp of when she demonstrates that. And about an ounce of dough per dumpling is about right, but you can always go more or less and adjust the amount of steaming time up or down a minute or two for the size to make sure that they cook through to the center.
So that's how to fill your bao.
When you've finished filling a level of your steamer, start to heat the water to a boil for your steamer. There has to be a delay between when they're finished being shaped and when you actually steam them to allow the yeast to do its work of rising and multiplying in the bao skins. They need to stand for at least 10 minutes between when you're finished shaping them and when they go into the steamer. I think we steam them for 12 minutes, which is surprisingly short, but it seems to cook them through the center. Still, taste test the first batch to be sure it's cooked through and adjust the timing as needed.