I am a very lucky guy in lots of ways. Both professionally and socially, I know more than my fair (or should that be fare) share of chefs and restauranteurs. Over the last few years, they have all, in various ways, been inspirational for me in developing my blog and the food that I prepare here. Kevin Hui, the affable and talented owner of China Sichuan here in Dublin is one such person. Recently, I told him that I planned to prepare Bao, the delicious steamed Chinese buns. I was surprised by Kevin’s reaction; “Don’t prepare the buns yourself. They are a pain to make. I’ll give you some.” This, of course had the opposite effect to that intended by Kevin. I had to make them.
Ingredients (for 16 Bao Buns)
- 500g plain flour
- 1 teaspoon caster sugar
- Pinch of salt
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1 small pack dried yeast
- Tablespoon of sunflower oil
- Tablespoon of rice vinegar
- 50 ml whole milk
Bao buns are not difficult, they do take accuracy, patience and the correct ingredients. So I set about making them. I mixed the flour with the salt and yeast. I then re-read the recipe and put the mixture in the bin. I weighed out more flour and mixed it with the salt and baking powder. I added the yeast to some warm water and let it rest to activate the yeast. I added 500ml of milk. I re-read the recipe and put the gloopy mixture in the recycling.
Filling interlude: I planned to use sous vide pork fillet in the buns. I have done these before and they presented no problem. I simply removed any of the membrane from the fillet, added 5 spice powder, salt and pepper.
Then I vacuum sealed it and cooked it for an hour at 53ºC. The penultimate step was to brown it in a hot pan.
Back to the Bao: Third time lucky, I added the required 50ml of milk to the dry ingredients. I added the yeast mixture and gave it a good mixing, followed by fifteen minutes of kneading. Yes, they are a real pain to make.
Having left it in a lightly oiled bowl to prove, I knocked it down and cut into sixteen 3cm size pieces. These I rolled out into ovals and folded over an oiled chopstick. I removed the chopstick and let each bun prove on a square of grease-proof paper.
This should take about 40 minutes. I didn’t have 40 minutes. All my messing around at the start had eaten into my time and the wife wanted to eat into the Bao. I gave them 20 minutes to prove and got the steamer on. I steamed the buns for 8 minutes.
I served them with the pork mentioned above, Hoi-Sin sauce, a trio of spring onion, carrot and cucumber shreds (The Peking Pork name is inspired by the traditional Peking Duck roll filling).
They were not as aerated as Bao I have eaten in the past. However, they tasted wonderful (I ate six. The poor half starved Wife ate four). Next time, I’ll take Kevin’s advice and let him supply the buns.
Addendum: When I told my friend Izad, top man and chef at Lemongrass Fusion restaurants, he asked where I got the Bao flour. “Bao flour? What is Bao flour, I asked.” He couldn’t answer me, he was too busy laughing…..