Introduction: Baozi (Chinese Stuffed Steamed Buns) and Jiaozi (Chinese Dumplings) From Scratch
I grew up in a multicultural family. My Shanghainese grandmother (Nabu) didn't speak any English. In China now, most Chinese speak Mandarin + their home dialect because Mandarin (Putonghua) is what is taught in schools. In my grandparent's generation, that wasn't the case, so her Mandarin was fairly poor. With most folks she spoke Shanghainese. My putonghua is terrible, because I've never spent more than a few months at a time in China and my Shanghainese is pretty much non-existent (I can say "thank you", "grandma", and "grandpa"--that's about it). Nabu and I hobbled along as best we could in Mandarin--but most of what I learned from her was from watching.
My Nabu was an amazing cook. She made giant portions and fed anyone who came into their home. Dumplings have always been my favorite. In part I love the way dumplings taste--but even more so dumplings meant family. It was a time when everyone would come together and help bao (fold) jiaozi or baozi. Even though my bao-ing abilities have never been as beautiful or fast as my Nabu, she was always patient with me and said they were great (even though they most certainly weren't).
Nabu never measured. After many decades of making meals, she knew intuitively how much to add of each ingredient. Nabu is no longer with us, but I was able to ask for my Mom's help on a recent visit. This is our best attempt to translate her amazing dumplings into English + measurements.
Step 1: Jiaozi Vs Baozi: Ingredients
The only difference between baozi and jiaozi is the outside of the dumpling and the size. The inner fillings for either are usually meat or vegetables, but sometimes folks make sweet baozi stuffed with red bean paste. Baozi are fluffy steamed buns. The outside shouldn't be too chewy, and the inside should stay hot. Jiaozi are smaller and don't contain yeast. You can boil them and serve on their own or in soup (shuijiao) or fry/steam them or steam them. My favorite way is fried on the bottom and steamed on top. Both jiaozi and baozi freeze well--so try making a lot and putting some aside for later.
Baozi are great snacks to go. They work really well for breakfast. While I love dumplings in pretty much any form (perogies, matzoh ball soup, dim sum, wonton...), jiaozi is by far my favorite. We used to have jiaozi parties where everyone would help bao the jiaozi. We would have so many different kinds of fillings. I would eat and eat until I felt like I was stuffed and then still have more because they were that good.
You can buy premade jiaozi skins in any asian grocery. It is certainly significantly easier, but the taste and texture difference between homemade and premade is worth it.
Some other great recipes exist that are worth checking out: http://www.meatlovessalt.com/2014/01/pork-and-cabb...
But this is a close approximation of what Nabu did:
Ingredients (jiaozi dough):
- 2 cups flour (+extra flour for dusting)
- 3/4 cup water
- Alternatively, premade jiaozi skins + 1/4 cup water to use as "glue"
Ingredients (baozi dough):
- 1.5 cups water or unsweetened soy milk or dairy milk
- 4 cups flour
- 1 tbsp sugar
- 1 packet or 2 1/4 tsp yeast
Ingredients (savory filling): (all ingredients can be found cheaply at an asian/international grocery store. Definitely feel free to experiment with the fillings. Dumplings are a great way to use up any leftover produce in the fridge.)
- napa or regular cabbage
- shiitake, king oyster, or other mushrooms
- scallions or chives
- soy sauce
- sesame oil
- chinese red plum wine/vinegar
- bean thread noodle
- seasoned dry tofu (dry tofu is vacuum packed and very firm compared to silken/block tofu. See this tofu guide)
- MSG (optional, but I love adding it)
Ingredients (sweet filling):
- pre-packaged red bean paste
- OR red beans (boiled and mashed) + sugar
- lightly toasted walnuts
Step 2: Making Jiaozi Skins
- Slowly add water (up to 3/4 cups) to flour (2 cups) and knead for about 10-20 minutes by hand or 5-10 minutes with a stand mixer. Alternatively, you can use the dough setting in a bread maker. You want your dough to be smooth and elastic. It should soft and pliable, but not sticky.
