Who Took the “Gua” out of “Bao”?
Everybody, Happy CNY! Yes, only 2 months after Thanksgiving and 1 month after Christmas comes our very own Annual-eat-ourselves-senseless Day. And you think you’ve got difficulty shedding pounds before Valentine’s Day (“Honey, your gut has never looked more sexy!”)? So I thought… in the spirit of Asian festivity and so on, that it’s good timing to honor our newly uprising social icon, one of our most successful cultural ambassador yet to date (and when I say “our” I mean Taiwanese…) – the Brits have Kate Moss and we have this guy. The infamous, the notorious, the little bite of heaven brought to fame by Momofuku, (drumroll) the~~ Taiwanese GUA BAO! ………………………. Oh wait, that’s right. You don’t recognize him. Perhaps because he’s mistakenly known as “the pork bun” or just… “bao”. Phoooph… can you believe it…
Which clever little man took the “gua” out of “bao” I honestly have no idea… (I’m not even gonna go into “pork bun” like what? He doesn’t have a real name? We didn’t call hamburger “beef bun”. Com’n). But it would be equally as vague to call baguette “bread” or beer “alcohol”, because bao literally just means “to wrap” or “to hold” which usually describes an array of things with stuffing wrapped inside a white dough. And let me just say as far as that goes, there are more than you can count with all your fingers plus toes. So if you were to request in a restaurant saying “may I get a bao”, you’d get something like “bao what?” from someone who may seem to be expressing confusion but is in fact mockery. So my point is bao is everywhere. The little fella that’s causing quite the stir is called GUA BAO and is in fact, uniquely a Taiwanese thing.
Back home, gua bao is a long oval-shaped dough folded in half then steamed, traditionally stuffed with braised pork belly, pickled cabbage and sugary crushed peanuts – one of those masterpiece in both-sweet-and-savory kinda thing. Ironically, he isn’t the most happening street food in Taiwan as in you might have difficulty spotting him. But who knew… this little guy pulled a David Hasselhoff – believe there’s always another crowd for him somewhere else in the world – and reinvented himself not just anywhere but in the holy ground of fame-seeking, got a name-change and landed on the menu of one the coolest chefs of this generation… THEN went on to have a restaurant all to his own named Baohaus. Wow. Really. Who knew. Gua bao is all shiny and new again. Surprisingly he still remains quite down-to-earth and
will gladly sign your T-shirt is relatively easy to make at home. Invite him to your dinner party next time. He will be quite the celebrity.
Servings: 6 gua-bao
The instruction looks dauntingly long only because I’m trying to be as detailed as I can. It really isn’t difficult at all. This recipe will give you a perfect, white poofy and chewy gua bao, but I’m going to list the ingredients of the dough in grams because in such small quantity, precision really makes a difference. The rule of thumb is that the weight of the flour is double the weight of the water. I like to incorporate the tiniest amount of cream into the wet ingredient but it isn’t conventional so I will call it “optional”.
Instead of the traditional pork-belly, I’m using braised pulled chicken. Go “figure”. If you must pork-belly it, I will feature braised pork-belly another time…
Ingredients: adapted from several recipes combined
Gua bao dough:
300 gram of bread flour (for best result, use Hong Kong Flour Mill’s bread flour)
140 gram of water + 10 g of heavy cream (or use 150 gram of water if you don’t want to add cream)
1 tsp of instant dry yeast
3 1/2 tbsp of sugar
- Pulled chicken: (this would yield more than enough for 6 gua-bao)
- 3 large chicken legs (1 = 1 whole leg including drumstick and thigh)
- 5 cloves of garlic, chopped
- 5 slices of ginger
- 3 star anise
- 1/2 tbsp of sichuan peppercorn
- 1/4 tsp of five spice powder
- 1/4 cup of rice wine
- 1/2 cup of soy sauce
- 1/2 cup of water
- 1 1/2 ~ 2 tsp of rock sugar or cane sugar (depending on the sweetness of the soy sauce)
- Crushed peanuts:
- 1/3 cup of roasted peanuts (skin-less), slightly salty is fine
- 1 1/2 tbsp of raw sugar
- Chinese pickled cabbage:
- Recipe on Taiwanese Niu Rou Mien post
- A few sprigs of cilantro
Make the gua bao: In a stand-mixer with a dough hook or by hand, mix all the ingredients under “gua bao dough” together. On medium speed, knead the dough until very smooth and elastic, approx 5~6 min. In the beginning of the mixing process it would look suspiciously dry and you’d be very tempted to add more liquid. Just wait. Assess the dough until all the ingredients are completely incorporated. This should be quite a stiff dough and it SHOULDN’T stick to the bowl or to the counter-top or to your hands. If it does, add 1 tbsp more of flour. But if it still seems too dry (wouldn’t come together as a dough), add 1~3 tsp more of cream.
