This is another recipe that reminds me of my aunt Hollywood. She was the only one that ever made me Banh Bao from scratch, and man do I appreciate her after developing this recipe. I would say this Vietnamese dish is a labor of love. It takes a couple hours to make, but the effort is rewarded in the end. This blog post is a long one because I wanted to write detailed instructions on what I found helpful, so you can avoid some of the mistakes I made. So please read the whole blog post even if it may be a tad long. I also hope you enjoy this dish! It’s one of the best.
What is banh bao?
Banh bao or Vietnamese steamed buns is a dish that is a fusion of Vietnamese and Cantonese cuisines. Cantonese immigrants brought over stuff like the bao that makes up the exterior of the bun and the Chinese sausage that is on the inside. The rest of the dish is Vietnamese. When I eat this dish, it reminds me of my family history and where they come from. My grandparents immigrated to Vietnam from China and lived there for a generation before coming to the United States. I think that it’s the fusion of cultures like this that make Vietnamese food what it is. This dish and many other dishes like it represent the story of so many immigrant kids like me, and it gives me warm fuzzy feelings when I eat it.
Ingredients, Substitutions, & Adjustments
- Dough ingredients
- All purpose flour – I would highly recommend using AP flour for the desired result because it has the appropriate amount of protein to give the bao the correct texture.
- Baking powder – Baking powder helps the dough expand when it is steaming.
- Milk – Warm milk helps activate the yeast and gives it that tender texture. Make sure to use whole milk not reduced fat milk.
- Instant yeast – I know it’s really hard to find yeast right now, but it is absolutely essential. Make sure to check your yeast is alive before using. Combine the warm milk with the yeast, and let it stand for 10 minutes to check.
- Neutral oil – Any type of neutral oil should work for this recipe. I used vegetable oil.
- Granulated sugar – White sugar helps give the dough some sweetness which is essential to balance out the more salty flavors of the fillings. There is also a little bit of sugar in the filling.
- Filling ingredients
- Ground pork – No substitutes for ground pork.
- Wood ear mushrooms – Wood ear mushrooms can usually be purchased dried on Amazon or at Asian grocery stores. A good substitute for wood ear mushrooms is shiitake mushrooms or any kind of brown mushroom.
- Yellow onion – Sweet yellow onions are the preferred onion to use. A good substitute is white onions.
- Seasonings (fish sauce, oyster sauce, sugar, salt, and pepper) – Fish sauce and oyster sauce are sometimes hard to find. If you can’t find fish sauce, leave it out. If you can’t find oyster sauce, substitute with garlic powder.
- Chinese sausage – Adds a salty flavor to the bao. You can leave this out if you can’t find it or you don’t like it.
- Eggs – I used large boiled eggs for this recipe. I use 1/4 of an egg per bao. A substitute for regular eggs is quail eggs.
- White vinegar – The white vinegar is added to the water you used to steam the baos. The vinegar helps give the baos their signature white color.
How to make banh bao
I have written out detailed instructions on how to make banh bao with images for every step. First you have to make your dough! Combine flour and baking powder and set aside. Add warm milk and yeast to a small bowl. Let it stand for 10 minutes until it foams. Then add in your oil and sugar and stir. Combine the wet and dry ingredients. Mix until a soft dough forms. Dump the dough onto a floured surface and knead for 10 minutes. Add more flour if the dough seems too wet. After kneading, the dough should slowly bounce back at you when you poke it. If you want to go the easy route, there are packages of banh bao flour mixtures you can get at Asian grocery stores. Just follow the instructions on the package.
Make the filling
While your dough is rising, make your filling. The filling is composed of a ground pork mixture, Chinese sausage, and boiled eggs. Thinly slice your sausages. Boil your eggs and slice them into 4 pieces. Now make your ground pork mixture. Mix ground pork, oyster sauce, fish sauce, salt, pepper, sugar, minced yellow onions, and minced wood ear mushrooms. Divide the mixture into 16 round pieces and set aside. The goal of this process is to make sure you have everything ready to go to make your baos once it finishes rising (proofing).
Dividing and rolling out the dough
This next part is to divide and roll out the dough.
Divide the proofed dough into 2 pieces.
Roll out the dough into a 13 inch log. Make sure the dough is even thickness throughout the length of the dough
Cut the dough in half to divide it into 2 pieces. Divide each piece into another 2 pieces. Divide those pieces into 2 pieces. You should get 8 pieces from that piece of dough. Repeat the process with the other half. Keep the pieces of dough covered so they don’t dry out.
Take one piece of dough and roll it out into a disk that is about 4-4.5 inches in diameter. The best way to do this is to start in the centre and roll outward. Then rotate the disk a little bit and repeat that rolling method. Make sure the center is thicker than the edges.
