Vietnamese Steamed Pork Buns (Banh Bao)
I remember as a kid helping my mom make Vietnamese steamed pork buns in the kitchen. The whole family would come together to spend the entire day just making these buns. We didn’t have a stand mixer so most of the day was spent taking turns, kneading the dough.
There was always an assembly line where each kid was tasked with one thing. I was usually in charge of cutting out circles from my school notebook to line the buns. Parchment paper? We don’t need any stinky parchment paper. Authentic Vietnamese steamed pork buns are lined with school notebook paper. That’s a fact.
What is Banh Bao
Vietnamese steamed pork buns, or Bánh Bao, is an adaptation of the Chinese steamed buns, but so much better. I kid. Sort of.
Banh Baos are fluffy savory pork buns made with ground pork, wood ear mushrooms, hard-boiled eggs, and Chinese sausages. Sometimes bean thread vermicelli noodles are added for bulk. The ground pork mixture is lightly seasoned with oyster sauce, sugar, black pepper, and sesame oil.
What You Will Need
Ground pork — this is the main filling ingredient. You can substitute with another type of ground meat.
Chinese sausage — called Lap Xuong in Vietnamese. This is a sweet sausage that’s an absolute must for banh baos. My favorite brand is Harbage Sausage.
Hard-boiled eggs — I like to use fresh quail eggs. Bring a small pot to a boil, then lower the quail eggs with a slotted spoon into the boiling water. Cook for about four minutes then immediately shock them in cold water for easier peeling. You can use canned quail eggs if you can’t find them fresh.
Dried woodear mushroom — Sometimes called black fungus. This provides the crunch in the filling. Rehydrate with water and mince finely. I prefer dried over fresh woodear mushroom. I find they taste better. Plus, dried woodear is pantry-stable.
Oyster sauce — The main salty umami flavoring agent.
Sugar — Rounds out the saltiness of the oyster sauce. You will also need sugar for the bao flour so it’s best to use white granulated sugar to keep the baos white.
Sesame oil — for the nutty aroma and flavor.
Ground black pepper — for the peppery aroma and flavor.
Banh Bao premix flour — My go-to banh bao flour is TL Bon Con Voi Corp brand (four elephants). Other brands simply suck.
Whole Milk — This is needed for the bao dough.
Neutral Oil — Also needed for the bao dough.
White Vinegar — A tablespoon of vinegar is added to the water in the steamer basin. The acidity helps to get the baos white.
A large steamer basket — Can’t have steamed buns without a steamer. I like to use a large multi-tier steamer for faster cooking.
Why this Recipe Works
Included in the below recipe are techniques that are slightly different than traditional methods that make the process so much easier.
Making the Filling into Balls
In the traditional method, I have always found it tricky to wrap the dough around the different size pieces of filling: the raw ground pork mixture, the hard-boiled egg, and sliced Chinese sausage. These pudgy little hands of mine sometimes have the dexterity of a two-year-old.
The different sizes cause the filling to constantly slip and slide against each other, making wrapping difficult. It is a lot easier to chop up the Chinese sausages into small pieces and evenly incorporate them into the ground pork mixture, then mold the pork/Chinese sausage mixture around the quail egg. The filling then becomes a simple ball that I can easily wrap with dough. Boom.
Precook the Pork Ball Filling
The traditional method involves wrapping raw filling into the bao dough. However, I like to steam the pork filling first. This has four advantages:
- It removes excess moisture. This prevents soggy banh baos.
- It allows for easier handling. The filling gets firmed once cooked and this makes it easy to encase the filling in bao dough.
- It ensures my filling is completely cooked. I can see that the pork is cooked rather than guessing when it gets cooked inside the fluffy bao.
- I can make this ahead of time. If you don’t have the time to dedicate to making banh baos all in one day, you can make the filling balls ahead of time and do the wrapping another day.
Storage and Reheating
These fluffy steamed baos are freezer-friendly! Double or triple the recipe. Enjoy some baos piping hot from the steamer, pack some for school/work lunches and freeze the leftover.