Leave the dough in the bowl, cover with plastic wrap and put a kitchen towel on top. Let it proof under room temperature until doubled in size, approx 1:30 ~ 2 hours depending on the temperature.
Once doubled, scrape the dough out onto the counter-top. Again, the dough shouldn’t be sticky so there’s no need to dust any flour. Punch the air out of the dough and roll it out into a rectangular shape. Roll it into a log and turn it 90 degrees, then repeat again. Cut the dough into 6 equal pieces. Cover them with plastic wrap and let rest for 20 min. Meanwhile, prepare 12 sheets of 3 1/2″ (9 cm) squares of parchment paper.
Once the dough is rested, shape the dough into an oval shape first with your hands, then roll it out into a long rectangular shape with round tips (3″ x 7″) (8 cm x 17 cm). We call this the “beef tongue” shape because it resembles a tongue. Place 1 square of parchment paper on 1 side of the dough and fold the other side over, sandwiching the paper. Place the gua-bao on another piece of parchment and repeat with the rest.
Place all 6 gua-bao on a steamer with at least 1 1/2″ of space between them. I like to stamp a flower (or whatever you like) on the top of the gua-bao with red food-dye and the tip of a chopstick. The trick is to use ONLY enough to “stain” the surface because too much of it would start to run and result in a big blob of red… (if you accidentally applied too much, soak it up with a Q-tip). But if you are not into food-dyes, then forget this step.
Cover the steamer with plastic wrap and let proof for another 1 hour. The gua bao should look poofy but not doubled.
Add enough water into the steamer pot and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down to medium. Place the steamer with gua-bao on top and cover. Steam under medium heat for 10 min. It is CRUCIAL NOT to let the temperature get TOO high or else the dough would inflate and deflate again, resulting in a very ugly gua-bao. Open the lid every 3~4 min to ensure this isn’t happening. Once the gua-baos are steamed, they should be very puffy. You can make the gua-bao a day ahead and warm it up by steaming it for 3 min when needed.
Make pulled chicken: In a dutch oven, brown the chicken legs skin-side down until most of the fat is rendered out. Turn them over and brown the meat-side as well. Leave only 1/2 of the fat in the pot and add the garlic, ginger, star anise, sichuan peppercorn and five spice powder. Saute until fragrant. Add the rice wine and soy sauce, let boil for 2 min. Then add the water and rock sugar. Simmer for 40 min until the chicken is tender. Take the chicken out and shred the meat. Strain the cooking liquid. Add the chicken meat back into the cooking liquid and cook for another 15 min. You can also make this a day ahead. In fact, it gets better overnight.
Make the crushed peanuts: Grind the peanuts and sugar in a mortar or food processor until finely crushed. If you are using a food processor, be careful NOT to turn the peanuts into peanut butter by over processing.
To assemble: Layer the gua-bao with pulled chicken, cilantro, a little bit of Chinese pickled cabbage and LOTS of sugary crushed peanuts. And enjoy with saucy fingers.
erin b.February 7, 2013 at 12:20 AM
You make me want to quit my job and cook/bake all day. You are truly the worst. Or best. Same thing.
Mandy L.February 7, 2013 at 12:51 AM
No Erin, keep your job. I’m a lost soul… Run… Forget me.
ShannaFebruary 7, 2013 at 9:40 AM
Yummmmmm….. this leaves me missing my travels to Asia! Such beautiful work!
ToraFebruary 7, 2013 at 4:38 PM
Wow! Pretty! And looks fairly scrumptious if I may say so myself! I have to get a steamer now. It’s not a staple in the norwegian kitchen!
Mandy L.February 7, 2013 at 5:24 PM
Tora, you don’t need a bamboo steamer. You could use a large pot with water and a small bowl on the bottom. Place the gua-bao on a plate that would fit into the pot and put the plate on top of the bowl. And steam it that way :)
phepheFebruary 8, 2013 at 8:53 PM
soooo gonna have to make these one day. thanks for the non-pork recipe too!
NicoleMarch 5, 2013 at 3:54 AM
I’m in love with your blog, you are my food superhero! I just tried a Boa for the first time a few months ago at BaoHaus and was instantly smitten. Can’t wait to give these a try.
