Chinese Steamed Buns

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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.

Years later we visited the same restaurant, this time with our daughters who were 10 and 12, and fortunately we knew what to do. This restaurant must be the place to go because it was still bustling and the food was superb. I know we could find the same restaurant again, but unfortunately we can’t remember the name of it to share with you.

This recipe for steamed buns is my one of my husband’s favorite things to eat. He often 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.

So here’s the recipe for my hubby’s favorite steamed buns:


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.

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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.

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.

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 8-10 minutes, check the buns; the dough should be firm. If they are sticky, keep steaming another minute or two.

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!

Full disclosure: I first published this post in February of 2013, soon after I made these steamed buns for my husband’s birthday, but felt obligated to make the buns again, for my husband’s birthday, and post better photos.

Hazelnut Spatzele

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After the success of my pistachio spatzele, which I made in an attempt to duplicate what I’d enjoyed at a restaurant, I started thinking about other possible spazele made with nuts. And of course I thought of my favorite nut – the hazelnut.

So I used my recipe except substituted hazelnuts for pistachios in the spazele batter, and again used the grater spazele maker. I served them in a gorgonzola cream sauce, and the result was fabulous.

One change I made was a result of a reader who suggested that my spazele could be longer. This is what my pistachio spazele looked like.

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Ginger, from the blog Ginger & Bread, commented… “I make the batter much more runny when using the grater, so that it almost drips through the holes by itself – as a result the Spätzle end up longer and thinner.”

We had a bit of back and forth, because I think that it’s clear in one photo from that post that my batter is on the runny side, but then I thought that because it was my first time using the grater, perhaps I moved the hopper too fast, and that was why my spazele were short.

In any case, I decided to make a runnier batter. And it didn’t work. I ended up with what looked like oatmeal. I’m actually surprised that the batter didn’t completely dissolve in the boiling water.

So now I’m wondering if it’s a factor of ground nuts being in this batter, and will try again using a traditional spazele batter. Because what Ginger says makes sense. It just didn’t work with this batter.

Hazelnut Spazele in a Gorgonzola Cream Sauce

1 cup cream or evaporated milk, at room temperature
2 eggs, at room temperature
2 ounces shelled hazelnuts, peels removed, finely ground
1 cup flour
Pinch of salt

Place the cream, eggs, and hazelnuts in a large bowl and whisk until smooth.
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Meanwhile, have the spazele grater gadget on top of a large pot of boiling water.
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Add the flour to the batter and stir gently. Then pour some batter into the carriage of the grater. Like I mentioned, I tried to move the carriage slower this time.
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I still got the same size spazele. After about 1 minute, using a spider sieve, remove them from the water, let the sieve drain on a tea towel for a second, then place them in a bowl. Continue with the remaining batter.
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I wanted this spazele dish to be simple, so I first added some crumbled Gorgonzola to the spazele, and then I added some warmed cream.


I topped the spazele with some toasted hazelnut halves.
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Serve immediately while still warm.
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I served salt and pepper, but I felt the spazele needed none of either.
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The hazelnuts and the Gorgonzola were a wonderful combination. But just like with the pistachio spazele, I’m not sure the ground nuts made a significant flavor contribution.
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Gnudi with Meat Sauce

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The first time I heard about gnudi, I was ecstatic. And I was also shocked that I hadn’t come across them before, in spite of the many Italian cookbooks I own. It was maybe only five years ago I saw them being made on television, and I knew one day I’d make them. I just sadly forgot about them, until today.

Gnudi, simply stated, are the filling of ravioli. Or any filled pasta. No pasta involved. So they’re like the lazy man’s ravioli!

Today, mine are simple, utilizing the richness and unique texture of ricotta. But any ingredients can be included with the ricotta, just as you would to make a spinach-ricotta filling, or a pumpkin-ricotta filling.

They’re similar to gnocchi and spazele, except that there’s much less flour, which makes sense, since they are the filling and not the pasta. Here’s the recipe.
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Gnudi with Meat Sauce

Gnudi:
2 eggs
2 egg yolks
1/2 teaspoon salt
20 ounces whole-milk ricotta, well drained*
3/4 cup loosely-packed, finely grated Parmesan
3/4 cup flour, plus extra

Begin by whisking the eggs, yolks, and salt together in a large bowl.

Add the ricotta and whisk well.

Then add the Parmesan and whisk until smooth.

Add the flour and fold into the ricotta mixture gently. If you feel more flour is needed – add more – but just a little at a time. The gnudi must end up tender.

Sprinkle a cookie sheet or jelly roll pan with a light dusting of flour.
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Typically, gnudi are shaped into quenelles, which are beautiful ovoids. Unfortunately, even if I could make these forms, which requires two spoons, I wouldn’t be fast enough to get through the gnudi batter before the water completely evaporated. So I opted for a little cookie scoop.

Dip the scoop in water, tap, then scoop up the gnudi.

Place them on the floured sheet, and then sprinkle a little more flour over the top of the gnudi, using a fine sieve.

Once you have finished with all the batter, let the gnudi sit for about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, get a large pot of water boiling on the stove.

As I do with spazele, I always test one to get the timing right. In this case, my little 1″ round gnudi took 5 minutes to cook. You don’t want them raw in the middle, but you don’t want them to be like rubber.

As with spazele, the gnudi will drop to the bottom of the pot, and about halfway through cooking they will come to the surface. When they’re cooked, remove them with a slotted spoon, and place them on a paper towel-lined platter.

Once you know the timing of the gnudi, make them in batches until the batter is no more.

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I served these with a meat sauce (recipe below), but because I didn’t want the meat sauce to smother the delicate gnudi, I placed the sauce on the bottom of the bowl, topped it with the warm gnudi, and sprinkled on a little Parmesan.

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These ricotta-based gnudi are like soft little pillows of goodness.

I would normally not pair the gnudi with such a heavy sauce, but my husband isn’t fond of meatless red sauce. Just like with gnocchi and spazele, the gnudi could be simply tossed in browned butter.

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* I only buy whole-milk ricotta, and I always let it drain on paper towels overnight or at least for 12 hours. It just makes the ricotta thicker and creamier. It’s amazing how much water comes out.
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Meat Sauce:
Olive oil
Finely chopped onion or shallots
Minced garlic
Ground Italian sausage
Canned tomato puree or crushed tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon oregano leaves