These from-scratch vegan bao buns are steamed to fluffy perfection and filled with homemade vegetable filling in teriyaki sauce.
With bao buns becoming ever so popular in restaurants as sharing platters and nibbles, making them at home is tempting and actually really simple! These Vegan Bao Buns are homemade from scratch and steamed until perfectly fluffy. They're filled with vegetables sauteed in homemade teriyaki sauce for the perfect vegan weeknight dinner. These fluffy bao buns are also perfect for entertaining guests, as finger food, or appetizers!
You don't need to worry if you don't have a fancy bamboo steamer; these super fluffy bao buns can also be steamed in an electric steamer! This simple bao bun recipe requires little hands-on time and a couple of hours for proofing and only requires a handful of basic pantry ingredients.
Just fill them with any filling of your choice and you're ready to go!
What are Bao Buns?
Bao (pronounced "bow") buns, and also known as "steamed buns" are a type of semi-circular, slightly sweetened bread, which is steamed and then traditionally filled with pork belly and vegetables. They are very well-known for being super soft and fluffy, especially when freshly steamed.
These buns are very popular as street food in Taiwan and have gained increasing popularity in the West. They can be filled with various types of filling ranging from meat to poultry and vegan options. Although bao buns are traditionally steamed in a bamboo steamer, they can also be steamed in the electric steamer.
Ingredients and Variations
Flour - I've tried these bao buns using both AP and cake flour and both work perfectly fine, so feel free to choose whatever is available to you. However, avoid using bread flour as this makes the buns coarse and crumbly.
If you prefer a "whiter" bun, use bleached flour (although this should not affect taste).
Cornstarch - Also known as cornflour. You will need 1 tablespoon for this recipe. This ingredient is what contributes to the fluffy and soft texture of the buns.
Yeast - Ideally, use instant dry yeast. If using active-dry yeast (same amount), make sure to proof the yeast in lukewarm water before adding to the flour.
Baking Powder - You will need a small amount of baking powder which acts as a leavining agent.
Sugar - Use granulated sugar for bao buns.
Oil - Use a neutral-flavor vegetable oil such as canola oil or sunflower oil.
Water - Ideally, use lukewarm water. If using active-dry yeast, remember to proof the yeast in this water before adding the the rest of your ingredients.
Filling - You can fill these bao buns with your favourite fillings and with whatever ingredients you have at hand, so feel free to experiment as you please. For this recipe, I used aubergine, zucchini, and bell peppers sauteed and cooked in homemade teriyaki sauce (using soy sauce, brown sugar, and mirin).
Some other great non-vegan filling options include:
- slow-cooked pork belly
- chicken strips
You can top the bao buns with fresh, raw vegetables such as carrots or cucumber and crushed nuts (such as peanuts) or sesame seeds. The options are endless!
How to Make Vegan Steamed Bao Buns (Step by Step)
Tools for Making Bao Buns
You will need the following kitchen tools:
- Kitchen scale (measure ingredients using a kitchen scale for accuracy)
- Measuring cup (to measure water)
- Sieve (to sift the flour, sugar, yeast, cornstarch, and baking powder)
- Electric mixer with the hook attachment and mixing bowl (this will save you from kneading the dough using your hands)
- Steamer (electric or bamboo steamer)
- Rolling pin (to roll out the dough)
- Round dough cutter (or a large glass)
- Pastry brush (to brush the dough)
- Chopstick (for folding the dough into a bun)
- Parchment paper (for steaming bao buns)
Making the Bao Buns
Start by measuring the flour using a kitchen scale. If using active-dry yeast, place it into a small bowl with the lukewarm water and rest for 5 minutes until the mixture becomes frothy. It's very important to use lukewarm water (which is not too hot) in order to activate the yeast. If using instant dry yeast, you can skip this yeast-proofing step.
Place the sifted flour, baking powder, yeast, cornstarch, and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fixed with the bread hook attachment. Add water and oil and mix for 7-9 minutes on medium speed, until a smooth dough forms.
If the dough is too dry, add ½ - 1 tbsp. of water, and if its too sticky, add 1 tbsp. of flour.
Place the dough in a bowl and cover with cling film. Allow the dough to proof in a warm place for at least 90 minutes, or until it has doubled in size.
Once the dough has doubled in size, place it on a clean surface and punch it down. Using you hands, knead for a further 2 minutes. Using a rolling pin, roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface until it is around 4mm (¼ inch) thick.
Use a round cookie cutter (9-11cm or 3.5 to 4.5" in diameter) or a drinking glass to cut out dough circles (depending on size, you will have 8-10 circles).
Dip a pastry brush in some vegetable oil and lightly brush the surface of each piece of dough, then, place a chopstick at the centre of each piece and carefully fold the dough in half (to create a semi-circle). Pull out the chopstick.
Place each bun onto a small piece of parchment paper, and transfer all buns onto a baking sheet. Cover the baking sheet with a tea towel and allow the buns to proof for another 30-45 minutes, until the buns have doubled in size.
How to Steam Bao Buns
Steaming Using a Bamboo Steamer
Fill a large pan or wok with some water. There should be enough water to submerge the bottom part of your steamer, but not too much water that it touches the food at the bottom when it bubbles.
