One of the traditional fillings for these is a sweet/spicy barbecued pork, and I wanted to try to duplicate some of that flavor with a vegetarian filling. I think it worked well, and we have been snacking on these nonstop. For the filling I used some standard button mushrooms, creminis, and some dried lily flowers, which have an earthy, slightly floral flavor that goes really well with mushrooms. If you don’t have an Asian market close by, you can also order this ingredient online, or just use something like bamboo shoots as a replacement, or omit the ingredient and just go with the mushrooms. It will still be worth it. I soaked the dried lily flowers in warm water for a half hour, then chopped them up.
Next I chopped up a pound of mushrooms, a couple of green onions, and a good handful of fresh cilantro. I cooked the mushrooms, a heaping cup of chopped lily flowers, and onions in some olive oil until they started to soften.
At this stage I stirred in a teaspoon each of crushed garlic and fresh ginger, two tablespoons of tamari sauce, two teaspoons of toasted sesame oil, and three tablespoons of Gochujang sauce, which is a sweet and spicy Korean barbecue sauce that is becoming widely available in grocery stores. That was my “secret ingredient” to add the barbecue flavor I was after, and it worked well. Cook until most of the liquid has evaporated, and stir in the cilantro until it wilts. Note that I made way too much filling, and if I did this again, I would cut my amounts by half.
Once the filling was finished, I worked on the dough. For this I used the recipe from the book, which calls for 4 cups of self-rising flour, 2 teaspoons dry yeast, 1 tablespoon sugar, and 1/2 cup warm water. To get the dough to pull together I had to increase the water by 1/4 cup, and it was still a little too dry to work with easily–this could be an altitude issue, so play around on your own to get the right texture. To make the dough you stir the yeast and sugar into the water and let it “proof” for five minutes, then stir it into the flour. This is where I added the extra water. I then used the dough hook on my Kitchenaid to do the work of kneading for five minutes. I ended up with a pretty dry dough that did just hold together:
Cover the dough with a damp towel and let it rise for 20 minutes. At this stage, roll it out into a long, “sausage” shape and cut it into 20 pieces. The book calls for rolling out those pieces with a rolling pin, but I used my hands to pat them into circles, and it worked just fine. Place about a tablespoon of the filling in the center, and then pinch the edges up to close the top.
Place the filled buns on wax paper and let them rise for 15 minutes.
Place a steamer rack in an appropriately-sized pot with about an inch of water, and bring it to a low boil. I sprayed my steamer rack with cooking spray, which seemed to help. Steam the bao in batches for 15-17 minutes.
These are best eaten hot out of the steamer, served with some hot chile sauce and soy sauce for dipping. Extra, cooked bao can be frozen and reheated in the microwave–they will be a little more chewy, but still really good.
I also made a typical sweet filling of red bean paste, which is delicious if you haven’t tried it. For this I rinsed and drained a 15-ounce can of adzuki beans and pureed them in the food processor with a half cup of brown sugar and a dash of vanilla extract. The canned beans worked well in terms of flavor, but the paste was a little too thin, and if I do this again I will cook dried adzukis for the paste. This amount of filling would make about 1.2 billion bao, so here, too–cut back. Show more restraint than I seem to be able to muster.
We will be happily eating bao for the next couple of days. If you have some time and want to take on a fun cooking project, give these a try.
Thanks for reading,