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Bento Recipes: Steamed buns


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No, not eggs!Steamed buns are a Chinese dish I've seen references to here and there. For example, Mui makes them using her martial arts skill in Shaolin Soccer. I've heard how good they are, how soft and light and fluffy, but... steaming bread to cook it? Wouldn't that just give you lumps of mushy dough? I finally got curious enough to give it a try. The result... well, if it was a waste of time I wouldn't bother to post a recipe for it, would I?

What you'll need to make 24 buns:


1 tbsp active dry yeast
1 tsp white sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup warm water


1/2 cup warm water or milk
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
2 tbsp white sugar
1 tbsp vegetable or peanut oil

Finish-up & cooking:

1/2 tsp baking powder
Vegetable steamer
Parchment paper
Paper towel

In your mixing bowl, mix the water and flour from the "starter" stage, then sprinkle the yeast and sugar on top. (The water should be about 110 degrees to make a good environment for the yeast.) Leave it for around 15-30 minutes.

Stir in the remaining water/milk (I prefer milk), flour, salt, sugar, and oil. Mix it into dough. Flour your work surface, turn the dough onto it, and knead it until it's smooth. Then grease a bowl lightly, return the doughball to the bowl, roll it around to coat the ball with grease, cover it, and let it stand for an hour and a half until it has doubled in size. (The original recipe called for it to rise for 2.5 to 3 hours, but the rolls I got when I did that tasted obnoxiously yeasty.)

Punch down the dough with the back of your fist, then spread it on the lightly floured working surface. Sprinkle the baking powder evenly over it and then knead it for five minutes. Then put half of the dough back in the bowl and cover it again, and pull off bits of the dough you still have out and shape them into spheres. You can put these on squares of parchment paper, to make them easier to handle later. You should end up with about a dozen rolls, unless you feel like varying the sizes. Take out the other half of the dough and do the same thing. Then cover the rolls - a deep pan will do, as will a "tent" made out of plastic wrap and four tall glasses - and let them rise for another half hour.

Almost done! Now comes the fun part. Take the basket out of your steamer and bring the water to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Place some buns, still on their paper, in the basket, leaving an inch between them. Place the basket in the steamer, put a paper towel over the top, and put the lid on over that. (This will prevent condensation from dripping back down on the buns and creating blisters.) Steam them over simmering water for 15 minutes, or until they are firm. Take them out and presto! Steamed buns! Now repeat several times, unless you happen to have a huge enough steamer to do all these at once.

Look ma, no crusts!You can fan the buns while they're fresh out of the steamer to give them a shiny finish. And if you blow on them when they're hot they'll contract slightly, and them puff out a little when you stop. Weird!

You don't have to stick with plain rolls. You can also add fillings such as anko or meat.