Tofu and Mushroom Steamed Buns (Bao) Recipe

June 9

chinese steamed buns (bao)
I’m in a dough kind of mood. I’ve been craving carbs lately and have also been eager to try and make all sorts of doughs from scratch. A few nights ago, I saw some contestants on Masterchef Australia cook some bao and a lightbulb went off in my head. I had never thought of making bao, and haven’t actually been able to enjoy them very much. If you’ve never heard of bao before, they are basically steamed buns filled with some sort of filling, found all over China. There is a wide variety of bao: ranging from 5-10 inches in diameter, filled with various meat, bean paste and even soup broth (if you’re in Vancouver, the xiaolongbao at Lin’s are award-winning)!
bao dough
tofu and mushroom bao
I remember when we were in China almost four years ago now, my boyfriend got to eat all sorts of delicious buns/dumplings that I was denied. I had absolutely no way of knowing what fillings lurked inside of that delicious looking dough, but I knew more often than not, it was meat. I know I definitely missed out on a lot of tasty treats. Even here, where English packaging is abound, I never really buy vegetarian buns. Even though the idea appealed to me, the frozen, often sad looking packages don’t seem to scream my name (making other dumplings at home though, is another story).
steamed buns  bao
steamed buns bao
tofu and mushroom bao
Generally, when we travel, especially when there is a huge language barrier, I normally feel kind of limited being a vegetarian. Even though I certainly eat meat accidentally (sometimes you just don’t know what those ground little pieces are, and you have to eat), there are so many culinary traditions that are meat-centric, and frankly, delicious-looking. Being able to explore things in my own kitchen at home, even though it can never be super traditional is still extremely exciting. I still haven’t tackled things like vegetarian ramen or pho, but they are on my list to test out.
chinese buns  bao
mushroom and tofu bao
Slowly but surely I am discovering gems like these homemade buns. They are absolutely delicious. First, the dough is light and slightly sticky at the same time. I shaped the buns in two ways, because I just couldn’t decide. The ones I had seen in China were the balls with the filling stuffed inside. I added some edamame to the filling of those, for some texture. These are perfect as a snack and are even more delicious dipped in a super vinegary dipping sauce. The buns that are shaped more like mini pitas can be stuffed with heartier fare. The sweet and sour cucumbers (or any other fresh vegetable) add another dimension and the chunks of tofu and mushroom makes it feel like you are eating more of a meal. Either way, you won’t go wrong.

Even though they are certainly time consuming to make (although a lot of the time is spent sitting around and waiting), the dough was easy to work with. It’s also easy to make a huge batch to keep in your freezer. Unlike other dishes that are supposed to be crispy (for example) these are steamed, so heating them up from frozen in the microwave works like a dream.
tofu and mushroom steamed buns (bao)
chinese steamed buns (bao)

Steamed Buns (Bao) Recipe

Serving Size: around 25 buns

Steamed Buns (Bao) Recipe

Adapted from Molly Yeh (my name is yeh) and David Chang

I am providing instruction for two shapes of bao. I am calling them 'ball' and 'pita' style (look at the pictures if you don't know what I mean. There are a couple important differences: the way to shape the buns, how long you cook them, and how you treat the filling (blended in a food processor for the 'balls'). I also only ate the cucumbers with the pita-style bao.

If you plan on freezing the buns, steam them, allow to cool completely and then freeze for up to two months. You can pop them in the microwave to de-frost. If you're making them 'pita' style and freezing some, make sure to remember to only make enough filling for what you feel like eating right away.

To make these vegan, replace the butter in the dough with vegetable lard.

2 1/4 teaspoons active yeast
1/2 cup + 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
3/4 cups warm water
3 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled
splash of neutral oil
500g mixed mushrooms (I used enoki and oyster)
500g firm tofu, 1/2 inch slices
4 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons sriracha
2 tablespoons honey
2 teaspoons sesame oil
2 cups edamame (optional- see notes)
Pickled Cucumber
3 small cucumbers, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
Vinegar Dipping Sauce
4 tablespoons soy sauce
4 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons sriracha

In a small bowl combine yeast, 1 teaspoon of the sugar and water. Allow yeast to activate (get frothy-5-10 minutes).

In a large bowl, whisk together the rest of the sugar, flour, and salt.

Add yeast/water, milk and melted butter to the dry ingredients.

Knead until the dough is smooth (about 7 minutes) and place in a large bowl, covered with a damp towel.

Let rise for 2 hours.

Divide dough into about 25 portions (about 30g each). Roll into ball and flatten into a disk 3-4 inches in diameter.

To make 'ball' style buns

Take filling and pulse in food processor until chunky. Mix in edamame.

Place 1-2 tablespoons of filling on flattened bao dough and pinch shut.

Place buns, seam side down on parchment paper, cover with plastic wrap and let rise 30 more minutes.

Fill a large pan with water and bring to a boil. Place steamer over it.

Place buns on parchment paper squares and steam for about 15 minutes. Buns will expand, so leave around 1 inch of space around each bun.

To make 'pita' style buns

Brush flattened bao dough with some canola oil. Place a chopstick horizontally across the bao circle, fold dough in half, remove chopstick. Repeat.

Place buns, seam side down on parchment paper, cover with plastic wrap and let rise 30 more minutes.

Fill a large pan with water and bring to a boil. Place steamer over it.

Place buns on parchment paper squares and steam for about 10 minutes. Buns will expand, so leave around 1 inch of space around each bun.

Serve with mushroom, tofu slices, cucumbers and vinegar sauce.


Place large pan over medium-high heat. Heat up oil. Fry off mushrooms and tofu until they get some colour.

Add the rest of the ingredients and cook until mushrooms are cooked through and tofu has absorbed flavour.

Set aside.

Pickled Cucumber

Combine all ingredients and refrigerate for at least 15 minutes and up to 4 hours.

Vinegar Dipping Sauce

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl and serve with bao.

Tofu and Mushroom Steamed buns (Bao) Recipe was last modified: June 9, 2014 by My Second Breakfast

6 thoughts on “Tofu and Mushroom Steamed Buns (Bao) Recipe

  1. You give a sub for the butter, but what about the milk? Almond milk an okay substitute? Does the milk have a purpose of flavor or chemistry? I don’t know if the fat & water content make a difference.

    1. Hi Angela, I imagine that almond milk would work fine but I haven’t tried it myself. Please report back if you give it a shot!

    1. For the buns, I steam them in a steamer, which is that bamboo basket thing you see in the pictures. It sits on top of simmering water and lets the steam in from the bottom and the buns get steamed. In general though, I usually just steam things (i.e. vegetables) in a covered pot with about an inch of water in it. In this case, you can’t do that because you don’t want to put the buns directly into water.

    1. (not stupid at all!!) In this case, the cucumbers are just pickled with salt and sugar. The natural water in the cucumber get released. The dipping sauce is for the whole thing (:

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