Bao dough

Bao dough

By
From
Hong Kong Diner
Makes
10 large or 16–20 mini bao
Photographer
Kris Kirkham

Fluffy, pillowy white baos hit China, Hong Kong and Japan many years ago, but it wasn’t until recently that they became a MAINSTREAM STREET SNACK in the West. With our clear love of burgers and all things bread, it’s no wonder these softer, slightly sweeter breads are so MOREISH, no matter where in the world we are. The airy texture is great for mopping up sauces, while their firmness makes them the perfect bun to keep a sandwich together. This simple bao dough recipe will get you going, but be warned, trying out new shapes is addictive!

Ingredients

Quantity Ingredient

The dry mix

Quantity Ingredient
530g middle-gluten wheat flour, swapsies: plain flour/ all-purpose flour) plus extra for dusting
1/2 teaspoon salt
7g fast-action dried yeast
40g caster sugar
15g baking powder

The liquid

Quantity Ingredient
50ml milk
200-250ml warm water, (depending on how humid your room feels – if the air feels very dry you’ll want to add a little more water, but if it is very humid, less is required)
25ml vegetable or sunflower oil

Method

  1. Put the dry mix ingredients into the bowl of a free-standing mixer fitted with a dough hook attachment.
  2. Mix the liquid ingredients in a measuring jug. Then slowly pour the liquid into the mixer while kneading on a low speed for around 2 minutes, until all the water is mixed into the flour. Once combined, turn the speed up to high for a further 2 minutes, until the dough has a smooth yet tacky feel to it.
  3. Once the dough has been well kneaded, dust it with 2 tablespoons of flour. Shape the dough into a rough ball, scraping off any additional dough on the sides of the bowl, then coat it lightly with 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil, put it back into the bowl, cover with a damp cloth and leave aside in a warm, preferably moist, draught-free location (such as inside a room-temperature oven) for 1–1 1/2 hours.
  4. Once the dough has doubled in size, you can make it into whatever shapes you wish before steaming. Steaming time will vary between 8 and 15 minutes, depending on the shape and size of your finished buns (the thinner the bun, the shorter the steaming time).
  5. This bao dough is classically a type of steamed bread dough that originated from northern China for making breads such as mantou (a pure steamed bread for mopping up sauces) or baozi (a filled steamed bread). It is a simple yeast dough that rises over time when proved at the right temperature, making it much easier to make than most people think. After the first 1 1/2 hours of proving, the dough can be shaped into burgers, hirata buns, or even more classic dumpling shapes, to hold whatever filling suits you best. Here are some simple shapes to start with, followed by some delicious fillings you can use to mix and match your baos.
  6. Hirata bao: the sandwich

    Roll the proved bao dough out until completely flat and roughly 4mm in thickness, then cut into either rectangles or circles. If cutting circles, roll them out again once cut, to make elongated oval shapes. Once all the shapes have been cut, lightly brush the top of each one with a dab of vegetable oil. Place an oiled chopstick across the centre of each piece of dough and fold one side over the top to form a ‘lip’, then remove the chopstick. Once you have made the sandwich shapes, cover with a damp cloth and set aside to rest for 15–20 minutes.
  7. Burger bao: the slider

    To make a burger-shaped bao, roll the proved bao dough into a long cylinder, roughly 3–4cm in diameter, then cut the cylinder into 3–4cm thick pieces. Roll each piece of dough in your hands to form a smooth ball. Take a ball of dough and press down firmly with the palm of your hand to form a flattened circle. Brush with a little dab of vegetable oil, then place another piece of dough on top. Slightly dome or cup your hand and press down once more to form the 2 halves of your burger bun shape, the bottom bun being completely flat and the top being domed. Repeat until all the dough has been used. Once you have made your burger bao shapes, cover with a damp cloth and set aside to rest for 15–20 minutes.
  8. Filled bao: the snowball

