How to Make Bao Buns (Baozi) from Scratch

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Craving bao buns? Make these popular Chinese steamed pork buns at home with our step-by-step family recipe.

Growing up in my parents’ bustling kitchen, I knew it was a special occasion if my dad brought down the bamboo steamers from our highest shelf and started making yeasted dough. This could only mean one thing: baozi, also known in the U.S. as steamed pork buns or bao buns.

Back then, there were only a couple of places we could go when craving the fragrant, soft buns filled with juicy minced pork. Now they’ve gained so much popularity, restaurants all over the country carry some variation. Times have changed, but it still feels like a special occasion to make baozi at home. While the process is labor-intensive, it can be a wonderful family activity. So pull up your nearest and dearest, and learn about these delicious steamed pork buns!

What Is a Bao Bun?

The answer is more complex than you might think. If you say “bao buns” to someone who grew up in a Chinese household, they might give you a quizzical look. The word “bao” in Chinese (包) essentially means bun, so the phrase “bao bun” is not very descriptive. Instead, there is a wide variety of bao types. The one most people think of is called Baozi, a steamed bun with a savory filling, and is the recipe I’ll share today. Other popular types of bao are Cha Shao Bao (barbeque pork bun), Sheng Jian Bao (pork buns that are pan-fried after steaming), Gua Bao (popularized in America by chef David Chang) and Xiao Long Bao (known as soup dumplings in the U.S.).

The Best Baozi Fillings

Making baozi at home means you can experiment with different kinds of fillings. Traditional baozi are made with a simple pork filling. You can use pork that is ground at the grocery store, or for more texture, buy a piece of pork shoulder, loin or belly and mince it at home.

My family also uses napa cabbage, a popular addition to dumplings and bao alike. You can customize your filling by mixing in your favorite vegetables, like grated carrot, mushrooms and scallion, or use different kinds of meat.

Though baozi are most often meat buns, they can also be vegetarian. Use either a meat substitute, or a mixture of firm tofu, chopped bean thread noodles, cabbage, carrot and mushroom, as my family does.

How to Make Bao Buns (Baozi)

The ingredients for baozi are simple. The tricky part is the assembly, but I’ll walk you through each step! I’m sharing my dad’s recipe, adapted with tips and tricks from friends and videos through the years. The biggest change from my dad’s recipe is that I provide measurements—many Chinese home cooks, including my family, don’t believe in measuring. Instead, you should be able to tell how much seasoning is needed by the fragrance and texture. You can certainly work up to that level of expertise, but below you’ll find measurements to help get you started.

Ingredients

Dough

  • 2-1/4 cups unbleached wheat flour (plus about 1/4 cup for rolling)
  • 1 teaspoon yeast
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 cup warm water

Filling

  • 1 cup ground pork
  • 1/2 cup diced napa cabbage
  • 1 tablespoon ginger
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons cooking wine (I suggest a Chinese cooking wine like Shaoxing)
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil

Directions

Step 1: Prepare the dough

Baozi Step1Tria Wen for

Dissolve sugar in warm water between 105-115°F. Add yeast and stir. Set aside for 10 minutes. Once the yeast has started bubbling, add it slowly to the flour, stirring with chopsticks in a circular motion. The dough will be sticky and in pieces at first. Depending on your flour type, you may need to add 1-2 tablespoons of flour, so that the dough doesn’t stick to your hands.

Using your hands, gather the dough in the bowl, and give it a knead or two before transferring to a well-floured flat surface. Knead for 10-15 minutes. The dough’s texture will start out velvety soft, but we need it to be firm enough to hold the filling without breaking. The more robust your kneading, the better!

When it feels smooth and elastic, start to gather the dough into a spherical shape, then place it back in its bowl, and cover it with a damp cloth to rise for 40 minutes to one hour.

Keeping it somewhere warm will help: I preheat the oven to the lowest setting possible, turn it off, then place my covered bowl inside.

Step 2: Make the filling

Baozi Step2Tria Wen for taste of home

While the dough rises, you can make your filling. To the bowl of ground pork, add the diced napa cabbage, grated ginger, soy sauce, cooking wine and sesame oil. Stir in one direction. Store in the refrigerator or even freezer while the dough continues to rise. You want it to be cold so that the juices don’t separate and spill while you wrap.

Step 3: Knead and roll the dough

Baozi Step3a

When the dough has doubled in size, knead it again for two to five minutes—the goal is to get out any air bubbles.

With a rolling pin, roll the dough into an oval shape, then use your hands to roll that oval over itself into a log. Squeeze and stretch the log, then cut it into 12-16 pieces, depending on how large you want your baozi to be.

Baozi Step3cTria Wen for taste of home

Roll out each piece into even circles. For ease of wrapping, each circle shouldn’t be much larger than the palm of your hand. They should be thin (less than ⅛ inch), but not so thin that you can see light through them.

Step 4: Wrap the bao

Baozi Step4bTria Wen for taste of home

Wrapping is the most difficult and delicate part of the process. You can expect your first baozi to be messy, much like the first pancake that goes in the pan!

First, hold the wrapper in the palm of your hand, then place a spoonful of filling in the center. Don’t over-stuff, or the filling will spill out as you wrap. The thumb of your hand that’s holding the bao can help push down any filling that threatens to spill. With your free hand, create little “z” pleats, pinching them closed and spinning the bao as you go.

Tria’s Tip: You can also place the wrapper on a flat surface, and use both hands to pleat and spin the bao.

An ideal baozi should have 12-16 pleats. Be patient with yourself if yours don’t look like the ones at restaurants! Some professional chefs have reported practicing 3-6 months every day to perfect this wrapping technique.

Step 5: Steam

Baozi Step5Tria Wen for taste of home

Place each wrapped bun on a square of parchment paper (or napa cabbage, as I like to do), and steam. I use bamboo steamers, but you can also use a double boiler, or even a bowl placed in a pot with two inches of water if you’re in a pinch. The water should be cold to begin with. Turn the burner to medium-high, then when steam starts to rise, turn down to medium-low and set your timer for ten minutes.

Step 6: Serve

Remove from heat and serve immediately!

What to Serve with Baozi

Dipping sauce for baozi can be as simple as equal parts soy sauce and vinegar with finely sliced threads of fresh ginger. For those who like spice, you can also add other flavors like chili powder or hot sauce. My favorite dish to eat with baozi is Chinese beef noodle soup, and no Chinese meal is complete without some cooked greens.

With baozi, practice makes perfect, so why not make a tradition of it? Gather friends or family to mix their favorite fillings and practice their pleating techniques. If you wrap more baozi than you have appetite for, put them in a plastic container and freeze to steam for a quick snack another day.

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Tria Wen
Tria's writing has been featured in the Washington Post, the NYT Now app, Narratively, Ozy, Huffington Post, and the Editor's Picks of Medium, among other places. She is a founding co-editor of the Black Allyship at Mochi Magazine column, and co-creator of Make America Dinner Again, a volunteer organization that facilitates conversations among diverse political perspectives. She has appeared on NPR, BBC, ABC, Mother Jones, at SXSW, and more to discuss how to build understanding across political lines.