Ultra soft and fluffy steamed buns twisted with sweet red bean paste. Growing up, steamed buns were more than mere sides to my family. We enjoyed sweet steamed buns for breakfast, while pairing their savory steamed buns with our dishes at dinner. Best of all, they served as the ideal instant after school snack. The buns that we had ready to go in our freezers included round buns, pillow-shaped buns, and the twisted buns called hua juan. Among these, I always preferred the hua juan rolls because I found so much satisfaction in peeling them layer by layer and savoring each bite. This spiral shaping technique is not only pretty, but ensures that there is red bean in every bite.
What are steamed buns?
Originating in ancient China, steamed buns, known as mantou, milk buns, baozi, or bao, have a history spanning thousands of years. Today, they appear far beyond Asia, in places across the globe, from Germany and Poland to America and Africa. What truly sets steamed buns apart is their versatility. They can be enjoyed as is or filled with sweet pastes or savory fillings, like vegetables or meat. Whether you enjoy them as a meal, a side dish, or a quick snack, steamed buns cater to a wide range of preferences. They can also range in size from mini to extra-large. Unlike American dinner rolls which contain butter and eggs, my steamed buns are composed of only flour, yeast, and milk. Most importantly, they are traditionally steamed in a bamboo steamer rather than being baked in an oven, which is the secret behind their exceptionally soft and fluffy texture.
What is red bean paste?
Red bean buns (hong dou hua juan, dousha bao, hongdou bao, bao, baozi) are mantous but with a filling. It is made out of cooked red adzuki beans, oil, and sugar that are ground into a paste. Red bean is one of the most common fillings in Chinese snacks such as sesame balls, mooncakes, and steamed buns. It has a sweet, nutty, earthy, and creamy taste. Red bean buns are most commonly shaped in a round ball with a domed surface. Red bean buns can also be shaped into hua juan which is called a flower roll, due to its unique braided and twisted look.
Why This Works
Steamed buns might seem challenging to make because we typically associate bread with baking, but they involve straightforward techniques like kneading and steaming. In my steamed buns recipe, I use chilled milk combined with yeast and all-purpose flour. This technique results in softer and slightly sweeter steamed buns. The chilled milk contributes to a tender texture, while the addition of yeast enables the dough to rise and become fluffy. The sweetness of milk is determined by its lactose content.
This recipe is versatile and accommodates different approaches to kneading the dough. You can opt to knead the dough by hand for 15 minutes, or alternatively, use a stand mixer with a dough hook for just 10 minutes. Both methods yield excellent results, making it easy for you to choose the option that best suits your preferences and available equipment. If this recipe interests you, you may also like: Pork Buns (Cha Siu Bao), Red Bean Buns, Custard Bun, Sesame Balls, Shumai (Shaomai, Siumai), and Chicken Dumplings.
Can I store steamed buns for later?
If you happen to have leftover buns or wish to prepare them in advance, freezing is a great option. After allowing the buns to cool to room temperature, making sure to separate them to prevent them from freezing together. Then store them in an airtight container or use a freezer-safe ziplock bag. This ensures they maintain their freshness and prevents freezer burn, preserving their taste when you’re ready to enjoy them later.
How do I reheat steamed buns?
Reheating frozen steamed buns is a breeze, and you have two options, with or without a steamer. With a steamer is the best option because it creates buns that can sit out longer because the steam adds back moisture and fluffiness. The microwave method dries out the steamed buns a little more.
Both methods do not require the buns to be thawed first. For the microwave method, simply wrap each frozen bun individually in a water-soaked paper towel and microwave them for 30 seconds at a time. My microwave usually take 45 seconds. This quick and easy method works perfectly for both filled and unfilled buns, ensuring they become warm, soft, and ready to enjoy in no time!
What kinds of fillings are suitable for steamed buns?
In Chinese cuisine, the most commonly used fillings for steamed buns are red bean, black sesame, vegetable, chasiu (Chinese barbecue pork) or ground pork. When choosing a filling for buns that will be twisted, opt for runnier or wetter fillings like red bean paste, as they are easier to spread. Fillings such as lotus seed paste, taro, or black sesame paste will have a firmer consistency due to their higher fat content, making them more suitable for rolling into spheres, particularly for round buns.
