If you have ever ordered bao (or baozi) out at restaurants, then you understand why we are so obsessed with these delicious steamed buns. As you know, we have a passion for all cuisines of the world. And we love to learn about different food cultures and try our hand at cooking the foods of those cultures at home. Recently, Mark learned to make bao during his International Cuisine term in culinary school, so we couldn't resist adding these cutie Pumpkin Shaped Pork Steamed Buns (Bao) to our menu for the season!
Big thanks to our friend and fellow chef, Venessa Wilson-Watson, who developed this recipe with the cute pumpkins with us for the blog!
Bao (or Baozi) are filled steamed buns of Chinese origin. We love Chinese cuisine, and we have barely scratched the surface of actually cooking this classic cuisine.
Sources say that bao originated in Northern China thousands of years ago. Since, they have become quite popular in many other countries throughout Asia and beyond.
It would be hard to say there is one “traditional” filling for a dish that has spread so wide and has even been adopted by other countries, but generally we have found that pork is the most common for savory varieties. However, almost anything can be put in this delicious steamed bun! The filling is often raw before steaming, but it can be precooked as well. Bao can have a variety of meat mixtures, just vegetables, or in some cases a sweet, rather than savory, filling.
Northern China is not the only home to bao these days. In fact, other areas in China as well as several countries, including Japan, Thailand, the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, and many others, have adopted and modified bao, often with a different name. But bao and baozi are the two most common names of Chinese origin you will come across. The most common preparation is to fill the soft, slightly sweet, leavened dough, then steam it.
What we hope to do with this recipe, or other recipes with origins around the world, is to share delicious content that we enjoy making that also exposes you to cuisines that you may not have tried to make at home but have always wanted to try. We also encourage you to seek out bloggers from the cultures where these recipes originated to dive deeper into these cultures. This is exactly what we aim to do when we try new recipes as well!
For authentic Chinese recipes, you need to look elsewhere, such as HERE.
Our Version of Bao
Our version of bao in the recipe here is a bit whimsical and not traditional in looks at all. But these are still beautiful, seasonal, and tasty, nonetheless.
We stuff the dough with a raw pork filling that cooks while the bao steams. We have found that the time needed to cook a ground pork mixture from raw coincides with the steaming time to finish the bao. This process yields an internal filling that does not dry out and creates an amazing taste and texture!
Coloring and Shaping the Pumpkin Shaped Pork Steamed Buns (Bao)
Making bao with its beautiful pleats is definitely something that takes practice. The pleating you see with traditional bao isn't as important in this recipe since you are mainly just trying to seal in the filling and tie strings around each bun to make the pumpkin shape. For a more traditional version of bao shaping, visit HERE. But the dough itself isn't challenging to make. If you have made any type of homemade bread before, you will find this recipe fairly easy to follow.
We chose to color the dough to look like pumpkins, but you can leave them white if you want as well, or use natural dyes like spinach or carrot juice.
To color the dough, we divide the dough into two parts for the stems/vines and the pumpkins. For the stems, you can pinch off a small amount of dough, smaller than a golf ball, to dye green. You will dye the remaining dough orange.
To get the pumpkin shape, we used oil-soaked kitchen twine and we tie the filled raw buns like a present. To do this, place the dough ball in the center of the kitchen twine. Then wrap the strings somewhat loosely around the ball 3 times, crossing them each time you get to the top or bottom of the ball. You will create 6 segments of dough that will expand as they steam to create grooves like a pumpkin.
After the baos finish cooking, you will cut the strings off the buns. The indentations will remain to look like pumpkins.
To steam the buns, we highly recommend that you pick up a bamboo steaming basket to make the process easier, but a regular steamer basket used for vegetables in a pot with a lid will work here as well. It's important that the buns aren't touching during cooking as well, so you may need to steam these in batches depending on the size of your basket.
We hope you enjoy this recipe for Pumpkin Shaped Pork Steamed Buns (Bao)! If you give it a try, leave us a comment below or tag us on Instagram @cooking_with_wine!
