During university I used to host a monthly girl brunch at my apartment. I invited all the girls I knew to invite all the girls they knew over on a Sunday and have a potluck style brunch that produced delicious results. There’s just nothing better than a kitchen full of ladies weaving around each other to fry bacon, set out their freshly baked scones or lift a hot waffle out of the iron.
I miss those days, but last Sunday I was back in the girl brunch zone at my co-worker Hnin’s house in Brooklyn. Hnin and her mom taught me and two other girls how to make steamed buns, after feeding us a host of delicious dim sum dishes like deep-fried mint, fried luo bo gao with miso and peanut butter sauce, soybean pakoras and even homemade soy milk.
Hnin’s family is from Southern China where she told me meals are served white rice traditionally, while in Northern China breaded food is more common, like the steamed bun. This is how we made them:
To make the dough:
3 cups white flour
2 teaspoons yeast (proofed in hot water)
2 tablespoons white sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup of hot water (includes water for the yeast)
Mix together to form a soft, but not sticky, dough. Knead lightly for about 5 minutes, until the dough is soft, but still returns to its shape after pulling.
Cover and put in a warm place for 30 minutes. Dough should rise and at least double in size.
While the dough was rising we made the filling, which you can tweak to include ingredients that you like:
About half a head of shredded cabbage
1 package of extra firm tofu cut into tiny cubes
1/2 cup chopped green onions
1 thinly sliced clove of garlic
2 cups chopped shitake mushrooms
Drizzle of sesame oil
Salt to taste
Roughly a tablespoon of rice wine, a.k.a. Shaoxing
Roughly a tablespoon of soy sauce paste
These are very approximate amounts, but you can add different sauces, spices or vegetables to your liking. We had quite a bit of filling leftover, which we used to make dumplings, so I would say experiment the first time you make them and tweak the recipe for the vegetables that you want to use.
Stir fry the ingredients together and let cool.
Now! Back to the dough! Has it risen yet? Pinch off half-dollar sized pieces of dough and roll around in your hands, dusting lightly with flour, to form small, flat circles. Add less than a tablespoon of filling and pinch the dough together, as illustrated.
If the filling is too wet the dough might not hold together, so try to put as little liquid with the filling as you can. If there are some thin spots on your bun where the filling is peeking through you can coat it with a bit extra flour for reinforcement. If you’ve accidentally made a hole and are trying to patch it up with additional dough and flour, it might get a little messy. But Hnin showed us to throw the bun on the table gently to get the proteins in the dough to stick together again.
At this point you’re supposed to let the fully formed buns sit and rise for 30 minutes. We did not. But things turned out fine! But by the time we picked the buns up to steam them they had puffed up and were full of air.
Now this is where things get steamy. Steam about 6 buns at a time (depending on the size of your pot) in a double boiler for about 15 minutes.
Serve with some soy sauce vinaigrette, which you can make by combining some soy sauce, pieces of fresh ginger and ground up fresh chilies.
I can’t even tell you how delicious these buns were. So light and warm, I’ve never tasted anything like them before.
You can experiment with fillings, and Hnin tells me that roast pork is delicious, as are sweet fillings like red bean paste or egg custard.
Why not host your own girl brunch and learn to make steamed buns together? I think you should do it.