Mandy L.March 5, 2013 at 2:32 PM
Nicole, let me know how it turns out!
Joshua HuskissonMarch 11, 2013 at 7:34 AM
Awesome post and awesome photos! I made gua bao last night for the first time. My bao was NOT perfect but luckily was edible. Any chance you could share your recipe and measurements? Any help would be AWESOME!
Joshua HuskissonMarch 11, 2013 at 7:41 AM
I’m a fool. I didn’t read down far enough. Blame the post cooking gin and tonics.
Do you take the photos for your site?
Mandy L.March 11, 2013 at 2:19 PM
Joshua, hahaaaa yeah I was like ?? reading the first comment. Glad you found the recipe! Yeah I took all the photos here. Really happy you like them!
Frankie AuMarch 24, 2013 at 4:38 PM
I made the bao according to the instructions but I used all purpose flour instead of bread flour. They turned really hard and not edible….
What is the secret to the soft fluffiness?
My pork was also too salty as I used Japanese soy sauce
Mandy L.March 24, 2013 at 10:04 PM
Frankie, without further information it sounds like your yeast didn’t do what they’re supposed to do, which is to produce air in the dough and make it fluffy. There is a few things you can pay attention to:
1. Please check the expiration date on the yeast (I used active dry yeast) and make sure they are still potent.
2. Make sure the dough DOUBLES under room temperature for the first proof (this may take anywhere from 1 to 4 hours if the room is cold). When in doubt, you can always warm the water to 110 F and dissolve the yeast in the warm water for 10 min (it should foam up if the yeast is alive), THEN add it to the flour for kneading.
3. THEN for the second proofing, the dough should grow 50% again in size before steaming.
Don’t give up! Let me know if you run into any other questions. :)
JennyMay 1, 2013 at 5:34 PM
I was just reading through your instructions and I’m confused as to which step requires a second proofing? Hope to hear from you soon.
Mandy L.May 1, 2013 at 5:39 PM
Jenny, once the dough is mixed, you let it proof the first time until doubled (first proofing). Then you shape them into the “bao-shape” and let them proof again for another hour (second proofing). Let me know if there’s any other confusions. sorry about that.
Kitchen ButterflyJune 15, 2013 at 4:15 PM
Making this right now…starting with the chicken. Will report back though I am convinced, so convinced of its supreme deliciousness! Thank you!
Mandy L.June 15, 2013 at 4:58 PM
paulJune 21, 2013 at 2:13 AM
Hi! These look amazing and I have had them before from a cart in NYC. I really want to make them (or something similar) for my wedding reception. I’m doing all the appetizers for my own wedding with a lot of help. Do you know if these can be made ahead and either frozen or refrigerated and still be good? Especially interested if the buns themselves can be made ahead.
Mandy L.June 21, 2013 at 2:34 AM
Paul, of course. Lots of Asian buns are sold frozen. The only thing I would pay attention to is not to keep them in the freezer for too long (up to 1 week), and to reheat, DO NOT use the microwave. Instead, steam them again back to life (straight from the freezer is fine). To serve them, I would keep them warm and moist in the steamer otherwise they would dry out. Good luck!
Kitchen ButterflyJune 23, 2013 at 4:41 PM
This was dinner last night. And a hugeeeeeeee hit.
Superb – the chicken is so flavourful and so easy to make – I doubled it! And used some to craft nikuman :-). We all – children included, enjoyed it.
Mandy L.June 23, 2013 at 8:57 PM
Did you have success with the bun? Somebody tried it before (earlier comment) and didn’t work so I’m curious.
Zoe S.July 16, 2013 at 12:43 PM
I made this tonight for dinner and it was a huge hit. The buns came out fluffy and delicious. The only change I made was after shredding the chicken, I added a little brown sugar and a splash more rice wine vinegar. Not only was it fun to make, but it was also such a delicious dish! I cant wait to make it again! Thanks for the recipe!
ScoutAugust 13, 2013 at 10:43 AM
Thanks for the recipe and detailed instructions! Very rarely does a online recipe works on the first try for me. The bao came out perfectly. The chicken was delicious; I garnished with pickled cucumbers and carrots. This recipe is definitely a keeper.
patDecember 6, 2013 at 12:26 AM
tried the recipe yesterday… mine turned out… edible, it wasnt as fluffy as i wouldve imagined and another thing is that the colour of my buns its not as white as yours, was it because of the flour or maybe the cream (i used water) I tried looking up and some people use vinegar to whitened up. do u know if this might work?
