Ultimate Bánh Bao Recipe: Cook, Store & Reheat Tips

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Written By Hot Thai Restaurant

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We’ve all had those moments when we crave something warm, fluffy, and utterly comforting. That’s when we turn to bánh bao, a delightful Vietnamese steamed bun filled with savory goodness. This traditional dish, with its soft, pillowy exterior and rich, flavorful filling, transports us straight to the bustling streets of Vietnam with every bite.

Making bánh bao at home might seem daunting, but we’re here to guide you through it step by step. It’s a fun journey into the heart of Vietnamese cuisine, and the best part? You get to customize the fillings to suit your taste buds. Whether you’re a meat lover or a vegetarian, there’s a bánh bao variation that’s perfect for you.

Ingredients

Diving into the world of bánh bao, we’re excited to share the essential ingredients you’ll need to recreate this comfort dish. With the right components in hand, you’re on your way to enjoying a taste of Vietnam right in your kitchen.

Dough Ingredients

  • 2 cups of all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons of sugar
  • 1 tablespoon of baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • 3/4 cup of milk, warm
  • 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil

Filling Ingredients

  • 1/2 pound of ground pork
  • 1/4 cup of finely chopped onion
  • 2 tablespoons of finely chopped wood ear mushrooms, rehydrated
  • 1/4 cup of finely chopped carrots
  • 2 tablespoons of oyster sauce
  • 1 teaspoon of soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon of sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon of pepper
  • 2 hard-boiled eggs, quartered
  • 4 tablespoons of canned quail eggs (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons of green peas (optional)

Kitchen Tools and Equipment

After delving into the essential ingredients needed to bring the comforting flavors of bánh bao to your kitchen, it’s important to gather the right tools and equipment. Making bánh bao at home is a delightful experience, and having the proper setup will ensure the process is smooth and enjoyable. Here, we’ll run through the key items you’ll need to create these delicious Vietnamese steamed buns right in your own kitchen.

Steamer Basket or Steamer Set

The most crucial tool for making bánh bao is undoubtedly a steamer. A traditional bamboo steamer basket or a metal steamer set works wonderfully. Ensure it’s large enough to accommodate several buns at once, as bánh bao needs space around each bun to expand during the steaming process.

Mixing Bowls

You’ll need a variety of mixing bowls for preparing the dough and the filling. We recommend having at least one large bowl for the dough to give it ample room to rise and smaller bowls for mixing the fillings.

Dough Roller

A rolling pin is essential for rolling out the dough into perfectly sized circles. A good rolling pin will help you achieve a uniform thickness, which is crucial for the even cooking of your bánh bao.

Measuring Cups and Spoons

Precision is key in baking, and bánh bao is no exception. Measuring cups and spoons will ensure you add the exact amounts of ingredients, leading to the best possible outcome in taste and texture.

Parchment Paper

Cutting parchment paper into small squares and placing your bánh bao on them before steaming will prevent them from sticking to the steamer. This is a simple but effective trick that makes removing the buns easier and keeps them intact.

Kitchen Scale

For those who prefer exactness in their baking, a kitchen scale can be incredibly helpful, especially for measuring dough and filling portions to achieve consistently sized buns.

Food Processor (Optional)

While not strictly necessary, a food processor can make quick work of preparing the filling, especially for recipes that require finely chopped ingredients. It’s a handy tool that can save time and ensure your filling is uniformly mixed.

Dough Preparation

Creating the perfect dough is the foundation of making delicious bánh bao. Let’s dive into the specifics of dough preparation to ensure your buns are soft, fluffy, and ready to be filled with your favorite ingredients.

Mixing the Ingredients

To start, gather the following ingredients:

  • 500g all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 packet (7g) instant yeast
  • 250ml warm milk
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the all-purpose flour, sugar, and instant yeast. Make a well in the center and pour in the warm milk followed by the vegetable oil. Using a wooden spoon or your hands, mix the ingredients until they come together to form a sticky dough. Ensure even distribution of liquid to prevent dry spots.

