Steam it up

Red bean bun and spring onion bun
Steamed buns – one filled with sweetened red bean paste, the other with finely chopped spring onion

With China, Japan and Korea being in such close proximity to each other, it means that many dishes cross the short distances to each country, either in its existing form or being recreated into a new variation (such as Korea’s kimbap – a take on the Japanese sushi, or Chinese sweet and sour pork which has been recreated in Korean cuisine into a dish called tang siu yook). Another instance of this cuisine switcharoo is the Chinese steamed bread known as baozi. In Chinese cuisine this soft, fluffy, slightly sweet bread appears in many different forms – served as is, or formed into dumpling-like buns with a variation of fillings. However, in Korea, just one variation has managed to become its own national icon – the doushabou, or bun with a sweetened red bean filling.

In Korea, we called this bun either a jjin bbang (literally ‘steam bread’) or ‘hobbang‘, the latter name being an indication of how these are meant to be enjoyed, on a blustery cold day, taking a bite of a bun fresh from the steamer and frantically going “ho ho ho ho” as the piping hot red bean filling blistered the inside of your mouth. Sounds slightly masochistic, but when these snacks average less than 50c, there’s a reason why these delightful treats are so often seen in the hands of young and old during the colder months.

I’ve wondered about this bread for quite some time now, and have been looking at recipes, the different ingredients that they call for, trying to weigh up which would be the best to try. Some recipes claimed that yeast was the raising agent of choice, others put a vote in for baking soda. I saw some recommendations for cake flour, others for plain/all-purpose and even one for bread flour. With so much variation and nobody that I know to ask for an actual tried-and-tested recipe, I began to get extremely frustrated with my search. Surely, it could not be THAT difficult to find a simple steamed bun recipe that would work?!

Waiting to go into the steamer
Heavy little unsteamed buns waiting to go into the boiling pot

After stopping the search for a few months due to building annoyance and disappointment, I decided to have another look this week for a recipe that would take my fancy. The beginning of the search was nothing new, but somehow in this search, I also turned up a recipe that I’d never seen before. On a blog, the lead in to the recipe was simply one line where the author stated that this was the recipe that his grandfather had taught him.


As much as I love recipes from chefs and cookbooks with glossy pictures, I have always had a weakness for recipes that are passed on through families, generation after generation. Perhaps this is because of the many recipes my mother learnt that way from her grandmother and the many that I’m learning from her, or perhaps its the idea that a recipe that has been passed on like that has been made enough to have all the kinks ironed out – either way, if I have a recipe by a top chef in one hand and a generational one in the other, it’ll be the latter that I lean towards.

While these buns weren’t as white as pure snow as the ones bought from Chinese stores/restaurants, they definitely have the right smell, texture and taste, and my family enjoyed them so much that we devoured half the batch today. So, if you’re looking for a recipe for these simple, unpretentious little buns, I highly recommend giving these a go :)

Light, puffy, fluffy morsels
Fresh out of the steamer, they’ve almost doubled in size and formed a thin slightly chewy skin with a cloud-like interior

Chinese Steamed Buns
(as found on this blog)

16 squares parchment paper, each 7cm by 7cm in area
350mL warm water
3 tablespoons white sugar
dash salt
2 teaspoons instant yeast
1.5 tablespoons oil
600g plain/all-purpose flour, sifted

1. In a small bowl, mix the sugar and salt in the water, and then mix in the yeast. Let it rest for about 15 mins, or till the surface is covered in frothy yeast (haha – it’s alive!).

2. Add the oil to the mixture and stir it in to combine

3. In a large bowl, add the flour and make a hole in the centre. Add the liquid to the hole and gradually incorporate the flour till you have a sticky mass.

4. Oil your bench top with a little olive or vegetable oil, them knead the dough on the oiled surface until it forms into an elastic and smooth ball, which takes about 15 minutes. The dough should be elastic and slightly tacky but not so that it sticks to your hands.