Mandy L.December 6, 2013 at 1:38 AM
Pat, I find a lot of the times when yeast doughs turn up to be “not fluffy”, is because it didn’t proof enough. The yeast didn’t have enough time, especially in cold weather, to generate enough air bubbles inside the dough. The amount of yeast in this recipe is relatively low and therefore you really need to give it enough time and make sure the dough has doubled fully the first time, and then proof again for the second time (to expand at least another 50 %).
The color of the dough probably has to do with the type of flours used. If using unbleached bread flour, the bun could be slightly yellow or cream-colored. I think it’s fine. I have never used vinegar to whiten the dough up before.
let me know if it works!
RoxanneFebruary 3, 2014 at 5:39 AM
I’m making these right now, and am on the first proof — it’s not rising well despite fresh yeast and a 75 degree room. I think perhaps I should have added the yeast and some of the sugar to the liquid before adding the flour? I’m seeing tiny granules swelling in the dough now, after about an hour.
RoxanneFebruary 3, 2014 at 8:47 AM
I take it back! They came out beautifully! My husband just gobbled three with dinner! Non-artsy photos here as evidence: http://www.flickr.com/search/?w=40886560@N00&q=Gua%20bao
RoxanneFebruary 3, 2014 at 8:53 AM
Also, I didn’t have bread flour so I just used all purpose (Gold Medal organic). I followed the recipe other than that, though I rushed the rest (only 5 min) and the second proof/rise ( maybe 30 min in a warm kitchen) as I had hungry toddlers on a schedule.
They were still nicely fluffy with a nicely chewy bite.
Mandy L.February 3, 2014 at 3:30 PM
Roxanne, good job! I’ve never used fresh yeast before… but I’m glad they worked out. Your babies are ridiculously cute….
RoxanneFebruary 3, 2014 at 6:26 PM
Ah, thanks! I didn’t mean truly fresh yeast — sorry for misspeaking. I just meant my dried yeast wasn’t expired or anything. I used a teaspoon from a packet of regular ol’ Fleischman’s (sp?) from the grocery store.
AlbertMarch 6, 2014 at 11:41 PM
I stumbled upon your blog from a link by David Lebovitz! Beautiful work and I love the bite in your writing. You write really well in both languages!
I think a lot of people had problems with the dough because they didn’t let it rise/proof long enough. But also a lot of the recipes for this type of bun would add less gluten to cut the chewiness (like rice flour or 澄粉) and also adding lard to the dough can tenderize it. Some even add a touch of baking powder. The recipe you used is basically like a sweet 饅頭 recipe, which has more chew.
email@example.comMarch 6, 2014 at 11:47 PM
ALBERT: Actually Taiwanese-style gua-bao is supposed to have a chew to it, but softer and more pliable than man-tou. I think perhaps you’re coming from a more Cantonese perspective, as deng-fen isn’t used at all in Taiwanese cooking?
AlbertMarch 11, 2014 at 12:16 AM
You might be right – I am not sure what is the true authentic bun! I just remembered the gua bao I had from this famous cart in Taipei called 藍家, and it was very tender and fluffy. But who’s to say that is the most authentic. I actually grew up in Taiwan but have been in the US for the last 2 decades. I saw the recipe using 澄粉 from a book I bought from Taiwan. But the book featured many traditional rice cakes (like daikon cake, taro cake, Taiwanese bowl cake 碗粿, etc.) that mixed in a little other starch like sweet potato flour, corn flour, etc. to modify the texture, as the modern palate is so accustomed to commercialized products. These days the commercial products have so much additives like the various diglycerides as dough enhancers, and I don’t care as much now if I can’t create the same kind of texture at home.
ShireenSeptember 21, 2014 at 7:57 PM
Hi going to try making this tonight, just a bit confused about the instructions.. could you please explain what repeat refers to in this line ” Punch the air out of the dough and roll it out into a rectangular shape. Roll it into a log and turn it 90 degrees, then repeat again”!
mandy@ladyandpupsSeptember 21, 2014 at 11:56 PM
Shireen: It means that after the first proofing, you should punch out the air out of the dough, then roll it out into a sheet that’s relatively “rectangular” (doesn’t have to be exact), then roll it up like a cake-roll. Turn it, then repeat again. This is to create a more intricate structure within the dough. If you want to do it just once, instead of twice. It’s fine, too.
WietskeSeptember 30, 2014 at 7:06 PM
It looks delicious! But I’m wondering what kind of soy sauce you use?
mandy@ladyandpupsOctober 1, 2014 at 12:31 AM
I change between different brands all the time, mostly sticking to Taiwanese brands, choosing varieties that are a bit higher in price to ensure better quality.
