Chinese Steamed Buns

I enjoyed many variations of steamed buns while growing up – some were plain, some were filled with bright red pork filling, others looked like works of art. They were especially ubiquitous during the time my French mother was in her Chinese phase (see Growing up Foodie,) which was a mostly wonderful culinary experience for our family.

But I never knew the extent of the magic created in a bamboo steamer until my husband and I went to our first dim sum restaurant. This was in San Francisco’s Chinatown, 30+ years ago. It was a busy, bustling restaurant, full of people who spoke non-English. Waiters pushed little carts around tightly-placed tables and it was a bit unsettling. This is what the insides of the carts look like:

We weren’t sure what to do, so we kept pointing at food and nodding, because everything looked so good. There must have been at least 200 different items from which to choose. Maybe even more. We were so excited, hungry, and a little nervous, that I think we ended up with food for a dozen people. Knowing us, we probably finished it all.

This recipe for steamed buns is my one of my husband’s favorite things to eat. He asks for them as part of his birthday dinner, like he did last week. The dough is a basic bread dough, and the filling is Chinese sausage. It’s a recipe my mother created, because of her love of Chinese sausage. Try it in soups and omelets. It’s a bit greasy, but wonderful!

You can double the recipe, but it’s tricky unless you have two steamers.

Bread Dough

1 tablespoon yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
1 cup warm milk, at about 110 degrees
3 1/2 cups white flour

Heat 1/4 cup of water in a large bowl to approximately 110 degrees; if you can put your finger in the water and hold it there, it’s hot enough. Sprinkle on the yeast and sugar, and let it sit for a few minutes.

Then stir up the mixture, place it in a non-drafty part of your kitchen, and let it sit for 5 minutes; it will have doubled in volume.

Stir in the warm milk, then add 3 cups of flour. Mix as much as you can with a spoon. Then turn out the dough on your work area and, using flour only as necessary, knead the dough until it is smooth. This should take about 5 minutes. Don’t add too much flour – just enough to keep the dough from sticking.

Form the dough into a ball, and place it in a clean, greased bowl. Cover the bowl with a damp towel, then put the bowl in a warm, draft-free place for about 1 1/2 hours.

It will have doubled in bulk. Punch down the dough, and let it rest about 20 minutes.

To Prepare the Steamed Buns filled with Chinese Sausage

Have about 7 ounces of sliced Chinese sausage on hand, as well as toasted sesame oil.

Turn the dough out onto the work area. Roll the dough into a cylinder, and divide the dough evenly into 12 pieces. Form each piece of dough into a disc, about 3 1/2″ in diameter. Sprinkle a few drops of sesame oil in the middle of the disc, and then top with some sausage slices.

Pull up all four sides of the disc, then squeeze them together and twist to seal the dough. I’m not really good at this part….

As you make the buns, place them in a steamer basket that has been oiled. Or, alternatively, cut out squares of parchment paper and spray those with oil to keep the buns from sticking, placing them underneath the buns. Just make sure the steam can move around the steamer basket. When you have finished making all twelve buns, let them rise in the steamer basket.

There are also liners with holes that you can buy to fit into your steamer baskets.

Meanwhile, bring a wok or pot of water to a boil on the stove, with the water level with the bottom of the steamer basket. After the buns have risen for about 20-30 minutes, turn the water down to a simmer, then place the steamer basket in the wok. After about 10-12 minutes, check the buns; the dough should be firm. If they are sticky, keep steaming another minute or two, then turn off the heat and remove the lid.

Remove them as soon as you can from the steamer basket and let cool slightly. Then enjoy! They’re soft and the most fragrant while warm.

Here’s a panorama iphone pic of a dim sum restaurant we went to in New York City in 2017. It truly is as big as it looks!

I encourage everyone to enjoy dim sum at a reputable Chinese restaurant. There’s always chicken feet – for the hard to please!

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