Mantou (Chinese Steamed Bun) 饅頭
This is Part I of the Steamed Bun Series. Here are the other posts in this series:
Part II: Chinese Steamed Meat Buns (Baozi) 包子
In Chinese cuisine, there is nothing more basic and classic than Chinese steamed bun or Bao. If you have lived in China, you would know that I am not exaggerating when I say that bao is literally everywhere in China! No matter which part of China you go, you can always see, smell, and eat freshly steamed from fancy restaurants to street food carts.
As with many other classic Chinese foods, the Chinese steamed bun family has thousands of years of history and comes in many different variations. The stuffed buns, which can be either savory or sweet filings, are popular dim sum items and appetizers. On the other hand, the plain bun or Mantou in Chinese is a staple food in Northern China.
Not everyone in China had the luxury to eat homemade bao regularly but I was one of the lucky guys. My grandfather would get up at 5am and start preparing the dough. 2 or 3 hours later, I would wake up in the smell of freshly steamed buns. By the time I got up, the freshly steamed bao was just in time to serve.
So yeah I was spoiled as a kid. However, after I moved to the States, I have not been able to find any steamed buns like the ones my grandfather used to make. Not wanting to settle for less, I decided to recreate my childhood memory by making my own bao at home.
Since my grandfather never had a written recipe, I started out with the oral instructions from him. From there, I experiment different recipes and combinations of ingredients until one day these soft buns came out of my steamer!
In this basic plain bun recipe, I use bread machine / stand mixer to knead the dough, making the process a less stressful and physically demanding. However if you are one of the traditionalist, you are more than welcome to knead the dough using your hands. In fact, my grandfather, who is over 80 years old, still kneads his dough by hand twice a week. I’d better hide my “easy” recipe from him before he yells at me (yes he takes food very serious!)
This is my first recipe in the new Chinese Steamed Bun Series. Once you have mastered this basic dough, you’ll be all set to make other types of bao such as Cantonese custard bun, steamed meat buns, or the famous soup dumplings (xiao long bao).
And as always, I would love to hear your suggestions and feedback on this recipe or any other recipes.
Step by Step Instructions
Activate the yeast by combining the yeast with lukewarm water for about 5 minutes. The mixture will become milky and bubbly.
In a bread machine or stand mixer, add the flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar. Turn on the bread machine / stand mixer, and slowly add the activated yeast and milk/water.
When adding the milk/water, do it slowly and in batches. Also slowly add the cooking oil. Continue to knead for about 10 to 15 minutes as a dough ball is formed. Pay close attention to the texture of the dough. If it’s hard, add a little more water/milk. If it’s too wet or the surface is sticky, add a little more flour. At the end you should see a smooth, soft, but non-sticky dough ball.
Cover the dough with plastic wrap and side aside to rest. Depending on the room temperature, let the dough rest for 45 – 60 minutes or until the dough doubles the size. If the dough smells very sour, add a tiny portion of baking soda to reduce the sourness. Turn on the bread machine/ stand mixer once again and knead for about 5 minutes until smooth dough is formed.
Place the dough on a flour-covered work station, cut the dough into two halves.
Roll each half of the dough into a long log about 1.5 inch in diameter. Flatten the log using a rolling pin.
Lightly brush some water on the flat dough. Starting from one side of the flat dough, roll the dough towards the other end to form a log.
Remove the ends of the log and cut the remaining log into 4 equal pieces or the size of your choice. Repeat the previous 3 steps for the half of the dough. Place each piece in a wax-paper-covered steamer.
Do not steam the dough right away. Loosely cover the dough with a damped towel and let the dough rest and rise for about 30 minutes. The dough should become 1.5x the original size. Finally steam the dough over boiling water for 12 to 15 minutes. After you turn off the heat keep the lid on for extra five minutes to prevent the buns from becoming saggy.
In the morning I like to serve it with butter spread. For lunch, I turn the bun into a sandwich with some cold cuts.
How do you want to serve it?