These little bao sandwiches can be eaten as appetizers or just a light lunch. Made from the same recipe as bao, Chinese steamed buns, these are sweet, savoury, and salty and can be stuffed with any manner of things–roast duck and crispy skin pork are a few examples. But leave out the meat and it becomes a vegan treat. Versatile yet so delicious!
I made these gua bao using “special flour” which may be available in Asian grocery stores wherever in the world you may live. Here in Bangkok “special flour” is available at the supermarkets. It is a low-gluten flour specially formulated to make bao or steamed buns. However, all-purpose flour is a fine substitute.
Little Bao Sandwiches
Yield: 15 bao sandwiches
275g all purpose flour (can use special flour)
1 tablespoon cornstarch
3/4-cup warm milk (110˚F)
3 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon instant dry yeast
1 tablespoon rice bran oil, plus more for brushing
Pickled Carrots and Cucumber
1/3-cup thinly sliced carrots
1/3-cup thinly slice cucumbers
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar or to taste
1 teaspoon chile peppers, thinly sliced, optional
1 teaspoon roasted sesame seeds, optional
Pinch of salt
450g shiitake mushrooms
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon rice bran oil
2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
1/4-teaspoon Chinese 5-spice powder or ground Sichuan pepper
Suggested Fillings and Toppings
Chopped roasted peanuts
1/3 cup pork, beef, or chicken slivers marinated in 1 teaspoon each garlic, ginger, and soy sauce/fish sauce.
Make the buns. Mix the dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Place the milk is a microwave safe cup and microwave on high for 15-20 seconds until the milk is around 110˚F or warm to the touch. If it is too hot it will kill the yeast, so test it with your finger. Mix in the sugar and yeast. Let sit 10-15 minutes until the surface is covered in foam. When it is foamy, mix in the oil.
Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients. Pour in the yeast mixture gradually, using a fork to mix in the flour mixture. When the flour mixture is moistened, use your hands to knead the dough until smooth and the sides of the bowl are clean. Knead until the dough is elastic and no longer sticks to your hands, 5-10 minutes. Shape the dough into a ball then place it back in the bowl. Cover the bowl with a damp towel and let it rest at least 1 hour or until doubled in size. While the dough is rising…
Make the Pickled Carrots and Cucumbers. Scrape out and discard the seeds of the cucumber. Peel the carrot. Cut the cucumber and carrot into matchsticks about 2-3-inches long. Place in a large bowl.
In a small bowl, mix together the vinegar, sugar, and salt. Mix well until the sugar and salt are dissolved. Add the chilies, if using. Pour over the cucumber and carrots. Toss. Add salt and pepper to taste. Let sit 10-15 minutes. Add the sesame seeds, if using, and toss to coat. Refrigerate until ready to use.
Make the hoisin mushrooms. Slice mushrooms into strips, discarding the stems.
Heat a non stick pan over medium heat. Add the oil to the pan. Once hot, add the garlic and saute untiil lightly brown, 30 seconds. Add the mushrooms and stir-fry. Pour in the hoisin sauce. Mix well and cook over medium heat 5-6 minutes or until the mushrooms are cooked through. Add the 5-spice powder or sichuan pepper and mix well. Off the heat and set aside.
Prepare the meat, if using, then cook in a teaspoon of hot oil. Set aside.
Make the buns. Once the dough has risen, transfer it to a lightly floured work surface. Punch your finger into the center of the dough to make a hole. Stretch the dough to create a ring. Slice up the ring with a bench scraper into 12-15 equal pieces, each weighing 40 grams. Place the pieces in a baking tray and cover with a damp towel while working with one piece at a time. When you have four gua bao, steam them, and keep the remainder covered with the damp towel.
Roll a piece of dough into a ball and flatten it on a floured surface with the heel of your hand. Roll out the dough into an oval 3×4 inches to 3×4.5. Brush the tops of the flattened dough with a little oil then fold in half. Place each crescent on a piece of parchment. When you have 4 gua bao put them in a bamboo steamer basket or a stainless steel basket, about 2-inches apart.
Fill the steamer with 2 inches of water. Make sure the water doesn’t touch the bottom of the basket. Bring water to a boil over medium heat. Once it boils, place the basket on top of the boiling water. Reduce heat and cover the steamer. Steam 8-10 minutes. When time is up, do not open the steamer. Off the heat and let the bao sit for 10 minutes. Remove the buns to a baking tray. Cover them with a clean towel so they don’t cool and dry out. Repeat the process until all the dough is used up.
Cook’s Note: If using a stainless steel steamer, wrap the lid in a kitchen towel to absorb the condensation. Water, if dripped on top of the bao while steaming, will make the top unattractive.
Assemble the sandwiches. Carefully open a bun. Add the pickles, mushrooms, meat (if using), kimchi and other fillings/toppings, if using.
When cooled, buns can be frozen covered in parchment paper to prevent them from sticking together. Store in a zipper lock bag in the freezer. Take out individually and steam them 10 minutes until warm and softened. Fill bao sandwiches and serve.