How does Chinese baozi taste

Baozi: Steam the bread

Chinese steamed bread is delicious and also suitable for the inexperienced home baker. It is best filled with sweet pork - or the leftovers from the Easter roast!

The love for steamed bread is obviously difficult to understand if you've never eaten a good one. When I told Heinrich H., who is otherwise very knowledgeable about my quarantine plan to finally make Chinese steamed bread, he asked whether it was because of the deep aroma or the complex texture. I answer him with this: both! (Footnote)

Good steamed bread can taste delicious, with delicately sweet yeast, milk or vanilla tones, and the texture is one of the great culinary delights of this world: fluffy and airy, tender and juicy, just as clouds must taste in the land of milk and honey. In addition, there is its magnificent surface, which shimmers like light mother-of-pearl and, if everything goes well, looks so wonderfully smooth that you don't just want to eat it, but also want to stroke it beforehand.

Steamed bread is something like the Chinese great-great-great-grandmother of the Buchtel and the yeast dumpling.

The basic variant consists of nothing but water, flour, yeast and salt, but in modern times it is often greased with a little sugar and oil or butter. It is said to have been eaten as early as 700 BC, and it is mentioned in writing for the first time in the year 300, in a text with the beautiful name "Ode to the cooked dough" (and in which the noodle is appropriately appreciated).

Most Chinese make a distinction between mantous (unfilled bread) and baozi (filled), with mantou in the north being somewhat what rice is in the south. A fresh mantou, perhaps enjoyed with hot soy milk or a tea infuser, makes a formidable breakfast, is perfect for soaking up a Beijing offal stew, and it is also wonderful with a cup of tea on a quarantine afternoon in Burgenland. But my great love belongs to the baozis, the stuffed steamed bread.

Perfect recovery of leftovers

Probably the most famous version of it is Char Siu Bao: a particularly fluffy steamed bread that is filled with Char Siu, Hong Kong / Guang-Dong style grilled pork. The mixture of sweet and creamy pork and soft steamed bread that has sucked in with the delicious meat comes very close to what I imagine as a jelly. Because many other people feel the same way, it is served in almost every dim sum restaurant in the world.

I have long made up my mind to finally try my hand at steamed bread - the current house arrest plus the remains of a roasted stilt have now offered a good opportunity. Despite my fears, the steamed bread - and the filling too - turned out to be not that heavy at all. My results after three days of experimentation were certainly not the culmination of the Baozi art, but they were edible with great enjoyment.

No one, except a large restaurant, will grill a pig just to fill dumplings with. Baozi are and always have been the perfect way to use any leftovers that may not look great, but taste all the better. The days after eating a holiday roast, such as Easter, are not the worst occasion for this. Experiment and cram whatever you have in it - whether it's roast lamb, hard eggs with chives or orange jam.

Aja: Unfortunately, you need a steamer for steamed bread. It's available for very little money in any Chinese store and certainly online, and it's an acquisition that is worthwhile for many dishes. A little improvisation (see my photos) never hurts either.

Steamed bread and some kind of Char Siu Bao

The dough

No matter what you want to stuff into your baozi later, you need the batter first. Do not be afraid: I am usually one of those people who prefer to leave bread to the professionals, and currently I do not even have a scale available - nevertheless I have achieved very passable results. I mainly used this recipe as a guide and was so satisfied with the bread that I only adjusted it slightly.

The following is for five to six steamed breads or a meal for two.

Melt about 20 grams of butter (a decent cut) and stir in two tablespoons of sugar. Pour in about 200 ml of cold milk and stir in half a pack of dry yeast or a piece of fresh yeast the size of a marble. Let the mixture sit for five to ten minutes until it foams a little.

Salt about 250 grams of flour, then pour in the yeast mixture and stir it into a dough (for lack of scales I used half a glass of milk and a very large glass of flour).

It should be a bit damp and sticky at the beginning, but it should be relatively easy to work with. If he picks too much, add more flour. Knead the dough for about ten minutes until it is smooth to the touch.

Depending on the amount of yeast and temperature, you should let your dough rise for about 1.5 to 2 hours, or until it has at least doubled and feels airy. Then knead it well again and let it rise again for about 30 minutes.

