Steamed pork buns
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Steamed Chinese Buns (Bao) with Chicken or Char Shu Pork

Our friends Joanne and David made these pillowy Steamed Chinese Buns long before the term “bao” (short for “baozi”) became fashionable.  Fluffy and full of flavor, these buns rival those you’d get at any restaurant. The secret is the soft, enriched dough which puffs up high and airy in the steamer. Stuff it with Char Shu Pork or David’s Garlic-Ginger Chicken and you’ll be in bao heaven.

Joanne started making this lighter-than-air dough using a recipe she found in the 1986 issue of Better Homes and Gardens. David, who knows his way around a wok, created this luscious Garlic-Ginger Chicken filling to go with it.  We’ve also tacked on a sweet and salty Char Shu Pork filling (adapted from a recipe by Sheila Lukens) because, well, we like pork buns.

What makes the dough in this bun so special? We snooped around online and found that basic bao dough recipes call for simply flour, sugar, water or milk, yeast and sometimes baking powder. This bao has a couple of twists that could pump up the flavor and texture: warm milk and egg whites. Some say that warm milk can make an especially tender crumb. And maybe the egg whites, which foam when beaten, trap the air bubbles for a higher rise during steaming.

And this lovely dough comes together easily and quickly. While it rises, you can stir-fry David’s Garlic-Ginger Chicken filling. Char Shu Pork needs time to marinate, so it works best if made ahead and refrigerated (or frozen) until needed. Whichever filling you choose, you can sink your teeth into soft, hot bao just a couple of hours after you open your flour cannister.

Yes, pleating the buns takes some practice, and we frankly haven’t quite nailed the technique. Videos like this can help. But even an imperfect crimp still looks pretty good. And it won’t detract from the smooth, feather-light bread and the savory goodies tucked inside.  

So give this a try—these buns taste fabulous. In fact, they might even make you say, “Bao. Wow.”

Steamed Chinese Buns (Bao)

Adapted from Better Homes and Gardens Magazine, December 1986
You’ll need:
A two-tiered bamboo steamer
12 white paper cupcake liners lightly sprayed with vegetable oil (or small squares of parchment paper).

  • 3 ¼ – 3 ¾ cups flour
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable shortening (such as Crisco, but you can substitute butter or oil)
  • 2 ¼ teaspoons instant yeast (SAF Instant Yeast, or Red Star Quick-Rise Yeast)
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 egg whites
  • David’s Garlic-Ginger Chicken Filling or Char Shu Pork (recipes below)
  • Hoisin sauce for dipping
  1. Combine 1 cup flour and yeast in a large bowl.
  2. In a pan, heat milk, 2 tablespoons sugar, shortening and salt until warm (115º -120º) and shortening is almost melted.
  3. Add liquid to flour mixture. Add egg whites. Beat at low speed for 30 seconds, then on high speed for 3 minutes. Stir in as much flour as you can.
  4. Turn out on lightly floured surface. Knead in more flour, enough to make a moderately stiff dough (6-8 minutes). (Or mix in a food processor.)
  5. Place in a greased bowl. Turn to coat surface. Cover and let rest until nearly double (about 1 hour).
  6. Punch down dough. Divide into 12 pieces. Flatten each into about a 4” round. Roll it thin around the edges, leaving the dough thicker in the center.
  7. Put a scant ¼ cup filling in the center. Bring up edges, crimp and seal seams. Put seam-side-up in the oiled paper cupcake liners or onto squares of parchment paper. Evenly space six buns on each level of a two-tiered bamboo steamer. They will puff up to fill the space.
  8. Cover and let rise 20 minutes. In the meantime, boil water in a large rimmed pan that will hold the steamer. Reduce to a simmer.
  9. Carefully place steamer over the pan of simmering water and cover with the bamboo lid. Steam over medium heat about 20 minutes. Buns are done when the dough registers about 195° with an instant-read thermometer.
  10. Serve with hoisin sauce for dipping. Store leftover buns in a large zipper bag in the freezer.
  11. To serve from frozen, place buns onto a plate, cover with a damp paper towel, and microwave at 30-second intervals until hot and steamy.   

David’s Garlic-Ginger Chicken Filling

Makes enough for 12 buns

  • 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken, minced finely
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • Piece of ginger, the size of a quarter, peeled and minced
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon or more cornstarch mixed in a little water to form a slurry
    Note: A Miniprep food processor can help with the mincing.
  1. Fry the chicken in a wok in little bit of oil until no longer pink.  Add minced garlic and ginger, and cook for about 1 minute. Add soy and sugar. Thicken with the cornstarch slurry. Add a bit of water if it seems too dry. Adjust seasonings to taste.
  2. Cool to room temperature, as David says, “so it doesn’t kill the yeast beasties in the dough.” David uses the double boiler principle in reverse (cold water on the outside with the mixture pushed against sides of inner bowl to maximize surface area cooled).

Char Shu Pork Filling

Adapted from “Simply Delicious by Sheila Lukins, Parade Magazine, February 23, 2003
Makes enough for 12 buns

6 thick center-cut loin pork chops


  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons Asian sesame oil
  • 3 tablespoons hoisin sauce
  • 3 tablespoons dry sherry
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
  • 1 shallot, finely chopped
  • ½ teaspoon salt

Basting Sauce

  • 2-3 tablespoons honey
  • 1 teaspoon Asian sesame oil
  • ½ teaspoon Chinese hot chili sauce (or Sambal Oelek)

Finishing Sauce

  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch dissolved in ½ cup water (or more if needed)
  • Additional honey, soy sauce, hoisin, sherry or water if needed for flavor and sauce
  1. Mix marinade in a large bowl.
  2. Add the pork chops and toss to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours, turning a few times.
  3. Using one or two nonstick skillets, place pork chops in one layer over medium heat. Reserve marinade. Brown the chops lightly, about 5 minutes per side.
  4. Pour in remaining marinade and brush the chops with the honey basting sauce. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cover.
  5. Cook, turning the chops after 8 minutes, until they are just cooked through, up to about 15 minutes. (It will take less time for thinner chops.)
  6. Transfer meat to a plate or cutting board. Reserve the sauce but remove and discard bones. Mince the meat.
  7. Return meat to pan with any remaining sauce. Mix in cornstarch finishing sauce and cook on medium just until thickened. Adjust seasonings to taste. If too dry, add more honey, soy sauce, hoisin sauce, sherry and/or water to taste. If too wet, thicken with more cornstarch. The meat should be moist with sauce, but not be too wet.
  8. Cool meat before filling buns. Refrigerate or freeze filling for later use. Recipe needs about three or more cups of filling, and there will probably be some left over. 
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