To freeze, it’s best to wrap each bao with plastic wrap first and they will last for months!
To reheat, simply take it out from the freezer and pop the frozen baos into the microwave. Heat on high for 30 seconds to one minute. The baos will again become fluffy and be delicious as if they have never been frozen. You can also steam them again for a few minutes.
- Pork Filling
- 12 grams dried Woodear mushroom
- 2 oz dried bean thread vermicelli noodles (optional)
- 12 oz ground pork
- 1 teaspoon granulated white sugar
- ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons oyster sauce
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 2 green onions (slice thinly)
- ½ cup finely diced yellow onion
- ½ cup frozen green peas/carrot mix
- 1 Chinese sausage (finely dice)
- 12 hard-boiled quail eggs
- 1 bag TL Bon Con Voi Corp brand (four elephants) banh bao flour mix (available in Asian grocery stores)
- 1 cup whole milk
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1 tablespoon white vinegar
- 12 cupcake liners
- In a medium bowl, hydrate dried woodear mushroom and vermicelli noodles (optional) with 2 cups hot water. Once softened, rinse, squeeze out excess water, and mince finely. Set aside.
- In a large bowl, mix together ground pork, sugar, black pepper, oyster sauce, and sesame oil. You may test the flavor of the marinated meat by quickly cooking a small piece in the microwave and adjust if needed.
- To the ground pork mixture, gently mix in minced woodear mushroom, noodles, sliced green onions, chopped yellow onion, frozen peas/carrots, and diced Chinese sausage until combined.
- Using plastic gloves for easier handling, divide the ground pork mixture into 12 equal balls (about 63 grams each). Make a hole in the middle of each filling ball. Insert a hard-boiled quail egg in the middle and work the pork filling to encase the quail egg fully.
- Prepare the steamer by filling the basin halfway with water and bringing it to a boil. Steam the ground pork balls for 5 minutes. This will remove most of the moisture to prevent a soggy bun. Remove the pork filling balls from the steamer and set them aside.
- Make the dough for the baos: TL Bon Con Voi Corp brand banh bao flour mix is my go-to banh bao flour mix that never fails. Add flour into the mixing bowl of a stand mixer. Set aside 1 tablespoon of flour for dusting. Mix milk and sugar in a small bowl then add the mixture to the flour. Use a hook attachment and beat on the lowest setting until the dough comes mostly together. Add oil and continue beating until the dough pulls cleanly away from the sides of the mixing bowl. Cover and set it aside to proof for 30 minutes. See notes below if the dough becomes sticky.
- Divide the dough into 12 equal pieces. Package instructions will say 18, but I find that 18 is way too little dough for a bao. Dust your work surface and/or hands with the reserved flour to prevent sticking, if needed. Roll out the dough into a flat circle using a small rolling pin. Place the pork filling ball in the middle. Gently pull the dough from the bottom to the top and encase the pork filling using large pleats. Pinch the pleats together at the top to seal then give it a final gentle twist to accentuate the pleats. Place the assembled buns onto cupcake liners. Set them aside, covered.
- Discard the old water in the steamer basin and refill with new water. Bring the water to a boil then add vinegar to the boiling water. The acidity of the vinegar will help to keep the baos white. Transfer assembled baos onto the steamer trays, leaving room in between for expansion. Steam for a total of 15 minutes. Wipe down the inside of the lid at the halfway mark to prevent water droplets from dripping onto the baos.
- Serve immediately for best results. You can also make these ahead of time and individually wrap leftovers with Saran wrap and store them in the freezer. When ready to serve, pop the frozen bao into the microwave and heat on high for about 30 seconds.
You can substitute quail eggs with three hard-boiled regular eggs. Slice them into quarter wedges. You can substitute cupcake liners with parchment paper cut into 3"x3" square sheets. If dough becomes sticky, use the reserved flour and mix again. This can happen depending on elevation, humidity or just because. You will not have any flour for dusting, but you may not need it anyways. However, if needed, use a bit of all-purpose flour or self-rising flour.