As a child, I was often nudged awake by the gentle, silky aroma of Chinese buns being steamed for breakfast. While still curled beneath my covers, counting down the precious last seconds before dragging my feet to the bathroom, I could already picture the plush, white roll nestled in the palm of my hand, each bite melting luxuriously in my mouth. I would take a moment to consider whether that morning was a peanut butter or plain butter kind of morning: whether I preferred the sweet nuttiness slathered in the middle or the velvety richness dripping into every nook and cranny. Every so often, I would summon the audacity to have it both ways. In any case, it was always washed down with a glass of cold milk and followed by a dash to the school bus. Those days are long gone, but while life’s choices are no longer as simple as “peanut butter or butter”, my childhood appreciation for steamed bao remains.
Mixed baozi and hua juan crowd:
This was my first try making these buns from scratch and I used about 1/2 the dough to experiment with making baozi. Next time I plan to throw in some baking powder for added lift but otherwise, I think this recipe produces buns that are pretty faithful to my memory: fluffy with a mild milky sweetness and depth from the butter. Freshly steamed, they are best consumed plain, with a slab of butter or peanut butter, or dabbed in soy sauce.
Hua Juan (Steamed Flower Rolls)
Adapted from this recipe by The Cooking of Joy
— Makes 20 small buns —
1/2 5/16 oz. packet active dry yeast
3 C flour + more for kneading
1 C warm milk
4 T melted butter
3/8 C sugar
a bunch of finely chopped scallions
1/2-1 t salt
1-2 T sesame oil
1. Combine milk and butter and dissolve yeast in mixture. In a separate bowl sift together sugar and flour.
2. Add dry to wet ingredients in thirds, and knead dough until springy. Cover with moist cloth and allow dough to rise for about 2 hrs or until doubled in size.
3. Punch dough and proof for another 2 hours. Prepare sesame and scallion mixture (for my experimental baozi innards, I minced cooked chicken and added scallions, oyster sauce, soy sauce, ketchup, and barbeque sauce. Season on the heavy side).
4. Knead dough again and separate into 20 equal pieces. To form the hua juan, I refer you to the excellent video tutorial created by Joy on her recipe page. For the baozi, I rolled the dough into a flat circular disc, spooned a heaping tablespoon of filling into the center, and wrapped the outer edges of the dough over the top of the filling in overlapping sections to approximate the traditional baozi appearance.
5. Steam for about 15 minutes (or longer, if the meat is not cooked). Eat immediately or freeze after the buns have completely cooled.
Waiting for the steamer: