I like steamed buns and have made them a few times before. Way back in 2009, the Bread Baking Babes a.ka. BBBs made Steamed Flower Buns. Then in 2018, we made Steamed Bao Buns. India has its own version of steamed buns, albeit a Tibetan dish, called Tingmos or Ting Momos. The BBBs are making them again as Judy picked Chinese Stuffed Steamed Buns for us to make this month. The recipe is adapted from Mooncakes and Milk Bread by Christina Cho.
Bao/ Baozi or Mantou are Chinese steam cooked plain or stuffed leavened buns served with dipping sauces. Is the Bao and Mantou the same thing or different? They’re both Chinese steamed buns. Generally, Mantou are plain buns while Bao are stuffed. There is an opinion that the Bao is fluffier in texture while the Mantou is denser. It turns out the originally, Mantou was used for both plain and stuffed buns. Later the term Baozi was used for stuffed buns, while Mantou was the name for plain bus.
The earliest mention of steamed buns is in texts dating 2000 years ago, much before the famous terra cotta warriors of the Qin Emperor of China! The word “Mantou” apparently meant “barbarians”, and there’s an interesting story there.
The invention of Mantou is credited to Zhuge Liang (AD 181-234), a chancellor of the Shu Kingdom. At this time in Chinese history the Northerners referred to people living in the humid uninhabitable Southern provinces as “barbarians”. Now Zhuge Liang’s army was returning home after winning a battle with the Southern barbarians. They had to cross the stormy and dangerous Lu River. The locals apparently suggested throwing human heads of the said barbarians into the river would guarantee them safe passage across.
Unwilling to kill innocent prisoners, he ordered soldiers to stuff animal meat into flour dough shaped like a head and steam cook them. These fake heads were sacrificed as in lieu of real ones to appease the river god. The river god was fooled, the waters calmed down, and his army crossed to safety. Thus, meat-filled dough balls were known as “barbarian heads” or Mantou!
Getting back to the Chinese Stuffed Steamed Buns in this post, mine are vegetarian which is not traditional. These kind of steamed bus are typically plain or have a meat based filling. My steamed buns have a filling of stir fried onions, carrots, red bell peppers and cabbage. The filling is seasoned with a little salt, red chilli flakes, garlic, ginger, dark soy sauce and a sweet, sour, spicy chilli sauce. I also added some roasted sesame seeds to the filling. These bus are usually made with plain all-purpose flour. I added a little whole wheat flour to my dough because I like the flavor.
These buns are quite easy to make. You do need to make sure that you roll out the wrappers a little thinner on the edge. This makes for more even buns when you gather the edges around the filling and pinch them together to seal. You can see that I didn’t do a great job of this from uneven cross section of the buns in the image.
Chinese Stuffed Steamed Buns
For the Dough :
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
- 1 tbsp sugar
- 1/2 tsp instant yeast
- 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1/4 tsp salt
- scant 3/4 cup lukewarm milk
- 1 tbsp sesame oil
For the Filling :
- 1 tbsp sesame oil
- 1 tsp minced garlic
- 1 tsp minced ginger or paste
- 2 medium onions sliced thin
- 3 medium carrots julienned
- 2 large red bell peppers julienned
- 1 cup thinly shredded cabbage
- Dark soy sauce to taste
- Sweet & Spicy chilli sauce to taste
- Red chilli flakes to taste
- Salt to taste
- 3 to 4 tbsp roasted sesame seeds optional
To make the Dough :
- You can knead the dough by hand or in a kneading machine. I generally use a food processor and then do the final kneading by hand. Place dry ingredients into the bowl of the food processor or kneading machine and whisk to combine. Then add as much of the milk as required and the tablespoon of sesame oil and knead to obtain a soft, smooth and elastic dough.
- Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and form into a smooth ball. Place it in a lightly oiled bowl, cover loosely and let it rise at room temperature until doubled in size. This should take between one to two hours.
Make the filling while the dough is rising.
- Heat the oil in a wok and add the garlic and ginger. Sauté till the garlic loses its raw smell. Add the onions and sauté till transparent and soft. Add the remaining vegetables and sauté for a few minutes till they cook but are still crisp. Stir in the sauces and seasonings. Let it cool completely. Your filling should be moist but not wet else you will have soggy steamed buns.
To make the Steamed Buns :
- Once the dough has proofed, deflate the dough and place it on a lightly floured surface. Form into a smooth ball.
- Cut 12 4-inch squares of parchment paper. Cupcake liners also work very well. You can also use squares of plantain leaves if you can find them.
- Divide the dough into 12 equal portions, and shape each into a smooth ball. Roll each ball into a 4” circle. Make sure the edges are thinner than the middle. Place a portion of the filling in the centre of the round of dough. Pull the edges together and close, or pleat the edges closed. Place on a square of parchment paper, cupcake liner or plantain leaf bit, either pleat side up or pleat side down.
- Place the buns on a baking sheet or cutting board. Cover loosely with a damp towel and allow them to proof till about double in size, about 30 minutes.
- Set up a steamer, and bring water to a simmer. Arrange the buns on the steamer basket, about 2” apart. If you have to work in batches, keep the remaining buns in the refrigerator to keep them from over proofing.
- Wrap the underside of the steamer lid in a cotton towel and then close the steamer basket. The cotton towel will absorb the extra moisture and prevent it from dripping on the bus. Steam over the simmering water for 10 to 15 minutes. Turn off the heat, and leave the buns in the covered steamer for 5 more minutes to prevent them from collapsing.
- Remove the buns and let them cool slightly before serving. Serve with sauces of your choice.
The Bread Baking Babes are –
Bread Baking Babe Bibliothécaire – Katie
Blog from OUR kitchen – Elizabeth
My Kitchen In Half Cups – Tanna
Karen’s Kitchen Stories – Karen
Karen's Kitchen Stories says
Your buns look amazing and your filling sounds delicious and fresh. So happy you were able to finally join us!
Aparna Balasubramanian says
Thank you Karen. Happy I could finally make them.
I love the history tidbits, so fascinating!
Aparna Balasubramanian says