Kneading the Dough

Once your ingredients are roughly combined, it’s time to knead the dough. Dust your work surface with a little flour to prevent sticking. Turn out the dough, and knead for about 10 minutes. The goal is to develop gluten, which will give the buns their characteristic soft, yet chewy texture.

If you find the dough too sticky, add a small amount of flour, but be cautious not to make the dough too dry. You’re aiming for a smooth, elastic feeling. When the dough is ready, it should spring back lightly when poked.

Resting the Dough

After kneading, shape the dough into a ball and place it in a lightly greased bowl. Cover the bowl with a damp cloth or plastic wrap to prevent the surface from drying out. Let the dough rest in a warm, draft-free location for about 1 to 1.5 hours or until it doubles in size.

This resting period is crucial as it allows the yeast to ferment, causing the dough to rise and develop those desired light and fluffy textures. It’s also a perfect time to prepare your filling if you haven’t yet.

Filling Preparation

After laying the groundwork with our meticulous dough preparation, it’s time to turn our attention to the heart of the bánh bao – its filling. A well-prepared filling not only complements the fluffy exterior but also infuses the bun with flavor, aroma, and texture. Let’s dive into preparing a savory and hearty filling that will make our bánh bao unforgettable.

Preparing the Meat

The first step in our filling preparation journey involves choosing and preparing the meat, which is typically ground pork for its tender and flavorful characteristics. However, feel free to substitute with chicken or tofu for a lighter or vegetarian option.

  1. Start with 1 pound of ground pork. If you’re using chicken or tofu, ensure it’s finely minced to match the texture of ground pork.
  2. Season the meat with 1 tablespoon of soy sauce, 1 tablespoon of oyster sauce, and 1 teaspoon of white pepper to infuse it with a rich, savory flavor.
  3. To add depth, mix in 1 teaspoon of sesame oil and 2 teaspoons of sugar, balancing the umami with a subtle sweetness.
  4. Finally, incorporate 1 finely chopped shallot and 3 minced garlic cloves to the meat mixture for an aromatic backbone.

Cooking the Filling

Cooking the filling properly is crucial for achieving the perfect bánh bao texture and flavor. The filling should be cooked before encasing it in dough to ensure that the flavors are well melded and fully safe to eat.

  1. Heat 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Once hot, add the seasoned meat mixture to the skillet.
  2. Stir-fry the meat until it’s no longer pink and is thoroughly cooked through, approximately 5-7 minutes. Keep the heat at a level that allows the meat to cook evenly without drying out.
  3. Add 1 cup of finely chopped wood ear mushrooms and 1/2 cup of finely shredded carrots to the skillet for added texture and earthiness. Cook for an additional 3-4 minutes until the vegetables are soft.
  4. Incorporate 1/4 cup of green onions and 1/4 cup of finely chopped cilantro for a fresh burst of flavor. Cook for another 2 minutes, then remove the skillet from the heat.
  5. Allow the filling to cool slightly before using. This step ensures it’s manageable when assembling your bánh bao and helps to prevent the dough from becoming soggy.

With our filling perfectly seasoned and cooked, we’re ready to bring our bánh bao to life by combining it with our prepared dough.

Assembling the Bánh Bao

Now that our filling is rich in flavor and set aside to cool, it’s time to bring everything together to create the magical bánh bao. This step is where the magic happens, transforming simple ingredients into a beloved comfort food.

Rolling Out the Dough

After the dough has rested and doubled in size, punch it down gently to release any air bubbles. This ensures our bánh bao have a smooth texture. Divide the dough into small, equal-sized balls—roughly the size of a golf ball. This uniform size helps in even cooking and a consistent appearance.

Dust your working surface with a bit of flour to prevent sticking. Take each dough ball and flatten it into a disk using a rolling pin. However, the key here is to roll the edges thinner than the center. This technique ensures that when we gather the edges to seal the bun, the dough’s thickness remains consistent throughout, avoiding a doughy texture at the bottom.

Filling and Shaping

With our dough disks ready, it’s time to fill them. Place a generous tablespoon of the filling in the center of each disk. Be mindful not to overfill, as this can lead to breaking or leaking during the steaming process.

