This is Chef Ware’s take on that quintessential southern breakfast, biscuits and gravy. Instead of biscuits, she uses baozi or filled buns, a Chinese dimsum staple. The complex flavor of the baozi filling is due to the combination of fennel, black vinegar, garlic, and honey. Baozi is usually eaten out of hand as a snack or as a meal on the go, but Chef Ware ladles gravy on these buns and tops them with fried egg, southern style. The gravy is full of flavor, tangy and interesting with a hint of the sea, thanks to the nori or seaweed, an ingredient in the katsuo nori furikake. Furikake adds just the right kind of savory or umami taste that is as hard to describe as it is unmistakable.
I made my bao both small and large. Andy prefers the 4-inch bao to the 3 inch so this recipe reflects that. I also doubled the bao dough. The first batch I made I forgot the oil. But it made very little difference to the taste or texture. The buns are done when they look cream colored. They may feel solid and heavy but do not be alarmed. They are soft inside and when you bite into one, yielding to the teeth, chewy like fresh bread and delicious.
Johanna Ware’s Breakfast Bao
12 to 14 buns
20 minutes, plus proofing time
28 minutes, plus proofing time
2/3 cup warm water
2 teaspoons instant yeast
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 1/4 cups bread flour, plus more for if needed
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1. In a small bowl, whisk together the water, yeast and sugar until the yeast dissolves. Let the mixture sit until the yeast starts to get foamy and bloom, 4 to 6 minutes. Stir in the oil and set aside.
2. Meanwhile, sift the bread flour, salt and baking soda together. Add the yeast mixture to the dry ingredients and stir using a rubber spatula. If the dough feels sticky, add 1 additional tablespoon of flour at a time until it is less sticky.
3. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and knead until smooth. Cover the dough with a damp kitchen towel and let the dough rest until it has doubled in size, 1. to 2 hours. Fold the dough over on itself to flatten it.
4. Portion the dough into balls that are 3 inches in diameter and let rest for 5 minutes. Flatten each ball into a disk 4 inches in diameter.
5. Fill the buns with the filling (see recipe below) and wrap by gathering the edge and twisting slightly. Put each bao on a parchment lined baking tray. Cover with a damp kitchen towel to keep the bao from drying out.
6. Fill a wok or skillet with 1 to 2 inches of water and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Line a steam basket with a circle of parchment paper. Place the buns 1 to 2 inches away from one another, as they will expand as they cook.
7. Working in 2 batches, steam the buns. Place 5-6 buns in the prepared steam basket and steam until the buns have expanded, 7 to 9 minutes. Serve warm.
12 to 14 buns
30 minutes, plus cooling time
50 minutes, plus cooling time
For the Bao:
Bao dough (recipe above)
1 pound ground pork
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon whole fennel seeds
2/3 cup honey (or 3/4 cup maple syrup)
2 tablespoons black vinegar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 1/4 teaspoons cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon water
For the gravy:
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1 tablespoon shaoxing wine or sherry
1 1/4 cups milk, warmed
1/3 cup chicken stock, preferably home made
2 tablespoons Katsuo Nori Furikake (or 1 1/2 teaspoons togarishi)
2 teaspoons soy sauce (reduce if using canned chicken stock)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 medium scallions, leaves of Chinese celery, and cilantro, chopped
1. Make the bao dough as directed in the recipe above.
2. Make the filling. In a large skillet over medium heat, brown the pork while using a wooden spoon to break it into small clumps, 7 to 8 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium low, then add the garlic, fennel seeds, honey or maple syrup, black vinegar, soy sauce and cayenne pepper. Season with salt and pepper and cook for another 2 to 3 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, mix the cornstarch and water together to make a slurry. Bring the pork to a simmer and pour in the slurry. Once the sauce has thickened, after about 2 to 3 minutes, remove from the heat and set aside to cool completely, or chill and skim off the congealed fat.
4. Make the bao as directed in the recipe above.
5. Meanwhile, make the gravy: In a medium skillet over medium heat, melt the butter. When the butter begin to foam, whisk in the flour and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute. Add the shaoxing wine or sherry then whisk in the warm milk slowly until the gravy has thickened slightly, 8 to 10 minutes. Add the chicken stock, furikake (togarashi) and soy sauce. Season with salt and pepper. Remove from heat and keep warm.
8. To serve, place the steamed bao on a plate and ladle the gravy over the bao. Top with the fried eggs and scallion mix.