- Let dough rest, covered, for 30 minutes
- split dough in half. Roll each dough piece into a snake ~ 1" diameter. Cut half inch sections of dough with a table knife.
- dip each side in flour, flatten with your palm
- With a rolling pin, roll towards the center, about halfway, spinning the skin ~45 degrees with each roll. You want the jiaozi skins to be slightly thicker in the center than the outside.
Some people cheat and roll a big flat sheet of dough, using a cup or circle cookie cutter to make the shape. It's okay to do that, but you won't get the thicker bottom that is great for pan frying.
Step 3: Jiaozi/caibao Filling
- Soak bean thread in warm water for 10 minutes.
- Blanch or lightly fry napa cabbage, then squeeze out as much excess water as possible.
- Dice mushrooms and cook with a little oil on low until tender.
- In a small bowl, beat 2 eggs, then fry on medium high to omelette or frittata consistency
- Dice dry tofu, ginger, green onions, cabbage, eggs, and bean thread until very fine.
- Mix all of the diced ingredients together
- Stir in 2 tsps - 2 tbsp chinkiang vinegar, soy sauce, and sesame oil to taste.
- Stir in a pinch of sugar and salt to taste.
Step 4: Filling and Frying Jiaozi
Jiaozi can be pan fried and steamed on top or boiled (shuijiao). My preference is for pan fried because I like the crispy bottom and soft top.
To fill the dumplings, take each jiaozi skin and add about a tablespoon of filling to the center. Pinch the top of two sides together. Then, take the sides, and bring them in, making a small pleat on each side.
Heat oil in a pan on medium, then add the dumplings. Add 1-2 tbsp of water and immediately cover with a lid. Bring the heat down to low. Steam/fry for 5-10 minutes until all of the water is gone. After water evaporates, you can check the bottom of the jiaozi. You want them to be golden brown. It is very important to fry on low heat.
Step 5: Making Baozi Skins.
Baozi skins making technique is pretty similar to jiaozi, but the yeasty dough requires more rise time and they are folded and cooked differently.
- add 1 packet of yeast (2.5 tsp) and 1 tbsp of sugar to 1.5 cups of warm water or unsweetened soy milk. Let rest for 5-10 minutes until it froths on top.
- Measure 4 cups of flour, then mix in yeast mixture. You can use the dough cycle on a bread machine, a stand mixer, or by hand. You want the dough to bounce back when pressed. It should be soft, but not too sticky.
- Knead for 20-25 minutes
- Let dough rise in a warm place for 1-1.5 hours
- Optionally, punch dough down and let rise for another 30 minutes
- on a floured surface, roll dough into a snake ~1.5-2" diameter. cut off 1 inch sections
- Flour each cut side, then flatten with your palm.
- Roll toward the center of the baozi skin, leaving the center thicker.
Step 6: Making Red Bean Paste Filling (sweet)
The easy way is to buy some premade red bean paste and mix in some lightly toasted walnuts.
Step 7: Filling & Folding Baozi
- Take each baozi skin and add about 2 tablespoons of your choice of filling
- to fold baozi, make small pleats all the way around until the top pinches together. You want it to look like a swirl on top
- Let baozi rest, covered on a nonstick surface, for 30 minutes to 1 hour, until they are slightly puffy
Step 8: Steaming Baozi
- Add hot water to a steamer and heat on high until water boils
- Turn the heat down to medium, then add steamer layers
- Place baozi on a paper towel or cloth napkin so that it doesn't stick to the steamer
- Steam for 15 minutes
- Remove and let cool for a few minutes before serving.
Step 9: Dipping Sauce for Vegetable Jiaozi or Baozi
Mix equal parts chinkiang vinegar, soy sauce, sesame oil, hot chili oil. Dip dumplings!