Bao Buns with Spicy Chicken

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Bao, or baozi, are steamed buns filled with chopped meat (usually char siu barbecued pork) that are a prized regular in the yum cha (dim sum) carts. They are wildly popular right now with food trucks and probably set to become the next worldwide food craze. There is something about the cushy lighter-than-air bun and spicy sauce in the centre that makes people go weak at the knees. The dried milk powder gives the buns a sweet taste but if you don’t have it, they still work really well.

Preparation: 30 Minutes, Plus 1-2 Hours Proving
Cooking: 25 Minutes

Ingredients

  • 350 g (12 oz/2⅓ cups) plain (all-purpose) flour
  • tablespoons caster (superfine) sugar
  • 3 teaspoons dried milk powder (optional)
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • teaspoons fast-action or instant yeast
  • 200 ml (7 fl oz) warm water
  • tablespoons vegetable oil
  • Roasted chilli sauce, to serve

Filling

  • 500 g (1 lb 2 oz) boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • 3 teaspoons sesame oil
  • 2 spring onions (scallions), chopped
  • 2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
  • 3 teaspoons soy sauce
  • tablespoons honey
  • ½ teaspoon Chinese five spice
  • ½ teaspoon chilli flakes
  • 1 teaspoon cornflour (cornstarch), dissolved in 3 teaspoons shaoxing rice wine

Method

To make the dough, put the dry ingredients and a pinch of salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the dough hook.

Mix on low speed until well combined. Add the water and vegetable oil and knead in the mixer for 8-10 minutes or until smooth and soft. Alternatively, to make by hand, put the dry ingredients in a mound on a work surface and make a well in the centre. Mix the yeast with the water and oil, then pour into the well and start mixing until the dough comes together. Knead by hand for 8-10 minutes or until smooth and soft.

Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and stand in a warm place for 1-2 hours until doubled in size.

Meanwhile, to make the filling, cut the chicken into 3 cm ( inch) pieces. Heat the sesame oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat and cook the chicken until golden. Add the spring onion and cook for 1 minute, then add all of the remaining ingredients and simmer for 5 minutes or until the sauce has thickened. Pour into a bowl, stand until slightly cooled, then refrigerate until completely cold.

When the dough has doubled in size, punch it down to expel the gas and knead for another minute. Divide the dough in half and roll out each piece into a fat cylinder. Cut each cylinder into 8 pieces. Roll out all of the pieces on a very lightly floured work surface into 7.5 cm (3 inch) rounds. You don’t need much flour because the dough is quite elastic. Hold a disc in the palm of your hand and put 2 teaspoons of the cold filling in the centre. Bring the sides of the disc up and pinch them together at the top like a flower bud. Place each bun, seam side down, on a small square of baking paper.

Cooking in batches if necessary, put the buns in a large bamboo or metal stacked steamer basket, making sure they don’t touch each other. Make sure the steamer basket fits snugly over the saucepan or wok, then fill the bottom of the saucepan or wok with water and bring it to the boil. Set the steamer over the boiling water and cook for 10-12 minutes until the buns are cooked through. Serve immediately with roasted chilli sauce.