How to make the perfect pleats
I found this part the hardest, and I had to practice a few times before I got the hang of it. So don’t feel bad if you don’t get it the first few times!
Lift one part of the dough up, holding it between your thumb and pointer finger. Your thumb should be on the outside of the bao.
Grab another part of the dough with your other hand. I am left handed so I lifted the dough in step 1 with my right hand and then grabbed another part of the dough with my left hand.
Bring the part of the dough in part 2 over your thumb.
Press the second part of the dough into the first part of the dough. This is your first pleat. Repeat the process around the filling until you get back to your first pleat.
Pinch all the pleats together in the center to seal the bao. Make sure there are no openings.
Place the finished dough on a small piece of parchment paper. The parchment paper should be about 5×5 inches.
Steaming the bao
Now you’re in the home stretch! Steaming your banh baos.
- First prepare your steamer. I used a steamer pot. Combine 1-2 cups of water and vinegar in the pot and bring the water to a simmer. Make sure to keep your heat on low to sustain that simmer. Check and adjust as you steam your baos.
- Add the baos to the steamer in batches, ensuring there is 1 inch of space between them. The baos will expand in the steamer and stick to each other if they’re too close together. I did it in batches of 4. Steam for 15 minutes.
- Repeat the process until you are done!
- Now you’re ready to eat. Phew!
Tips on how to make the perfect banh bao
What if I don’t have a warm space to proof my dough – It’s important to have a warm space to get your dough to rise. I didn’t have a place, so I turned on the oven to the lowest setting for a few minutes and then turneded it off. I then put my dough in the oven with the door closed. Make sure the oven isn’t too hot if you do this.
Add oil to the bowl you use to proof your dough – Adding oil to your bowl before proofing is important because it prevents the dough from forming a dry skin.
Do not overfill the bao – Overfilling the bao will cause the dough to stretch and not close properly. If you have to remove some of the pork filling, do it. It’s okay to have some filling leftover after you’ve filled all the baos. I overfilled a few of my bao while testing the recipe, and the bottom of the bao became so thin it ripped when I tried to lift them out of the steamer.
Add vinegar to your water before steaming – Adding vinegar to your water helps give the bao its signature white color.
Storing the banh bao – You can freeze the banh baos to eat at a later time. When you’re ready to eat them, pull them out, defrost them, and reheat in the microwave. You can also store banh baos in the freezer pre-steam.
Reheating the bao – The best way to reheat banh bao is to cover it with a wet paper towel and heat it in the microwave for 30 seconds. Adding a wet towel helps rehydrate the dough because it starts to dry out as you store it in the fridge.
Did you make this recipe?
If you made this dish, I would love to see!
Vietnamese Steamed Pork Buns (Banh Bao)
- 2 cups all purpose flour
- 2 tsp baking powder
- ¾ cup whole milk
- 1 package instant yeast
- 1 tbsp vegetable oil
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- 1 tsp rice wine vinegar
- Prepare your parchment paper pieces. Cut parchment paper into 16 5x5 inch pieces. Set aside.
- Make the dough. Add flour and baking powder to a bowl and mix. Set aside
- Heat the milk until warm (100-110 degrees F). Add yeast and mix. Let the mixture sit for 10 minutes until it foams. Add the vegetable oil and sugar and stir until combined.
- Add the wet ingredients to a large mixing bowl and add in your dry ingredients from step 1. Combine with your hands. Once all the ingredients come together, dump the dough onto a floured surface and knead for 10 minutes. Add more flour if the dough seems too wet. The dough has been kneaded enough if you poke the dough, and it slowly springs back at you. Once done, transfer it to an oiled bowl and cover with a towel. Let it rise in a warm place for an hour.
- While the dough is rising, prepare your other ingredients. Boil your eggs and cut into 4 pieces. Slice your Chinese sausages. Set aside.
- Make the pork filling. To make your pork filling, combine ground pork, wood ear mushrooms, minced yellow onion, fish sauce, oyster sauce, pepper, and sugar. Mix until just combined. Divide the pork filling into 16 equal, round pieces and set aside.
- Once the dough is finished proofing, divide it into 16 equal pieces. Roll out each piece into a thin circle that is 4-4.5 inches in diameter. The outer edges should be thinner than the center. Make sure the center is not too thin.
- Add 1 piece of pork filling, 1 piece of Chinese sausage, and 1 egg piece to the center of the filling. Envelop the filling with the outer edges of the dough. Fold and crimp the dough until it completely covers the filling. Examples in pictures above. Place each bao on a piece of parchment paper.
- Prepare your steamer pot. Bring water to a simmer and add a dash of rice wine vinegar. Make sure to sustain a consistent simmer throughout this process.
- Steam the banh baos for 15-17 minutes. Make sure there is at least 1 inch of space between each bao since they will expand.