    Putting filling into a bao takes a little practice. First, much like the burger bao fold, roll the proved bao dough into a long cylinder, roughly 3–4cm in diameter, then cut the cylinder into 3–4cm thick pieces. Roll each piece of dough in your hands to form a smooth ball. Take a ball of dough and press down firmly with the palm of your hand to form a flattened circle. Then run your thumbs and index fingers around the outside of the circle of dough, while pressing down relatively firmly, to make the circle big enough to place a teaspoon or so of filling inside. Once you have added the filling of your choice, hold the dough lightly in the cupped fingertips of your non-dominant hand. Now, using the thumb and index finger of your dominant hand, start to bring the sides of the dough up around the sides of the filling until you are able to close the filled bao entirely. Tightly pinch the dough together at the top of the bao, while twisting the very top and maintaining a smooth sphere around the sides. Turn it over once and place on the work surface, twisted side down. Cover with a damp cloth and set aside to rest for a further 15–20 minutes.
  9. Traditional bao: the bao master

    This fold is for those who want to become true bao masters and are equally ready for moments of frustration before getting it right. It takes work, but in my opinion it’s work worth doing.
  10. Rolling the dough

    First, roll a third of the rested dough into a long cylinder, roughly 2.5cm thick, keeping the remainder of the dough covered so it doesn’t dry out. Cut the cylinder into 2.5cm chunks, then roll each piece of dough into a small ball and set aside.

    Dust a work surface with a good amount of plain flour (all-purpose flour) or medium-gluten wheat flour.
  11. Take a piece of dough and push down on to it to form a small circle. With the dough still resting on the floured surface, with your left hand or non-dominant hand, using your thumb and fingers underneath the edge of the dough, begin to turn the dough anticlockwise, with the base of the pastry sitting on the surface at all times. (I use my middle finger as the ‘hub’ to the wheel of pastry.)
  12. While you are turning the pastry, using your right or dominant hand along with a small rolling pin, with a relevant amount of force roll inwards towards the centre of the forming circle, allowing the pressure to ease up when rolling outwards towards the edges of the circle. Turn the pastry clockwise with your nondominant hand and continue this rolling process, eventually forming a small circle with a slightly thicker hump of dough in the middle of the pastry. This thickness will help to protect the filling from breaking through the thin pastry, keeping your dumpling perfectly intact.
  13. Folding the dough – the money bag pleat

    Place 1 teaspoon or so of filling in the centre of the dough, holding the dough lightly in the fingertips of your non-dominant hand. Holding your thumb on the outside and towards the base of the pastry, carefully create pencil pleat after pencil pleat of pastry, one on top of each other, much like how a curtain folds when drawn along a rail, taking care not to rip the pastry, turning the bao slowly with your non-dominant hand so the pleats wrap around the entire dumpling.
  14. Keep folding over each other until you get halfway around the pastry with your pleats, keeping your left thumb lightly over the top of the filling to keep it in the centre of your pastry and stop it falling out.
  15. Once you have reached halfway, tilt your non-dominant hand, the one that is holding the pastry, slightly upwards, as if giving yourself a ‘thumbs up’ while staring at the inside of your fingertips. Now continue with the pencil pleats, using your dominant thumb and index finger, by twisting into the pastry and continuing to pinch the outside together to form the pleats. Continue with the pleat until you get to the end of your pastry, then twist into the top of the pastry once or twice and pinch the centre of the dough together to seal the bao and make ‘the money bag’ shape.
  16. If you get this far, give yourself a pat on the back and repeat until you have used all the dough. Cover the bao shapes with a damp cloth and set aside to rest for a further 15–20 minutes.

Cooking method

  • The same cooking method is used for all of the bao shapes.

    Place bao on squares of greaseproof paper and then steam for 8–15 minutes (depending on the size of your bao) in a covered steam basket, inside a wok half-filled with boiling water, without opening the lid, until cooked through and risen well.
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