Filled buns, or bao/bao zi, are another great, convenient, and satisfying street food favorite that are enjoyed for breakfast, or on-the-go snack. Originating from Northern China, these are fluffy, bread-like buns (mantou) wrapped (bao) around a variety of fillings.
Legend has it that military strategist Zhuge Liang during the Three Kingdoms period (220-280), upon returning home with his army from subduing a rebellion in the South, came across a river that was impossible to cross as it was guarded by a river diety, who would not allow them safe passage unless Zhuge sacrificed the heads of 50 of his soldiers into the river. Not wanting to lose more of his men, Zhuge ordered for 50 buns to be made that looked like human heads to be thrown into the river which appeased the river diety and allowed a successful crossing.
(makes 8-10 buns)
FOR THE BAO
1 teaspoon active dry yeast
3 tablespoons sugar
2/3 cups lukewarm water
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 tablespoon neutral oil, optional
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon oil
1 pound cabbage or Chinese broccoli (gai laan), finely chopped
1 carrot, shredded
3 shiitake mushrooms, finely chopped
1 scallion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 teaspoons cornstarch or tapioca starch dissolved in 2 tablespoons water
Cut parchment paper into 2.5" x 2.5" (6cm x 6cm) squares
MAKE THE BAO DOUGH: Combine the sugar, yeast and flour in a large bowl, gradually pour the lukewarm water, stirring to combine. Add the oil and salt and mix until it forms a shaggy ball. Turn is out on to your countertop and knead for a few minutes. Let rest for 10 minutes and then knead again for another 5-10 minutes. Place the dough back into the bowl and cover with a clean, damp dish cloth and let it rest for an hour until it has doubled in size.
MAKE THE FILLING: Heat a skillet and coat it with oil. Sauté the cabbage (or Chinese broccoli), shredded carrot, mushrooms, scallions, and garlic for 1-2 minutes until wilted. Season with the salt and soy sauce. Stir in the starch water and let thicken slightly for another minute. Transfer the filling to a large plate, spreading it out to let it cool before forming the baos.
Punch down the dough and divide into 8-10 even portions. Form each of these portions into a ball and roll each ball into a circular disc, about 1/4" (6mm) thick and 3.5" (9cm) in diameter. Try to roll them slightly thinner around the perimeter of the disc and thicker in the center.
ASSEMBLE THE BAOS: Place 2 tablespoons of filling in the center of the disc. Gather the edges up to meet in the middle, closing in the filling, and pinch these pleats together.
Place each finished bao on a parchment paper square and fill the rest of the dough rounds.
Put the baos into a couple of steamer baskets with an inch of space in between each one, and let them rest for another 10 minutes. Steam for 10-12 minutes.