For test purposes, I left the dough to rest in the refrigerator overnight after the two rising phases and then steamed it in the morning: the taste was even better, but the structure was less airy. Do it the way you want.

The shaping

Now it's time to shape: For Mantou you don't have to do anything except tear the dough into pieces of the same size, roll them into balls and give it a little extra structure and tension, like when baking bread (seen here from the 40th second). If you want and / or are not very skilled, like me, you can now just let it rise for another 30 minutes, then steam it and eat it straight or cut it up and top it like a sandwich. The Bao Bans are the most famous representatives of this species.

If you are skillful and feel like it, you can now also fill the dough: Roll the pieces into balls, press them flat and round and put the filling in the middle.

Do not take too much or it will be difficult to close the baozi. Now pluck the top of the pastry edge and squeeze as you see it here: pull a little, then squeeze, pull, then squeeze, and repeat until it's closed. Here is a video below:

If you've done well, put the dumpling aside with the opening facing up and let it rest for another 30 minutes under a piece of plastic wrap. If it looks a bit like an accident, flip the old opening down and at least give your baozi a nice, round shape at the top.

The steaming

Some people bring the water in the steamer to a boil when the Baozis are already inside, others only put them in when it is boiling and steaming vigorously. I tried both and was happier with the "first place over boiling water" method.

Two things are important. First, make sure you place the dumplings on small pieces of parchment paper, otherwise you won't get them off the steamer.

And secondly, put a tea towel (or other piece of cloth) between the lid and the top steamer: This soaks up the water droplets and prevents them from falling on the dough, which sometimes gives it ugly stains and a less even surface (see various photos ). If everything goes well, your steamed bread will have a transparent, thin skin over the fluffy body, which steamed bread fans sometimes enjoy separately.

Steam your baozis for twelve minutes, then turn off the heat and let them sit in the closed steamer for another three minutes, the cool-down phase to keep them from collapsing after steaming. I confess I was too cowardly and hungry to see if this was really necessary.

Voilá: Congratulations on your first and almost certainly not the last steamed bread!

The filling

If you want to make classic, gorgeous red Char Siu, you will find instructions here. I improvised with the remains of a roasted stilt and a homemade sauce and was extremely satisfied.

Finely chop the spring onion or leek and ginger and fry briefly in the lard. Deglaze with a strong dash of Shaoxing wine and let it boil down. Add any (gelled) juices from the stilt, one or two tablespoons of soy sauce and one or two tablespoons of honey, bring to the boil and simmer until it thickens, about a minute.

Cut the leftover meat into small pieces and let it heat up in the sauce. Mash them with the wooden spoon so that they disintegrate a little. Let it cool down to room temperature or colder before filling - that makes working a lot easier.

Certainly also works with lamb. Was awfully easy and one of the best things I've cooked in the past few months.

Quick version without explanations

20 grams of butter

20 grams of sugar

150 ml milk

1/2 pack of dry yeast (or a piece of fresh yeast the size of a chickpea)

1 pinch of salt

250-300 grams of wheat flour, type 700 or similar

Filling of your choice (optional)

Melt butter, stir in sugar, pour in cold milk and dissolve yeast in it. Let stand ten minutes.

Work into a smooth dough with salt and flour, about ten minutes.

Cover and let rise for an hour, knead once, and cover for another 30 minutes.

Shape into mantou or baozi, place on small pieces of baking paper and cover again for 30 minutes.

Bring water to a boil in or under a steamer. Steam the bread in it for twelve minutes, then turn off the heat and let it rest for three minutes.

Enjoy while still hot. (Tobias Müller, April 13th, 2020)

Footnote: Two of the best things I've ever gotten to eat were steamed breads. The first was a Char Siu Bao at the Imperial Treasure in Shanghai, a two-star restaurant where over-budget Chinese people like to dine on expensive seafood, but which also has an outrageously cheap and fantastic dim sum menu. If you are in town and the shop is still there, be sure to go! The second was a steamed egg custard in Taipei. I still dream about it today, maybe one day it will become a story of its own.