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From the food editor: Making bao, the steamed Asian buns, at home

First of all, you need a proper steamer.

I did not have one when I set out to make bao, a steamed bun popular in Asian cuisines, but I realized it too late in the game.

Using the cookbook Molly on the Range by food blogger Molly Yeh as my guide, I took on the task of making the buns from scratch. Yeh's dad is Chinese, and she grew up eating the buns.

The formula didn't seem too out of my wheelhouse. I've made various breads, bagels, pizza dough, even crackers in my kitchen, using some combination of yeast, flour, fat and sugar. Bao did not require anything more exotic than that.

But it did involve a bit of work. After mixing the dough, I let it rise for a couple of hours, then divided it into pieces, rolled those pieces out into small circles and let those rise.

That's when it hit me: How was I going to cook these buns?

The difference between bao and, say, a tortilla or a traditional sandwich roll is that it's steamed. I knew this. And yet, I looked around my kitchen, realizing I did not have the steaming contraption I thought I did, and definitely not the "double-decker" bamboo one Yeh alludes to in the book.

Time to improvise. I set the largest pot I could find on the stove, filled it with a few inches of water and placed a stainless steel colander, until now mostly used to drain pasta, in the pot. Not bad. The colander had holes, which would allow the steam created by boiling water to cook the buns once I placed them in the colander. A large pan lid covered most of the rigged steamer, creating a nice, steamy compartment.

Except, as I discovered when I started placing the uncooked bao into the colander, I could only steam about three at a time. About 20 raw dough circles stared at me from the counter. (I somehow made more than the recipe suggested I would.)

It also took about 15 minutes to steam each batch, and by the second or third round I was getting hungry, so I decided to finish the ones that would be used for dinner in a skillet with a little bit of olive oil. As we ate, the other batches steamed. The skillet also served another purpose: to make sure the buns were cooked through — my makeshift steamer wasn't cooking them as well as I had hoped.

The result was a bun that more resembled the outside of a pot sticker than a truly steamed bun. It was lacking in the fluffy department. But I filled it with lightly pan-fried chicken and Sriracha cucumbers all the same, and it hit just the right sweet, chewy, doughy notes it was supposed to.

Though for next time, I'm investing in a bamboo steamer.


Schnitzel Bao With Sesame Pickles


  • 12 steamed buns, homemade (see recipe) or store-bought
  • Flavorless oil, for frying
  • ½ cup flour
  • 2 large eggs, beaten with 2
  • tablespoons water
  • 2 cups panko bread crumbs
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into
  • 12 equal pieces and pounded thin
  • ½ cucumber, thinly sliced
  • ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1 ½ teaspoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • Sriracha mayo (¼ cup mayonnaise mixed with 2 teaspoons Sriracha sauce)


  1. To make the schnitzel: Pour 1 ½ inches of oil in a large heavy pot or high-sided skillet. Heat oil over medium-high heat until it reaches 360 degrees.
  2. Place the flour, eggs and bread crumbs in three separate bowls. Season each with salt and pepper to taste. Working with one piece at a time, place the chicken in the flour, then the egg, then the bread crumbs, until all chicken is coated. Fry in batches, flipping once, until golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel and season with salt and pepper.
  3. To make the pickles: In a medium bowl, mix together all ingredients and stir. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
  4. To make the bao: Spread the insides of the buns with Sriracha mayo, then fill with a piece of chicken and a few pickles. Makes 12 schnitzel bao.
Source: Adapted from Molly on the Range by Molly Yeh (Rodale, 2016)


A Pair of Nice Steamed Buns


  • ¾ cup warm water
  • ¼ cup warm whole milk
  • 2 ¼ teaspoons (1 envelope) active dry yeast
  • 1 teaspoon plus ½ cup sugar
  • 3 cups flour, plus more for dusting
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup unsalted butter, cubed, at room temperature; more for brushing, melted


  1. In a small bowl, swirl together the water, milk, yeast and 1 teaspoon of the sugar and let it sit until it becomes foamy on top, about 5 minutes.
  2. In a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, mix together the flour, salt and remaining ½ cup sugar. With the mixer running on low, pour in the yeast mixture and add the butter. Increase the speed to medium-high and knead for 5 minutes, adding additional flour if needed. Transfer the dough to an oiled bowl, turning to coat, cover the bowl with a damp towel and let dough rise until doubled in size, about 2 hours.
  3. Cut out 16 (3-inch) squares of parchment paper. Turn the dough onto a clean work surface and divide it into 16 balls. Keep the dough covered. Working with 1 ball at a time, roll out into an oval that is about 6 inches long and 3 inches wide. Brush with a thin layer of melted butter and then fold in half on the short edge. Place on parchment square. Repeat with remaining balls. Cover and let rise for 30 minutes.
  4. Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat and set a steamer over it. Place the buns in the steamer about 1 inch apart on their squares of parchment and steam until fluffy throughout, 15 to 20 minutes. Let cool slightly, then fill. Makes 16 buns.
Source: Molly on the Range by Molly Yeh (Rodale, 2016)

From the food editor: Making bao, the steamed Asian buns, at home 02/13/17 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 15, 2017 11:31am]
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