MyriamMay 22, 2015 at 1:55 AM
First, let me say I absolutely love your blog! Gua Bao is something I saw a lot on Tv and Instagram and I wanted to try it so much! I mean how delicious does that little cushion-looking thing seems! But it also looks complicated, the kind of exotic mystery that only people from Taiwan and around can make work. I finally decided to try it and thanks to you, it was absolutely amazing!! Everything just worked so perfect, texture was awesome and delicious is the best word to describe the taste! Everybody loved it and I will make it again for sure! Thanks
Prudence MaruleDecember 7, 2015 at 4:12 PM
I had bao buns for the first time this weekend at a little Vietnamese place called hallelujah and it is safe to declare that I.AM.IN.LOVE!! – sooo inlove! they are the softest chewiest buns ever!!
mythy huynhJanuary 18, 2016 at 9:27 PM
Mandy, have you ever tried David Chang’s Steamed buns recipe in Momofuku? I’ve made his and many steamed buns recipes and it proofs beautifully, rises the 2nd time and even third. But my trouble is with the steamed part. I set the water to just simmering boil and bamboo steamer 1″ above the water. I steam for 10 mins and check at 5 mins. At 5 mins its perfect on the outside, rising and fluffy. It appears ready to be taken out and we made the mistake of doing so. When it sat in a 68F room, it deflated and got wrinkled. Separating at the seams revealed it was still doughy so definitely not ready at 5 mins. =\
Next batch we steamed fully for 10mins even though it looked ready at 5 mins again. They started wrinkling and dimpling in the steamer at 8 mins. Removed at 10mins and cooled on a wired rack at 68F temp room. and again they all got wrinkly and slightly deflated! What gives?
When split open, they were fully cooked but I just don’t understand why the outside wrinkles. Its definitely not steam bubbles falling on to the buns, I even added a towel to catch. I read in some recipes to not boil so hard as it will rise fast, become tough and chewy. But I also read low & slow would result in a shrink and shrivel. Please help! I just don’t know!
mandy@ladyandpupsJanuary 19, 2016 at 1:14 AM
Mythy, I’m sorry, are you talking about my recipe or David Chang’s? I’ve never made his recipe so I wouldn’t know. But high heat steaming will puff up the buns too much, and they will deflate. I don’t know if too low of a heating would do that, too. What I do is I steam them over medium heat, then I go back to open the steamer in 3 to 4 min, partly to check but partly to let any excess heat escape. Then I steam them for another 5 to 6 min to finish.
SelinaFebruary 10, 2016 at 2:54 PM
Do you think the dough can be made the night before? Like a cold rise in the fridge then taken out to warm to room temperature and continue as the recipe?
What would you suggest?
mandy@ladyandpupsFebruary 10, 2016 at 10:15 PM
Selina, yeah I don’t see why not. Just make sure the dough has enough time to come back to room temp and finishes its second proofing
juliana gomesAugust 11, 2016 at 12:18 PM
Those buns look amazing *drools* i would love to make these buns this weekend..I’ve several recipes and am a lil confused now. Can you help me out?
1. should i use bread flour, all purpose or cake flour?
2. what difference does it do to the bao with the addition of baking powder and baking soda?
how you can help me out :)
mandy@ladyandpupsAugust 12, 2016 at 12:19 AM
Juliana, use bead flour for a chewier dough, and all-purpose for softer dough. I’ve never added baking soda or powder to this dough before so I don’t know… I don’t think it needs it though :)
EvaMarch 14, 2017 at 4:52 AM
Is there a specific “moment” during the bun making process,
where I would be able to freeze the buns (already steamed or unsteamed)
and do you have any advice on how to prepare them after freezing?
Looks amazing, and after trying almost every single recipe on your website,
there is absolutely no doubt for me that this one also wilbe spectacular (:
mandy@ladyandpupsMarch 14, 2017 at 12:50 PM
Eva, you can either freeze it right before the second proofing (after shaping and all), but you’ll have to let them thaw/and proof again before cooking which can take hours. Or you can freeze them right after the second proofing, then I would steam them directly right out of the freezer, but for a longer cooking time (maybe double, guessing).
PamelaJanuary 1, 2018 at 2:40 AM
I’ll try this recipe today! and I hope to a job as wonderful as yours with these “buns”!!
PamelaJanuary 1, 2018 at 2:41 AM
I’ll try this recipe today! and I hope to do a job as wonderful as yours with these “buns”!!