5. Roll out the dough into a tube that’s about 5cm in diameter.

6. Slice the tube into 16 loafs. Lay each of the loafs on its cylindrical edge, not the face, on top of a square of parchment paper, and leave for about 20-30mins to rise (or till the surface has become slightly puffy)

7. Shape your buns – if at this time you wish to make filled buns, roll them into a circle, add the filling to the middle then pinch the sides together and give it a slight twist so it doesn’t come undone as it steams. Leave to rest for another 30 minutes.

8. Arrange the loafs in a steamer (which is already madly steaming away). They will expand quite a fair bit so try and leave about 3-5cm around each bun. Cover the steamer and steam over high heat for 15 minutes.

9. Immediately remove from the steamer and place on a plate to cool enough so they can be handled – but they do taste best when they’re still warm from the steamer!

Cross section of the steamed buns
Cross sections – the red bean filled buns were made like dumplings, while the spring onion ones were rolled out into a strip, covered in spring onion, then tightly rolled up

Cooking Notes:

1. Though these buns taste best fresh from the steamer, if you’ve steamed too many and a few get stale, you can resteam them for a few minutes, or give them a quick zap in the microwave to bring back their softness. They won’t be quite as good as they are when fresh, but they’ll still be quite edible :)

2. Treated like a dumpling, you can fill these with any number of savoury fillings – vegetarian buns, char siu bao, the world is your oyster!

3. They can also be filled with almost any sweet filling – common ones include sweetened red bean paste, chestnut paste, sweetened lotus seed paste and black sesame paste . I’ve once even had these with a nutella-like filling!

4. If all the buns will not be devoured in one sitting, the remaining uncooked buns at the end of step 7 can be tightly wrapped in plastic wrap and frozen for a few weeks. However, they must be thawed in the refrigerator prior to steaming.

5. Another idea for serving these is as a simple savoury roll – roll the bread out into a long strip and cover the surface with things such as chopped chives, spring onion, onion or garlic before tightly rolling it up again. These can be enjoyed plain or with a little sprinkling of dark soy sauce :)

[tags]baozi, char siu bao, Chinese steamed buns, Asian cuisine, recipes, sweet, savoury, bread[/tags]


  1. Ellie, my Korean spouse and I made the hanguk bang with meat and veggies, but had probs with the bun flattening once it cools. Any tips? I’d like to learn something and surprise her and crank out some nice fluffy ones. Your time & consideration are greatly appreciated, R/Ernie

  2. Sounds like you didn’t steam it long enough – if any of the dough is not fully cooked, the dough will contract once it cools.

  3. I had been searching the internet for FOREVER to look for a
    recipe for these buns. I saw these and I tried to make them and I was etremely pleased with the results :mrgreen: I wanted to thank you.

    The only diffrence was that the dough had a wheat flavor, that the others I had eaten didn’t. I think you have to use some super bleached flour or somthing to make the dough tasteless. However I was still greatly pleased.
    THANK YOU! :mrgreen:

  4. @Isaac – I’ve noticed the wheat flavour too, but I think that has to do with the way flour is processed :) I’m glad you enjoyed the recipe!

  5. I tried making this recipe at home, although it looked deformed, it tasted great. Thanks for the recipe, tried looking for this recipe awhile.

  6. Carol – I’m sorry, but I couldn’t help but laugh when I read your comment…but only because I knew your pain! My first few rolls were also quite deformed, but after a few tried I was able to get them nicely shaped! The old adage ‘practice makes perfect’ certainly applies to this recipe :)

  7. This looks so tasty~~~~ :mrgreen: I can’t wait to try it. ♥

  8. Mei – I hope you enjoy! :)

  9. I wanted to thank you for such a wonderful recipe. My mom used to make this for me when I was young, and I had a sudden craving for it , but I didn’t know how to make it. I’m so glad that I found your recipe. I made mine with ham, cheese, and chives. Wow! Absolutely delicious- I am eating my fifth one right now. Thanks a million!

  10. Thanks so much for this recipe~ I’ve been craving these since I saw them on an episode of Invincible Youth (a Korean variety show), except the ones they made there were made from corn. ♥

  11. @Jen – That sounds fantastic, I’ll have to give that combination a try! :)

    @Nyokou – My pleasure :) And I’m sure you could make these with corn inside too :)

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