Vietnamese Steamed Pork Buns with Dough from Scratch (Banh Bao)
Banh Bao (“wrapping cake”) is a fluffy Vietnamese steamed bun with a savory filling. The most common filling is ground pork, onions, mushroom, Chinese sausage and a hard-boiled egg. Other varieties include vegetables such as peas, carrots and jicama.
In the past, I have always relied on premix Banh Bao flour. The premix flour is great, always reliable and there are plenty of Asian stores around me that sale different brands. However, a lot of readers have emailed me and asked for a recipe without the Banh Bao premix flour. So, fellow readers, this is for you.
When making the Banh Bao dough completely from scratch, I use self-rising flour, which is a mixture of bleached wheat flour, salt and baking powder. You can find self-rising flour just about anywhere. If you can’t it, you can simply make your own with 1 cup bleached all-purpose flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder. The bleached wheat flour creates a softer texture than unbleached flour. It also keeps the dough white.
To the self-rising flour, I also add a bit of instant yeast to make the Banh Bao even fluffier. Although the self-rising flour has a bit of baking powder (a leavening agent), I want that extra fluff to my Banh Bao and the addition of instant yeast does just that. The Banh Bao rose so quickly in the steamer that the top sort of split, something I didn’t mind at all. It actually made the Banh Bao more appetizing. It was like biting into heavenly delicious clouds.
For the hard-boiled eggs in the recipe, I like to use quail eggs instead of chicken eggs. Quail eggs are much smaller than chicken eggs so they fit nicely inside the Banh Bao without the need to halve them. Quail eggs also provide so much more flavor than chicken eggs. Plus, they are just too cute to pass up. I usually make more than the needed amount of hard-boiled quail eggs because tiny little hands are always stealing my hard-boiled eggs off the counter.
For the pork filling, I spread individual portions onto Saran wrap then insert a peeled hard-boiled quail egg in the middle. I fold up the sides of the Saran wrap to encase the ground pork around the quail egg. The use of Saran wrap shapes the ground pork and quail egg tightly and nicely into balls without making a mess all over your hands. The filling then gets precooked in the steamer before it gets wrapped in dough. Precooking the filling helps to get rid of the excess liquid because we all know a soggy Banh Bao is no bueno.
What makes a reputable Banh Bao is the whiteness of the buns. The dough will be slightly tinted yellow from the yeast and vegetable oil that goes in the dough but do not fear. A trick to making the buns white is to add vinegar to the water in the steamer. The acidic vapor makes the buns white during steaming because, you know, science. Other people squeeze a bit of lime directly into the dough during kneading. I have also heard of people substituting lard for vegetable oil to maintain the whiteness in the dough. I have not done this but I can only imagine the flavor when using lard. Yum!
Banh Bao is so delicious straight from the steamer. They also keep very well in the freezer. I usually double or triple the batch so that I can individually wrap the leftover in Saran wrap and pop them in the freezer. It is great for when you don’t feel like cooking but want something quick at home. My kids enjoy them as a hearty after school snack, something to hang them over until dinner. Simply pop them in the microwave or the steamer to rejuvenate the fluffy and savory goodness.
- 200 mL milk
- 100 grams granulated white sugar
- 3 grams instant yeast
- 400 grams self-rising flour (sift)
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1/2 cup chopped white/yellow onion
- 3/4 lbs fatty ground pork
- 1 teaspoon granulated white sugar
- 2 tablespoons oyster sauce
- 1/4 teaspoon chicken or mushroom bouillon stock powder
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 1/4 cup rehydrated Woodear mushrooms (mince)
- 1/4 cup frozen peas and carrots (optional)
- 2 Chinese sausages (slice one at a diagonal into eclipse shape and dice up the other one into small cubes)
- 12 quail eggs (hard-boiled and peeled)
- Other needed ingredients/equipment
- Large steamer
- Kitchen scale
- Kitchen towel
- 1/4 cup white vinegar
- Parchment paper cut into 2x2-inch squares or 12 standard size cupcake liners
- In a microwave-safe bowl, heat milk for one minute. Add sugar to the warm milk and stir until disssolved. Add yeast and give it a gentle stir. Let it rest for 10 minutes.
- Once yeast mixture is frothy, transfer it to a bowl of a stand mixer. Add flour and mix with a hook attachment on medium-low until dough comes together loosely. Add vegetable oil. Continue to mix on low until oil is fully incorporated and most of the dough pulls cleanly away from the sides of the bowl.
- Cover the bowl with Saran-wrap and transfer it to a warm spot. If you don't have a warm spot, you can place the bowl inside the oven with the lights on. Allow the dough to proof/rest for one hour.
- In the meantime, prepare the filling. In a small frying pan, heat 2 tablespoons vegetable oil on medium-high. Add diced white/yellow onions and saute until soft and aromatic. Set aside to cool.
- In a small bowl, marinate pork with sugar, black pepper, oyster sauce, stock powder and sesame oil. Gently mix in mushroom, frozen peas and carrots, sauteed onions, and diced Chinese sausage until fully incorporated (set aside the sliced sausage for now).
- Divide the pork mixture evenly into 12 balls. Insert a quail egg into the center of each ball so that it props up.
- Pre-cook the pork balls/quail eggs in the steamer for 7-8 minutes.
- Divide the dough into 12 equal pieces (about 117 grams each). Shape dough piece into a ball then roll it out into a circle (about 5-1/2 inches in diameter). Place cooked filling into the center of the dough. Top each off with a few slices of Chinese sausage.
- Pull the dough over the filling. Gently fold and pinch the dough around the filling. Give the top of the dough a gently twist and pinch to seal.
- Place the fully assemble dough onto parchment paper or cupcake liners and transfer them to a steamer baskets, leaving about 1 inch room all around for expansion. Add vinegar to the water in the steamer (this makes the buns white) and wrap the lid of the steamer in a large kitchen towel to catch water from falling onto the buns. Steam for 10 minutes. Banh bao is now ready for consumption. Don't forget to peel off the cupcake liners/parchment paper before consumption! Paper doesn't taste too good.