Baozi (包子)


It is funny how lately my new food surprises don’t come from a new cooking technique. I have been surprised by the excellent taste of mapo tofu that materialized; I have been surprised by the delicious flavour of the Chinese eggplant recipe; and yesterday I was shocked to find my homemade baozi (Chinese meat buns) tasted really great. Great as in “if I ordered this in a restaurant I would be happy and come back again” kind of way.

But the funny thing was this didn’t have to do anything with my cooking techniques. The secret was all in the ingredients. For my 麻婆豆腐 Mapo tofu recipe, I found adding a lot of oil to fry meat and chili sauce in, makes the difference between pretty OK and great; for the eggplant I found buying Chinese slender eggplants does the trick (so tender and not-bitter); and for the 包子 baozi (meat buns – white dough with a meat or vegetable filling, eaten as snack in China, called bapao in Dutch because of our Indonesia connection) using the right flour turned out to be vital. Without this flour, your buns might not get the right texture and you might end up with a food experiment: interesting, but just for once.

I bought an interesting package with a dark green Chinese paksoi cabbage on the front with a very white flour inside. On the package it said ‘low gluten flour’ in Chinese, but “Plain Flour” in English. The package explained it was suitable for Chinese style buns. So: I found a recipe in one of my older Chinese cookbooks and gave it a try. For the dough, you will need 300 grams of white flour (low gluten) and 120 grams of sugar. I thought this was a bit much on the sweet side (and I ran out of sugar) so I added about 70 grams. Then 2 tablespoons of lard, one tablespoon of baking powder and 250 mls of water. The dough became a bit sticky so I added a bit more flour, so in the end I am not sure if it was supposed to be supple like that. Cover with a wet towel and let sit for 10 minutes.

For the filling, you will need: 125 grams of ready charsiu meat (Chinese style cured pork); one tablespoon of soy; one tablespoon of sweet bean paste; one chopped clove of garlic and 2 small spring onions. Fry garlic and onions in some oil, add soy, sweet bean paste and meat; stir to combine. Thicken with 2 tablespoons of cornstarch diluted with some water. You will need a thick filling. Add some drops of sesame oil and some pepper. Don’t add salt since the bean paste and meat are quite salty by themselves.

Cut the dough into 12 portions and shape into rounds. They might be sticky, flour your workspace. Then take a large tablespoon of filling and pleat the dough to close the baozi buns. It actually doesn’t matter if they are closed tightly or not, because they will expand and be artistic and fluffy anyway. Shape them one by one – you will find you can make them quite quickly. Handle them gently, the low gluten content makes them tear easily. Put on a floured tray until ready to steam. Put in a bamboo steamer, lined with baking paper and steam for about 10 minutes until puffed up and ready to eat. They will have doubled in size and taste great! The dough is light and spongelike, like a cake, and has a slight sweet flavour. The filling is savory and delicious.

I never suspected the dough to have anything to do with the sweet flavour I tasted when having a baozi, so this was quite an eye opener for me. I always thought the sweetness was in the filling somehow. You could make this with minced meat or chicken too, easily. Just fry it beforehand and add flavorings, then use cornstarch to thicken it up. Easy and tasty snack.

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