Here’s where your dexterity comes into play. Lift the edges of the dough up and over the filling, gently pinching to seal at the top. Think of it as pleating the dough around the filling, then twisting and pinching at the top to create a smooth, round bun. The goal is a beautifully sealed bánh bao with a neat pleated pattern at the top, almost like a little purse.

Remember, patience and gentleness are your best friends during this step. If the dough tears, simply pinch it back together. The beauty of bánh bao lies in both its taste and its appearance, so take your time to ensure each bun is shaped well and sealed tightly.

Once shaped, place the bánh bao on small squares of parchment paper. This prevents sticking and allows for easy transfer into and out of the steamer. Now, they’re ready for the final step: steaming to pillowy perfection.

Cooking Instructions

Now that we’ve prepared our bánh bao with care, it’s time to bring them to life through steaming. This step is crucial for achieving that iconic texture and flavor.

Steaming the Bánh Bao

Before we begin, ensure your steamer is well-prepped. If you’re using a bamboo steamer, line it with parchment paper to prevent the buns from sticking. For those using a metal steamer, a light coating of oil on the rack will do the trick.

  1. Fill your steamer base with water, making sure it’s about an inch below the rack where the bánh bao will sit. We want them to steam, not take a bath!
  2. Bring the water to a vigorous boil over high heat. The steam is what cooks the bánh bao, so lots of it is essential.
  3. Place the bánh bao in the steamer, spacing them about 2 inches apart. They’re going to puff up and expand, so this ensures they won’t stick together.
  4. Cover the steamer with a lid. If your lid isn’t tight-fitting, wrap it in a clean kitchen towel to trap the steam effectively.
  5. Steam on high heat for about 15-20 minutes. Don’t be tempted to open the lid too soon; we need all the steam we can get to cook them thoroughly.
  6. After 15-20 minutes, remove the lid (be cautious of the hot steam). The bánh bao should have expanded and taken on a slightly glossy appearance.
  7. To ensure they’re fully cooked, take one bánh bao out and gently press the surface. It should spring back if it’s done. If the dough feels sticky or wet, give them a few more minutes.
  8. Another method is to insert a toothpick into the center of a bun. If it comes out clean, without any dough clinging to it, your buns are ready to enjoy.
  9. Once done, turn off the heat but leave them in the steamer for an additional minute. This gentle cooling helps prevent the buns from collapsing after the sudden change in temperature.
  10. Serve the bánh bao warm, revealing the delicious filling inside to your eager guests. The smooth, fluffy texture and the savory filling wrapped inside make all the effort worth it.

Make-Ahead Instructions

In the journey of making bánh bao, we understand that sometimes, splitting the work across days can make the process more manageable and even enhance the flavors. Here’s how you can prepare parts of the bánh bao ahead of time, ensuring each component remains fresh and ready to be assembled into your delightful steamed buns.

Preparing the Dough in Advance

The dough for bánh bao can be made a day ahead. After kneading the dough to the right consistency, coat it lightly with oil to prevent it from drying out. Wrap it tightly in plastic wrap and store it in the refrigerator. The cold environment actually benefits the dough, giving it a chance to rest and slightly ferment, which can enhance the final texture and flavor. Before using, allow the dough to return to room temperature for about an hour, making it easier to roll out and shape.

Making the Filling Early

The filling can also be made ahead of time, which is great for infusing flavors. Cook the filling as instructed, including the meats, vegetables, and seasoning. Once cooked, let it cool to room temperature, then transfer it to an airtight container. This can be refrigerated for up to two days. A cool rest period helps the flavors to meld together, creating a more cohesive and rich taste in each bite of bánh bao.

Prepping the Steamer

For an even more efficient bánh bao making process, prepare your steaming setup the night before. Ensure your steamer is clean and set up on the pot that you plan to use. If using a bamboo steamer, lining it with parchment paper ahead of time can save you a few minutes the next day. Just make sure to fill the pot with water right before you start heating it up for the steaming process, as leaving water in it overnight is not recommended.

