This could well be sacrilege, and honestly, I’m pretty OK with that possibility. Here in Japan, these buns are on the counter of every convenience store, kept hot, steamy, and pure white – and, FYI, they are as incredibly soft and satisfying as they look, pillowy and fresh. They’re also, usually, filled with pork – 肉まん or nikuman: meat buns. That’s not so cool. There are anman, with sweet red bean paste, but vegans cannot live on sweets alone (or so my mother tells me, anyway. Challenge accepted, mom). Unfortunately – for now, anyway – if we want to eat non-nikuman, we pretty much have to make them ourselves. Either that, or we can stage loud protests outside Japanese grocery stores, but I don’t really want to be deported just yet. You might know these as Chinese bao, steamed buns – you might know them with no filling at all – or you might not know them. If that’s the case, let me introduce you. Above: bao with peanut butter. Though for this batch, I also filled buns with sweet chili hummus, natto (Japanese fermented soy beans – it doesn’t half stink, but I still like it, mostly to prove a point to Japanese people), vanilla-maple chestnut paste, peanut butter, sweet potato jam, and pb&j. OK, I may have gotten a touch carried away. These may not be traditional, but they’re really freaking good – I'm pointing you towards the peanut butter ones as they were my runaway winners and make fantastic breakfast food with a banana alongside, though the vanilla-maple chestnut ones are a perfect seasonal brunch. The savory buns are like self-contained, grab-and-go sandwiches, and I want to fill one with roasted, mashed butternut squash so much right now that I might just start another batch of dough and make that happen. And hello, plain bao used as a hamburger bun, with a teriyaki tofu ‘burger’? Yes please. These do contain yeast – don’t freak out! – so there is a couple of hours rising time, but hands-on work is very simple, and forming the buns themselves is easy as anything. Also: two minute cooking time. I’m just sayin’.
Steamed Chinese Bao With Peanut Butter [Vegan]
- 1 tbsp active dry yeast
- 1 tsp white sugar or agave nectar
- 1/4 cup (35g) all-purpose or plain flour
- 1/4 cup (60ml) warm water
- 1/2 cup (120ml) warm water
- 2 cup (280g) all-purpose or plain flours
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 2 tbsp white sugar or agave nectar
- 1 tbsp coconut oil (or any mild vegetable oil)
- 1/2 tbsp bicarbonate of soda or baking soda
- 1/2 tbsp lemon juice
- 12 tbsp peanut butter
- ...OR jam OR chestnut spread OR hummus OR roasted mashed veg OR curried scrambled tofu... etc. The sky's the limit!
- Combine the first four ingredients together in a large mixing bowl and let stand for 30 mins. Add the rest of the dough ingredients to the bowl and knead until elastic - you may need a touch more flour, but you don't want it to be falling apart, it should all combine together after a bit of violence. Leave to rise until it has tripled in size - I filled a huge wok with hot water and put my mixing bowl in that to keep it warm (covered with plastic wrap), and it took perhaps 1 1/2 hours to triple in size.
- Generously flour your surface, then turn the dough out onto it and knead for the duration of 'Bad Romance' by Lady Gaga (or just for five minutes). Divide into twelve equally (cut in half, half again, and then each part into threes) and roll into little balls.
- One at a time, flatten the ball to about the size of your palm (though I have very small hands, so maybe a little less) and put a tablespoon of your filling in the centre. Pinch the edges firmly shut, and place the ball seam side down on a little square of baking paper. Repeat for each bun.
- I steamed my buns in a plastic microwave steamer, which worked perfectly and was super quick - 2 minutes in the microwave. You could also use a traditional steamer over a pan of boiling water (add a little vinegar to the steaming water to make your buns whiter), though I can't tell you how long this would take - use your own judgement.
- Eat these super hot and fresh, and enjoy!