You can find red bean paste at a Chinese grocery store or through online Chinese grocery retailers. Look for them in the dry pantry aisle or refrigerated section; I have found them in both places at various supermarkets. Steamed buns are not just popular in Chinese cuisine; they are also widely enjoyed in Filipino, Malaysian, Indonesian, Japanese and Vietnamese cuisines. You may be able to find the fillings at specific grocery stores that cater to these cuisines as well but I have not personally checked there.
Which type of flour is required to make steamed buns?
Before making this recipe, you need to be aware of the type of flour required. Flour plays a crucial role in creating the structure and texture of your buns. Using flour with insufficient gluten can lead to shrinking or collapsing buns. To avoid dough shrinking, opt for bleached all-purpose flour. I am using Gold Medal Bleached All Purpose Flour. It’s important to note that even though it is labeled as “bleached,” your buns will still have a slightly off-white yellow color.
In Chinese/Vietnamese stores, you may come across special “bot bao flours” specifically designed for homemade steamed buns. These flours differ from regular all-purpose flour as they undergo extensive bleaching, resulting in a whiter appearance. While they may appear more visually appealing, they often lack flavor and sufficient gluten content to provide the necessary structure for well-formed steamed buns. It’s also worth noting that these specialized flours can be more expensive than all-purpose flour.
Can I use a gluten free flour?
If you have gluten intolerance, gluten-free flours will not be suitable for this recipe. ): However, you might be interested in my Sesame Balls recipe which uses glutinous rice (sticky rice) flour which aligns with your dietary requirements.
Can I substitute out the whole milk?
For the best results in my steamed bun recipe, I highly recommend using whole milk. It plays a significant role in the recipe, providing a natural sweetness without the need for additional sugar or milk. It also helps to create a light, airy, and fluffy texture. Substituting with other types of milk, especially plant-based ones, may alter the flavor and texture of the buns, so I advise against making any substitutions in this particular case. For those concerned about whole milk’s fat content, it’s essential to note that whole milk actually contains only 3.25% milk fat.
What if I am lactose intolerant?
However, if you’re lactose intolerant, feel free to use chilled water instead of plant milks. Plant milks often have added sugar and flavorings, among other things, which could affect the outcome of the buns. Water will yield the most consistent results in this situation. Just be aware that doughs made with water may taste somewhat blander due to the absence of lactose, which is a natural sugar present in cow’s milk, so you can add up to 1/4 cup or 50 grams of white sugar.
What is yeast?
Yeast is a type of fungus that is commonly used in baking. It consumes the sugars in the milk and flour and then releases carbon dioxide gas, which causes the dough to rise. Yeast can be found in two forms, fresh or dry. When used in baking, yeast helps to create a light and airy texture in breads and other baked goods. Here are the different types of yeast available:
- Dry – This type of yeast is more commonly found sold in a small envelope at grocery stores, supermarkets, and online retailers. It can be stored in the pantry for several years, but it’s best to use it within 3 months of purchase.
- Active Dry – Needs to be dissolved in liquid (slightly warm water or milk) before using
- Instant (rapid-rise yeast, bread machine yeast) – Can be added directly to dry ingredients without proofing. It is finer and more active than active dry yeast.
- Fresh (compressed yeast) – This type is perishable and must be stored in the refrigerator. It can be found at some specialty food stores, but its availability may vary. It is typically sold in large blocks, which may be more than is needed for everyday home baking. This type of yeast is typically used by professional bakers, it has a shorter shelf life than dry yeast and should be used quickly after purchase. It also can be found in smaller portions, but it’s best to check the availability at local specialty food stores or bakeries.
For steamed buns, my preferred choice is active dry yeast. I recommend purchasing it in dark jars from the refrigerated section.
How do I buy dry yeast?
Active dry yeast is available at most grocery stores or can be easily ordered through grocery delivery apps, making it easily accessible. When choosing your yeast packaging, I recommend opting for jars instead of individual envelopes. Jars provide greater shelf stability and reliability for long-term storage.
To guarantee the best performance, pay close attention to the yeast’s expiration date, as its effectiveness diminishes over time. For optimal results, use the yeast within 3 months of purchase and dispose of any that has been sitting in the pantry for an unspecified duration.
