Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Sourdough Bao - Sourdough Surprises

I first heard about Chinese steamed buns (bao or baozi) when Julie over at Willow Bird Baking made some cheeseburger stuffed baozi. I didn't make them then because these buns require a steaming basket and I didn't want to buy one and wasn't sure how to rig one. But here we are, three years later, and it's the chosen dish for this month's Sourdough Surprises. Time to try the bao!

I still didn't buy a steamer but instead did some rigging. I placed a cake dish on top of a smaller pan in a large pot of water. It worked well enough. I was worried that condensation would drip on the buns and I read on The Fresh Loaf that this could lead to buns collapsing. I am sure some hit my buns without ill effect but I did use a wooden spoon to keep the lid slightly ajar.

So let's talk about shaping these steamed buns. I oohed and aahed at the lovely pictures online and not for one minute did I think that I may not have been able to do it. It's like I don't know myself. I was filling the buns with some leftover chicken breast that I shredded and added some barbecue sauce, cabbage, carrot and extra spices to. Nothing fancy. When that ran out, I mixed up some peanut butter, chocolate and powdered sugar. Again, nothing fancy. But let's get back to shaping and pleating. I gathered up my first ball of dough, flattened it, pleated, and did a little twist. It looked OK. Not perfect but OK. I moved on to the next and then I looked over at my "OK bun". It was now sad and slouching and losing all of the little pleats and the twist.

That's when I decided to watch a YouTube video on shaping. My shaping only got worse. I think part of the problem was that the outer edges of circles were a bit too thick. It's OK though. I am pretty sure that shaping does not affect the taste.  And if you want to see really beautiful bao, take a look at all the ones made by everyone else for Sourdough Surprises today! They are a talented bunch. Lots of thanks to Jenni and Shelley for choosing a great dish again this month!

Sourdough Baozi (adapted from A Bread A Day)

1.5 oz 100% sourdough starter
2.25 oz all purpose flour
2.25 oz water

11 oz all purpose flour
1 oz cornstarch
3 tablespoon sugar
5 oz milk 
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder. 
Vinegar for steaming 

Filling Suggestions
Pulled pork
Shredded chicken
You'll need ~3 tablespoons of filling per bun

Mix the starter ingredients and leave overnight or until mature and bubbly. 
Add the flour, cornstarch, sugar and milk and knead for 5 minutes or until the dough is smooth and elastic but still soft. Let the dough rise until doubled. 

After dough has doubled, gently flatten into a disk and sprinkle baking powder over the surface. Seal the baking powder in the middle and knead until baking powder is incorporated (about 5 minutes). Let the dough stand for 30 minutes. 

Cut 16 3" squares of parchment paper. 

Divide the dough into 16 equal balls. Flatten each ball out to a roughly 4" circle with the center thicker than the edges. Fill each with roughly 3 tablespoons of filling and shape according to this video. Place each filled bun on a square of parchment. 

Let each bao rest until slightly risen. 

Set a steamer rack inside a large pot.  Add enough water to come to within 1/2 inch of bottom of rack, and add about 1 tablespoon vinegar.  Bring to a boil.  Carefully place as many buns (still on parchment paper) as will fit on the steamer rack, being sure not to let them touch.  Cover loosely, reduce heat to keep water at a low boil, and steam until buns are puffed and set, about 20 minutes.  Add additional water and vinegar as needed.

I made a second mini batch in which I held back some of the flour. My dough was then relatively sticky. I then added the remaining flour to the baking powder and kneaded it in at the baking powder 
step. I think there was more even distribution of the baking powder that way. 
If you don't have a steamer rack or a steaming basket, you can do what I did. Place a cake pan on top of a much smaller pan or ramekin in a large pot. Place bao in the cake pan.


  1. I love your savory and sweet approaches to the filling. Cornstarch and baking powder... could these be the secret to soft, fluffy bao?

    1. I read that they were best made with a low protein flour so I added cornstarch to mimic cake flour. As for the baking powder, most of the recipes included baking powder or soda so I didn't skip it.

  2. Lovely little buns! I had no idea how to shape them, either - I just went for it! LOL Thanks for joining us this month!

    1. I think I got less worse at it when I stopped caring about messing up the shape. ha!

  3. Ah, they look great! At least you tried to shape yours. I half thought of trying, but then - nah. Just balls will do!
    Your bau fillings sound really tasty too.