“Did she really make fresh bao?”
That episode of Firefly (Our Mrs. Reynolds). I’m sure you remember it, and how impressed Wash was by the production of fresh bao (baozi, a steamed Chinese bun filled with…well, whatever you want, basically). Perhaps in the depths of space, this is a truly difficult feat, but as I’ve recently discovered, here on earth it’s not the least bit tricky.
Ok, that first paragraph was lost on anyone who has never seen Firefly. See, you try to work some local color into a recipe and where does it get you?
These are hong (red) dau (bean) baozi–meaning they’re filled with sweet red bean paste. There are a lot of good recipes for this out there. I got the idea from this helpful YouTube video. She’s making anko, which is the Japanese equivalent. This video from Cooking with Dog gives better instructions on how to actually make the paste. The outside of the bao comes from a recipe I saw on Food Network, specifically a show called “What Would Brian Boytano Make?”, specifically this recipe here.
Red bean paste ingredients
- 1 c. dried aduzki beans (you can probably get these at the grocery store. I could, and my local grocery store doesn’t have a huge line in exotic foods — i.e., no semolina flour.)
- 3/4 c. granulated sugar
- pinch of salt
- 2 T. butter (unsalted)
Red bean paste methodology
- Put adzuki beans in a bowl and cover with water. Leave to sit overnight. In the morning the beans will have swelled up and soaked up most of the water.
- Drain and rinse the beans, then put them in a pot with water to cover (about three cups). Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to a simmer. Let it cook for about an hour until beans are soft. Skim off any scum or thick foam with a spoon or strainer.
- Drain and rinse the beans and put them in a bowl. You can put the beans in the fridge overnight at this point. That’s what I did (I was tired).
- When you’re ready, stick the beans in the Cuisinart and chop them up. You’ll probably have to add a little water to get everything to chop up. Make sure the paste is very smooth. It will be kind of a light purple color and not very thick.
- Add sugar and salt and mix thoroughly.
- Put two tablespoons of butter (or neutral oil) in a pan. When it’s melted, add the bean paste and stir fry it over medium-high heat until it thickens and darkens. It will be a dark purple color when it’s done, and quite thick. Put it back in the fridge and get the dough ready to go.
Bao dough ingredients
- 1 1/4 tsp dry yeast
- 1/2 c. water (warm but not hot)
- 1 1/2 c. all purpose flour
- 1 1/2 c. cake flour
- 1/2 tsp. baking soda
- 3 T. sugar
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1 T. melted margarine or neutral oil
- 1/2 c. warm (not hot) milk (I used skim)
Bao dough methodology
- Add the yeast into the warm water along with a pinch of sugar and set aside. When I say “warm” I mean “less than 110º or you will kill the yeast, but above 80º. “Warm to the touch” is a good indicator.
- Mix dry ingredients (flour, salt, sugar, baking soda). Add the milk, butter or oil, and water with yeast in it and mix well. Turn dough out and knead about 5-10 minutes. There isn’t much gluten in cake flour, so it won’t ever be quite as springy as regular bread dough, but it will get smooth and thick.
- Cover dough and let it rise for about an hour, until doubled in size. Mine rose closer to 1.5 hrs, since I went running and showered before I rolled it out. No harm done.
- Roll the dough into a snake. Divide in half, in half again, and divide each quarter into thirds to make 12 pieces. This will make REALLY BIG baozi. If you want small baozi, halve or even third these.
- Roll the dough into a ball between your hands, then flatten and roll out until thin. Try to make the edges thinner than the middle. Add a good quarter cup of bean paste and gather the edges together. Pinch the top firmly. Let the baozi sit for ten minutes before you cook them.
To cook baozi
- Start a pot of water going. Alternatively, put water in your rice cooker and turn it on. This is what I did, since our rice cooker has a steamer attachment. If you don’t have a steamer, you’ll have to improvise — try putting one of those racks for cooling cookies across a pot. You’ll want it wide enough that you can get a lid on it, but there has to be water boiling and not touching the baozi. You’ll figure something out.
- Each baozi can get its own little square of parchment paper. OR you can cut out a big sheet of parchment paper in the shape of your steamer and punch little holes in it to let the steam through. Whatever works for you.
- Put the baozi in the steamer and steam for about 12 minutes, until the baozi are shiny and cooked. They will expand a lot in the steamer, so don’t put in too many at once.
- Serve warm! Be careful, the filling will be hot.
So that was super easy. You can put basically whatever you want in them. I will probably try spinach and tofu next.
This recipe made about 13 baozi, enough to feed the four baozi eaters with baozi left over. I could have easily made the baozi smaller and made at least 16 or so.
If you decide to make this with a more savory filling (I used tofu, cabbage, mushrooms, and green onion), be warned: the wetness of the filling will make the dough very fragile. Don’t roll them too thin, work quick, and consider steaming them seam-side (i.e., thick side) down.