Proper storage is key to preserving the yeast’s potency. Keep it in a cool, dry place, away from direct light and moisture, to maintain its activity and ensure your baked goods rise flawlessly. Following these guidelines will help you achieve fantastic results in your baking endeavors with active dry yeast.
How do I test if my yeast is still alive?
Yeast is a living organism so ensuring that it is active before using it in a recipe is essential. To do this, you can perform a simple test: Mix the yeast with a tablespoon of liquid, like milk or water, and wait for 5 minutes. If it becomes frothy and bubbly, the yeast is active and ready to use. However, if there is no change, it indicates the yeast is no longer alive and should be discarded.
When working with yeast, it’s crucial to use chilled or lukewarm liquid to prevent heat from exceeding 115°F / 65°C, which could kill the yeast. Though not always mentioned in recipe instructions, checking the yeast’s activity is a good practice to ensure successful bread-making.
What is parchment paper and what can I substitute it with?
Parchment paper is primarily associated with baking, and it’s a common sight to see cookies arranged on a baking tray lined with it. Parchment paper’s non-stick characteristics make it an excellent choice for steaming buns as well. You can find parchment paper in various forms, and some may even come pre-cut for convenience. If you don’t have it on hand, don’t worry (let the buns do the sweating!). There are alternative options available. You can use cupcake liners, air fryer basket liners, or even Napa cabbage as substitutes.
Do I need a stand mixer?
Kneading the dough is an essential step in this recipe because it achieves smoother buns. The easiest and most time-effective method is by using a stand mixer with a dough hook. This beats the dough until it’s smooth and supple in only 10 minutes. If you prefer, you can knead the dough with your palms for 15 minutes, which doubles as a great workout!
What type of steamer is needed?
There are several types of steamers that can be used to cook steamed buns. Additionally, there are makeshift options that can be easily created at home when a dedicated steamer is not available. In my original steamed buns recipe video, In some of my prior videos, I showcase a pan that does come with a steamer basket. While it may seem like a great all-in-one solution, it’s important to consider some drawbacks when using this pan for steaming. One of the primary concerns is the difficulty in gauging water levels within the pan. This limitation poses a real risk of overheating, potentially resulting in burnt food and, ultimately, permanent staining of the pan.
To ensure your cooking experience is hassle-free, I highly recommend exploring some alternative options:
- Steamer Inserts: These fit into most pots and pans, making them a versatile choice for steaming various dishes. They are easy to use and maintain.
- Bamboo Steamer: If you have ever dined at a dim sum restaurant, you have most likely seen this before. It is an affordable choice in Chinese cuisine. It is made with bamboo trays with a lid on top that can be layered and stacked with more trays. The steam rises from the boiling water in the bottom pot and cooks the buns placed in the trays above. Regarding trays, steam rises from boiling water in the bottom pot, cooking the buns positioned in the trays above. Bamboo steamers are optimal due to their high efficiency in trapping steam. This quality allows for the use of less water and minimizes the risk of burning.
- Metal Steamer Insert: A metal steamer insert is a kitchen tool made of stainless steel, designed to fit inside a pot, pan, or rice cooker. It’s used for steaming food, like vegetables. The insert has small holes to allow steam through, can be used for various foods, and is easy to clean.
- Tiered Metal Steamer Pot: Similar to bamboo steamers, metal tiered steamers consist of stacked metal trays with a lid. They work in the same way as bamboo steamers but offer the advantage of being more durable and easier to clean.Tiered metal steamer pots, while not space-saving due to their bulkiness, are exceptionally durable and can last a lifetime.
- Improvised Steamer: If you don’t have a dedicated steamer, you can create an improvised steamer using a large pot with a tight-fitting lid and a heatproof wire rack or a few heatproof bowls. Place a small amount of water in the pot, set the heatproof rack or dishes above the water level, and cover the pot with the lid.
- Limited space: The improvised steamer setup may have limited space, making it challenging to steam larger quantities of food at once.
- Inconsistent results: Without precise control over the steaming process, you may experience inconsistency in the texture and doneness of your food.
- Limited capacity: The size of the steamer insert may limit the quantity of food you can steam at once, especially for larger gatherings or meals.
How do I steam buns?
Set up a steamer over the stove and add water according to the type of pan you’re using. For metal steamers or steamer baskets, typically, 1 cup of water is sufficient. However, if you’re using a larger pan or a bamboo steamer, you may need to adjust and add more water. Ensure the water level is below the wire of the steamer basket, colander, or wire rack, so it doesn’t touch the buns during steaming, which could make them soggy.