Did you enjoy this recipe? Check out more seasonal recipes below:
- Pumpkin Ravioli with Parmesan Sage Cream Sauce
- Spiced Carrot Ginger and Fennel Soup
- Veal and Beef Shepherd’s Pie
- Pumpkin and Roasted Red Pepper Soup
- Pork and Shiitake Mushroom Ragù
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Pumpkin Shaped Pork Steamed Buns (Bao)
- ½ oz sugar
- 2 oz warm water (105°F)
- ¼ oz active dry yeast
- 16 oz AP Flour
- 1 oz vegetable shortening
- 4 oz sugar
- 8 oz warm whole milk (105°F)
- ½ oz vegetable oil
- 1 tablespoon baking powder mixed with ¾ oz water
- ⅛ teaspoon orange food coloring for pumpkins
- a few drops green food coloring for stems/vines
- 1 lb (454g) of pork (ground or minced)
- 2 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon (35g/37ml) Soy Sauce
- 2 tablespoon (28g/30ml) Oyster Sauce
- 1 teaspoon (4g) Chinse Five Spice
- Just under a teaspoon (3g) Salt
- 2 whole (50g) Green Onion (fine sliced)
- ¼ cup (15g) Onion (super fine chop)
- ½ cup (30g) Carrots (super fine chop)
- ½ tablespoon (8g) Ginger (minced)
- ½ tablespoon (8g) Parsley (super fine chop)
- ½ cup (64g/118ml) Light Soy Sauce
- ½ cup (64g/118ml) Rice Wine Vinegar
- 2 tablespoon (28g/30ml) Lemon Juice
- 1 teaspoon grated ginger
- 3 cloves Minced Garlic
- 2 teaspoon (10ml) Sesame Oil
- 1 teaspoon (3-5g) crushed Red pepper flakes or Fresh chiles such as jalapeño, serrano, or Thai “bird” chiles
- 1 tablespoon green onion tops - thinly sliced - added to dipping sauce when served
- Sprinkling of black sesame seeds
Additional Kitchen Items Needed
- 14-16 pieces of kitchen twine (each approx 14-18 inches long) soaked in ½ cup neutral oil for tying the pumpkins
- 14-16 toothpicks, lightly rubbed with neutral oil
- 14-16 3x3 inch squares of parchment paper
- bamboo steamer basket or other steamer basket and large pot with lid
- Dissolve the ½ oz of sugar in the warm water. Sprinkle the yeast over the water and let it stand for a few minutes, then stir. Let the mixture sit in a warm space for 10 minutes until the yeast begins to bloom (foam). Meanwhile, put the flour on a clean work surface and make a well in the center. Put the shortening, sugar, milk and yeast mixture in the well and start to stir to combine with the flour, gradually incorporating the flour. Knead the dough for 10 minutes – adding a little flour as needed if the dough is too sticky. Alternatively you can use a stand mixer with a dough hook and mix until the dough is smooth.
- Oil a bowl and place the dough in the bowl, oiling the dough ball as well. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest in a warm place for 90 minutes or until the dough has doubled in size. If you didn't make the filling and dipping sauce in advance, make it while the dough rests.
- Remove the dough from the bowl and place on a clean work surface. Punch the dough down and flatten it to ¾ inch. Spread the baking powder/water mixture evenly on top of the flattened dough, then pinch off a small golf ball size piece and set aside.
- Place the dough back in two separate bowls. Add the orange food coloring to the larger segment of dough and the green food coloring to the smaller segment of dough, then fold the dough over several times and begin to knead the dough. (Using a bowl for this step instead of kneading on a flat surface will prevent the dye from staining your countertops.)
- Knead for about 10-15 minutes until firm and smooth. Cover, and let rest for 30 more minutes.
- Remove the dough from the bowl and begin making the bao.
- Mix all ingredients together thoroughly and place in an air tight bag or container. Marinate for a minimum of 1 hour, but preferably overnight.
- Mix all of the ingredients well and let sit for at least a couple of hours (or overnight) in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
Fill and Shape Pumpkins
- Divide the orange dough into 14-16 balls similar in size. On a lightly floured work surface, roll each ball out into circles about 4-4.5u0022 in diameter.
- Place about 2 tablespoon of pork filling in the middle of the circle and bring the edges together to make a ball surrounding the filling (traditional pleating of the bao is not necessary here, but if you are interested, find more info HERE).
- Tie each ball loosely with the kitchen twine like a present, by wrapping the twine around the dough ball 3 times to create 6 segments, then tie a double knot at the top. The dough will expand as it steams to create the pumpkin shape, so do not tie the bao too tight - the indentions make themselves.
- Make the stems with the green dough by pinching small balls from the dough and rolling them into small ropes about 3 inches long. Wrap each green dough rope around a toothpick.
Steaming the pumpkin shaped buns
- Fill a pot with about 2 inches of water making sure that the water is below your steamer basket and will not touch the buns throughout the steaming process.
- Place your steamer basket into the pot, then place each bun on a piece of parchment paper and into the steamer basket. It is important that the buns are not touching each other, so you may need to cook these in several batches. Place your stems flat in the steamer basket along with the buns, before the buns or after the buns, but the stems take only 50% of the cooking time that the bao take (6-7 minutes). This will be according to how much room you have, but doing the stems ahead of time is what we prefer. Steam the bao for 12-14 minutes (depending on the size of your buns), with the lid on.
- Once done, remove from the steamer and cut and remove the twine. Remove the stems from the toothpicks and use the toothpick to puncture a small hole in the top of the bun for your stem. Insert the stem for presentation and make it look the way you wish.
- Serve with the dipping sauce with the sliced green onions added to the sauce and black sesame seeds sprinkled on the bao.