Bring water to a slow boil. Once water is bubbling, place the buns on parchment paper in the steamer (you may use multiple levels). Cover and steam for 7-8 minutes, adding more water to the pan if it starts to dry out.
Steaming Using an Electric Steamer
Place the buns with parchment paper into a heated steamer.
Steam for 8-12 minutes until the buns have puffed up and are fluffy.
How to Make Vegan Bao Bun Filling
To make the filling, dice zucchini and aubergine and thinly slice the bell pepper.
Heat some sesame oil in a large skillet and sautee the vegetables until cooked through.
To make the sauce, mix equal amounts of soy sauce and mirin with some brown sugar. Pour this over the vegetables and bring to a simmer. Cook, until some sauce is dissolved and slightly thickened.
Voila! Simple, delicious, vegan bao bun filling with Teriyaki sauce! Top with julienned carrots, fresh parsley leaves, and sesame seeds.
Tips for the Perfect Fluffy Bao Buns
Here are a few tips that will help achieve the best bao buns:
- Weigh the flour using digital kitchen scales - I can't stress how important this is.
- Make sure to knead the dough (using a stand mixer) for at least 7 minutes.
- Use fine all-purpose or type 00 (European version) rather than bread flour. Bread flour tends to result in a coarse bao bun whilst all-purpose flour gives a fluffier texture.
- Use bleached flour if available. Although this is not a must, using non-bleached flour can result in a more "yellow" bun. Although this does not really affect the taste, it may visually look slightly different.
- proof proof proof! It's really important to proof the dough for enough time to ensure fluffiness!
- If using an electric steamer, make sure to warm the steamer before cooking. Steaming the buns in a cold steamer will leave you with non-puffed up bao buns!
Can I make Bao Buns Ahead? How can I store them?
Bao buns are best served warm and freshly steamed.
However, you can make them ahead and store them in a refrigerator (with or without filling) for 2-3 days.
If storing bao buns without filling, you can reheat these in a steamer for 1-2 minutes. If storing with filling, reheat in a microwave for 1-2 minutes.
Can I Freeze Bao Buns?
You can freeze steamed bao buns (without filling) in a zip-lock bag for 1-2 months and then steam for 3-4 minutes or until completely warm.
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Vegan Fluffy Steamed Bao Buns
Vegan Steamed Bao Buns
- 240 grams flour all-purpose (approx. 2 cups minus 1 tbsp.)
- 1 tbsp cornstarch or cornflour
- 1 tsp instant-dry yeast
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp sugar white, granulated
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil (e.g., canola or sunflower oil) + extra for brushing
- 125 mL water lukewarm (½ cup)
- 3 tbsp. sesame oil or vegetable oil e.g., canola/sunflower oil
- 1 medium-sized aubergine diced
- 1 zucchini diced
- 1 red or orange pepper thinly sliced
- 1 carrot julienned
- 1 tsp. sesame seeds
- fresh parsley
- 5 tbsp. soy sauce
- 5 tbsp. mirin
- 2 tbsp. brown sugar
- Sift and place flour, instant yeast, baking powder, cornstarch, and sugar in a bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the bread hook attachment. Add the water and vegetable oil and mix for 7-10 minutes on medium speed, until a smooth dough forms. If the dough is too dry, add ½ - 1 tbsp. of water. If it's too sticky, add 1 tbsp. of flour.
- Form dough into a ball and place in a glass bowl. Cover with cling film and allow the dough to proof in a warm place for at least 90 minutes, or until it doubles in size.
- Place dough on a clean, lightly floured surface, and punch it down. Roll out the dough to 4mm (¼ inch) thickness. Use a round 9-11cm (3.5-4.5") cookie cutter or the rim of a drinking glass to cut out circles (6-10, depending on cutter size).
- Use a pastry brush and some vegetable oil to lightly brush the surface of each dough piece. Place a chopstick at the centre of each cricle and carefully fold the dough in half (to create a semi-circle). Pull out the chopstick.
- Place each bun onto a small piece of parchment paper, and transfer to a baking sheet (or a large flat plate). Cover the baking sheet with a tea towel and allow the buns to proof for another 30-40 minutes, until "puffed up" and doubled in size.
- Steaming using electric steamer: Place the buns with parchment paper into a heated steamer. Steam for 8-12 minutes until the buns have puffed up and fluffy.Steaming using bamboo steamer: Fill a large pan or wok with some water. There should be enough water to submerge the bottom part of your steamer, but not too much water that it touches the food at the bottom when it bubbles. Bring water to a slow boil. Once water is bubbling, place the buns on parchment paper in the steamer (you may use multiple levels). Cover and steam for 7-8 minutes, adding more water to the pan if it starts to dry out.
- Transfer buns to serving plate using kitchen tongs, allow to cool slightly, then fill up with your favourite filling and serve warm!
- In a large skillet, heat sesame oil. Add diced aubergine, zucchini, and orange/red pepper and saute until cooked through.
- In a medium-sized bowl, mix sauce ingredients. Pour in skillet with vegetables and stir to coat well. Simmer for 2-3 minutes until some liquid dissolves and sauce thickens.
- Fill bao buns with vegetable filling and top with julienned carrots, parsley leaves, and seseame seeds.