Once the dough balls are shaped and transferred onto parchment paper, place them in the steamer basket, ensuring they are spaced approximately 1 inch apart from each other.
Cover the steamer with a lid and allow the buns to proof until they have doubled in size. In warmer climates, this may take about 1 hour, while in colder climates, it could take up to 2 hours. Once proofed, steam the buns, and they will double in size again during the steaming process.
Why isn’t my dough ball smooth?
To achieve the best texture, knead the dough by hand for 15 minutes, or for a minimum of 10 minutes with a stand mixer using a dough hook. Based on my experience, the stand mixer produces the best results.
To make sure that there is enough moisture for the dry ingredients, I recommend using a scale instead of using measuring cups. Cup measurements may vary if the ingredients are packed or sifted, leading to inconsistencies. When using measuring cups and spoons, ensure to level off the ingredients for closer accuracy. Cooking with a scale is simple, requiring only a bowl, a scale, and a tool to transfer the ingredients.
Why didn’t my dough rise after proofing for over an hour?
The problem may be with your yeast. Yeast is a living organism so ensuring that it is active before using it in a recipe is essential. Before every bake, you can perform a simple test: Mix the yeast with a tablespoon of liquid, like milk or water, and wait for 5 minutes. If it becomes frothy and bubbly, the yeast is active and ready to use. However, if there is no change, it indicates the yeast is no longer alive and should be discarded. By doing this test, you can save valuable time and avoid wasting ingredients. When working with yeast, it’s crucial to use chilled or lukewarm liquid to prevent heat from exceeding 115°F / 65°C, which could kill the yeast. Though not always mentioned in recipe instructions, checking the yeast’s activity is a good practice to ensure successful bread-making.
Additionally, during the proofing or resting stage, ensure that the buns are fully covered and shielded from any drafts or exposure to air. This precaution helps prevent them from drying out.
Why did my buns collapse?
Avoid opening the lid of the steamer or pan during the steaming process. Allow the buns steam undisturbed for the entire recommended time to maintain proper rising and structure. Before steaming, ensure you allow enough time for the buns to “proof,” allowing the dough to rise for about 1-1.5 hours. This step helps the dough rise and develop a protective outer layer.
Red Bean Buns
- 1 Mixing Bowl
- 1 Stand Mixer with Dough Hook recommended
- 1 Lint-Free Towel
- 1 Rolling Pin
- 1 Bamboo or Metal Skewer
- 1 Steamer Insert
- 1 Pan with a Tight Fitting Lid
- 1 Parchment Paper
- 1 Knife or Bench Scraper
- 3/4 cup whole milk chilled
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1 tsp active dry yeast
- 2 cups all purpose flour
- 1 tsp neutral oil
- 2/3 cup sweetened fine red bean paste
- In a mixing bowl, combine chilled milk, yeast, and flour. Stir until the mixture becomes clumpy. If using a stand mixer with a dough hook, knead on medium speed for 10 mins. Alternatively, knead the dough by hand for 15 mins.
- Initially sticky, the dough will become smooth and non-sticky with kneading. Loosely cover the dough ball with a lint-free towel and let it rest for 5 mins.
- Dust the counter well with flour. Roll the dough into a 1/4-inch-thick rectangle measuring 10 by 12 inches.
- Apply a thin layer of oil on the top half and spread a thin layer of red bean on the bottom half.
- Fold the dough in half, then cut it into 10 strips, alternating between 1-inch strips and slightly thinner pieces.
- Take a thinner piece, place it on top of a wider one.
- Using a skewer or chopstick placed lengthwise in the center, gently press until the edges lift up.
- Remove the skewer, slide it underneath, and hold the ends down with one hand while holding the skewer’s end with the other.
- Twist clockwise, then firmly push the skewer down to seal the dough ball.
- Gently remove the skewer and repeat.
- Set up a steamer lined with parchment paper on the stove. Arrange the buns in the steamer. Cover with its lid and let the buns rest for 1 to 2 hours, or until doubled in size with the stove off.
- Once proofed, bring water to a boil in the steamer. Steam the buns for 15-18 mins. Serve hot.