Bao. Steamed bread pockets filled with tasty loveliness. If you've never had one, then you're missing out on a Chinese delicacy that no once should miss out on. But if you're not up for a bean paste filling or don't have any char siu pork lying around, you can fill them with things you have on hand and are more comfortable with.
This is a great way to use up left overs as well.
The bao dough recipe comes from Andrea Nguyen's wonderful book, Asian Dumplings. Pick it up. It's filled with some really wonderful stuff.
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Step 1: The Dough
Into a bowl put this:
1.5 tsp yeast
3/4 cup water
Sit this aside to let it dissolve.
Into a food processor with a dough blade put these things:
12.5 oz all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
2 Tb sugar
2 Tb canola oil (or other flavorless oil)
Give this a spin to mix everything together. Then add the water all at once and spin it until it forms into a ball that pulls away from the sides of the bowl. You may need to add extra water, I put in an extra 2 tablespoons to get it to come together as a dough should.
Step 2: The Rise
Take your dough out of the processor, form it into a ball, give it a thin coat of oil and plop it into an oven with the light turned on (this should keep the temp in the 80s). I actually sped things up a bit by turning the oven on for about 30 seconds and then turning it off.
Let the dough rise until doubled in size. About 30 minutes to an hour.
Step 3: Fillings
You don't actually have to make a hamburger with this. Anything you would eat with bread you could stuff inside this thing. It's great for turning leftovers into something else so you or picky people you live with will feel inclined to eat them a second time. Here the pictures show me cooking onions into a caramelly mass and seasoning and browning the beef (try to buy it from a local farmer---it's good for the farmer, local economy, yada, yada, yada, whatever . . . this stuff just tastes better).
You can do whatever crazy filling you want. Hell, you could fill this with pumpkin pie filling if you wanted. Or another thought I had was a meatball and some tomato sauce. Mmm. Meatball sandwich to go. Leftover meatloaf. I think I might need to try to make a bao chili dog some day.
Step 4: Set Up
Set up a steamer of some kind. I use a stock pot and collapsible steamer rack (this set up also doubles as my hot water canning rig). Put some water in and get it heated up to steaming. Pull out some parchment paper and cut it into 4x4 inch sheets. These are what the dough will sit on in the steamer.
Step 5: It's Dough Time
Once your dough has risen take it out, dust your counter with some flour, and flop it out of it's bowl. Press the dough down flat and form it into a log. Roll this log out (you know, like when you were a kid with a bunch of playdoh) and then cut it into as many pieces as you want. This dough can make anywhere from 8 large bao, 16 small bao, or 32 tiny bao. Do as you like. I did 16. Once portioned out into little dough balls, roll them into little circles with your rolling pin.
Step 6: Fill'er Up
So pile your ingredients in as you see fit. I slapped on that onion mess, some meat, some cheese, some ketchup and mustard, and even a little relish.
As you can see I also made a few with some left over rice and chicken curry. Niiiiice.
Once you've got what you want in the dough go around the edge pulling the dough up and crimping it together on top to make a cute package.
At this point you can let these rest back in your oven for a while to poof up a bit. You should do that. I didn't. It was getting late and I had people to feed. It's okay though, they poof in the steam anyway with that baking powder in there, but not as much as if you let them rise again.
Step 7: Steam
Throw them into the steamer and let them cook for 12 to 15 minutes. They'll be poofed and firm when they are done and have a slight shine on the dough.
Step 8: Eat'em
Serve with whatever. As you can see they look less impressive cut open. I just cut them for photo purposes, but you can and should and will eat them with your hands whole.
Yes, I should have let them rise again after filling! Get off my back. But they were damned tasty anyway. And who needs all that air?
Reheating. These things keep well in the fridge in a plastic bag. With about 45 seconds in the microwave it's hard to tell that you didn't just remove them from a steamer.
But if you're adventurous you can try crazy things with them. Brush them with an egg wash and stick them in a hot oven or under a broiler.
Or deep fry them. Wow. That sounds crazy. Crazy good.
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