By following these make-ahead instructions, we can break down the bánh bao making process into simpler, more manageable steps. This not only makes the cooking day less hectic but also allows each component of the bánh bao—dough, filling, and even your setup—to be at its best, ensuring a smoother cooking experience and deliciously satisfying results.

Serving Suggestions

After meticulously preparing and steaming your bánh bao to perfection, it’s time to explore how best to serve these delightful buns. The beauty of bánh bao lies not only in its savory filling and soft, pillowy dough but also in the versatility it offers when it comes to serving. Here are our favorite ways to turn these buns into a complete meal or a memorable part of your culinary spread.

As Part of a Traditional Breakfast

In Vietnam, bánh bao is often savored for breakfast. Serve these steamed buns with a side of soy sauce or a light, homemade dipping sauce. Enhance the meal with a cup of strong Vietnamese coffee or a light green tea for a traditional experience. The combination of the coffee or tea with the bánh bao makes for a balanced and satisfying start to the day.

With A Variety of Pickled Vegetables

For a refreshing contrast to the soft and savory bánh bao, pair them with a side of tangy pickled vegetables. The crunch and acidity of pickled carrots, daikon, and cucumbers cut through the richness of the bun, making each bite as exciting as the first. This pairing is not just about taste; it’s a colorful addition to your table that invites everyone to dig in.

As A Creative Dim Sum Addition

Bánh bao also makes a fantastic addition to any dim sum table. Arrange the freshly steamed buns alongside other dim sum favorites, such as shrimp dumplings, pork siu mai, and egg tarts. This mix-and-match approach allows guests to explore a variety of flavors and textures, making your meal a memorable culinary journey. Don’t forget the classic dim sum accompaniments of chili oil and sweet soy sauce for dipping!

As An Accompaniment to Soup

Lastly, consider serving your bánh bao alongside a flavorful broth or soup. A light chicken or vegetable broth complements the rich fillings of the bánh bao, providing a comforting and warming meal. This combination is especially appealing during cooler weather, where the steam from both the buns and the soup brings coziness to your dining experience.

Storing and Reheating

After you’ve enjoyed the delightful experience of making and savoring fresh bánh bao, you might find yourself with a few scrumptious leftovers. Fear not, for we have the perfect tips and techniques for storing and reheating your bánh bao, ensuring they remain delicious for days to come.

Storing Bánh Bao

To keep your bánh bao tasting fresh, it’s crucial to store them properly. Here’s how we recommend preserving them:

  1. Let Them Cool Completely: Before storing, allow your bánh bao to cool down to room temperature. This prevents condensation inside the storage container, which can make the buns soggy.
  2. Refrigeration: For short-term storage, place the cooled bánh bao in an airtight container and refrigerate. They will stay fresh for up to 3 days.
  3. Freezing: If you’re planning to store them for a longer period, freezing is the way to go. Wrap each bánh bao individually in plastic wrap to prevent freezer burn and then place them in a zip-lock bag, squeezing out as much air as possible. Frozen bánh bao can last for up to 2 months.

Reheating Bánh Bao

Reheating bánh bao correctly can help restore their original texture and flavor. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Steaming (Preferred Method): For both refrigerated and frozen bánh bao, steaming is the best reheating method. If refrigerated, steam for 5-7 minutes. For frozen bánh bao, steam for 10-12 minutes, or until thoroughly heated. No need to thaw.
  2. Microwave: If you’re short on time, you can use the microwave. Place the bánh bao on a microwave-safe dish and cover it with a damp paper towel to add moisture. Microwave on high for 30 seconds to 1 minute for refrigerated bánh bao or 1-2 minutes for frozen ones. However, be mindful that microwaving can slightly alter the texture.

Conclusion

We’ve taken you through the journey of making bánh bao, from dough to delicious bun. It’s our hope that these tips and tricks not only make your cooking experience smoother but also inspire you to add your own twist to this traditional dish. Remember, the beauty of bánh bao lies in its versatility, so don’t be afraid to experiment with fillings or tweak the recipe to suit your taste. And when it comes to enjoying your bánh bao, whether freshly steamed or reheated, we’re confident you’ll savor each bite. Happy cooking!

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