Steamed Bao (Foldover Buns, Guabao, 割包)

steamed baoon wire rack and plate

Chengdu Challenge #9: Bow to the Bao

In my constant quest to fatten up my daughter without resorting to junk food, bao has been a go-to recipe. As a child who shuns all fried foods, most dairy and anything sweet, about the only fattening thing she loves is soft, yeasty bread. We discovered this at her first Thanksgiving dinner, when the only things she put on her plate were turkey and the Sister Schubert yeast rolls. She dug out the middle of the rolls, leaving the crusty exterior behind, and ate through as many as we’d let her. I realized they reminded her of Chinese bread, or bao.

Bao refers to steamed yeast bread, usually filled—the most famous being chasiu bao, filled with barbeque pork. But in the U.S. now the word is used specifically to refer to the little sandwiches made from foldover bao, which built the fame and fortune of both Eddie Huang (Baohaus) and David Chang (Momofuku).

Not long after our yeast-roll revelation, we tried making bao ourselves, and they were a huge hit. My thin-as-bamboo child will eat the unfilled bao by the dozens with dinner or as a snack.

bao filled with meat

You can put anything in a bao

Everyone dwells on the pork belly and assorted other fatty and fantastic fillings for bao, and I’ve heard both Huang and Chang say that you might as well buy readymade bread for the bao. But I have to disagree with that ever since trying Mr. Chang’s recipe for bao. Oh my heavens, as Fongchong would say, they are unbelievably tasty—and a far, far cry from the store-bought frozen kind, the same magnitude of difference as the comparison between homemade white bread and Wonder Bread.

Unlike most store-bought bao, which taste like nothing, these have rich, sweet and yeasty taste. Mr. Chang’s secret ingredients seem to be nonfat milk powder, lard and extra yeast—the recipes in esteemed Chinese cookbooks definitely don’t include milk powder and usually call for vegetable oil instead of lard. But lard makes most anything better, so I went with Chang. (I’ve since seen several recipes for steamed buns online attributed to Chang, and they are all different. Stick with this version here, from the cookbook, I’d say.)

Bao are a bit time-consuming to make, mostly due to the rising times for the dough. But, folks, these are not only easy, they are hard to mess up. I’ve never had success with Western bread, but these have worked brilliantly every time, the dough very forgiving of novice efforts. I’ve even simplified a few steps and shortened the process with no downside.

bao dough mixed in kitchenaid stand mixer

A stand mixer does all the kneading

rolling out bao dough

In the family production line, daughter rolls out each piece

bao folded over on parchment paper rounds with bamboo steamer

Rolled out and folded over, the bao await their turn in the steamer

 Rather than serve bao with roasted pork belly, as Chang so famously does, I decided to try it the more traditional way, with braised pork belly. As Huang explains in his book, Fresh Off the Boat, the trendy bao is based on the longtime Taiwanese street snack guabao, which uses braised pork. So I tried Sichuan-style red-braised pork belly, with delicious success (recipe added September 2016!).
Bao with Sichuan-style red-brasied pork belly

Bao with Sichuan-style red-brasied pork belly

I have to say I’ve never seen a guabao in Sichuan. When Chengdunese serve a warm meat sandwich, it’s in a type of griddled flatbread. But they do serve these yeasty buns—shaped like a lotus leaf and called lotus leaf buns—alongside their famous crispy duck, and I’ve even seen them served with twice-cooked pork. Truth be told, you can stuff just about any meat—Chinese or Western— into these and they’d be delicious. Spread bun with a little sweet wheat/bean paste or hoisin, sprinkle with some Chinese pickles or quick cucumber pickle and some scallion slivers, and you’ve got a bao worthy of the trendiest food truck in town.

Updated January 2016

For filled bao recipes, check out Michelle’s Yunnan Posubao (破酥包) and Kathy’s Chasiubao (叉烧包) BBQ Pork Buns!

Steamed Bao (Foldover Buns, Guabao, 割包)

Adapted from Momofuku by David Chang and Peter Meehan, published by Clarkson Potter, 2009.
Servings 40 bao
Taylor Holliday | The Mala Market | Cooking Sichuan in America


  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon active dry yeast
  • 1 ½ cups water, at room temperature
  • 4 ¼ cups bread flour
  • 6 tablespoons sugar
  • 3 tablespoons nonfat dry milk powder
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon (rounded) baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • cup lard (preferably) or vegetable shortening, at room temperature


  • Add the yeast and water to the bowl of a stand mixer outfitted with the dough hook. Add all of the other ingredients and mix on the lowest speed for about 8 minutes. The dough should start to cohere around the hook by the half-way point. If it does not, mix in additional flour 1 tablespoon at a time until it does. After 8 or 9 minutes almost all of the dough should have formed a ball around the hook. Transfer the dough ball to an oiled bowl, cover it with a kitchen towel and leave to rise two hours, or until it has doubled in size.
  • While you are waiting, prepare the steamer. You can use a traditional Chinese bamboo steamer in a wok, however a modern metal steamer with two steaming layers makes for a quicker cooking process. In either case, cut parchment paper into rounds that will fit into the bottom of the steamer rack, over the holes. You will need four rounds.
  • Turn dough onto a clean work surface and cut in half. Roll each half into a log and cut into 5 equal pieces. Then roll each of those pieces into a log and cut into 4 equal pieces. Roll each of the 40 pieces into a ball. With a rolling pin, roll each ball into 4-inch-long ovals. Fold each one in half. Place the buns on the parchment rounds, cover with plastic wrap and leave them to rest for 45 minutes, or until they start to puff up a little bit. (They will continue to rise while steaming.)
  • Bring the water in your steamer to a medium boil. Place the parchment round carefully onto the steamer rack and cover. Steam for 10 to 11 minutes. Remove parchment round from steamer and transfer the bao to a cake rack to cool and dry, as they may be a bit damp from the steam. Repeat process, replenishing water if necessary, until all buns are steamed.


Eat bao immediately, or freeze cooled buns in freezer bags. To reheat, steam frozen buns for 2 to 3 minutes, or microwave frozen buns on paper towel, 30 seconds for two buns, and about 10 seconds more for each additional bun.


Taylor Holliday

The Mala Market all began when Taylor, a former journalist, created this blog as a place to document her adventures learning to cook Sichuan food for Fongchong, her recently adopted 11-year-old daughter. They discovered through the years that the secret to making food that tastes like it would in China is using the same ingredients that are used in China. The mother-daughter team eventually began visiting Sichuan's factories and farms together and, in 2016, opened The Mala Market, America’s source for heritage Sichuan ingredients and Chinese pantry essentials.

4 Responses

  1. Leila says:

    Love this blog! Please keep the recipes coming! I’m wondering – would using bao flour be a better choice than regular bread flour as it is more finely milled? Have you tried? Thanks!

    • Taylor Holliday says:

      Thank you, Leila! I have so many recipes still to do and so little time. 🙁

      I have not tried bao flour. I stick pretty closely to Chang’s ingredients because they’ve worked so well for me. But let me know how it goes if you try it.

  2. Richard Gemmill says:

    Hey Taylor,

    This recipe sort of reminds me of a spicy pork dish served with small baked buns at a restaurant near the Shang ri la. It had minced pork with red and green chili (seems like we either cut the bun open or poked a finger in the bun prior to stuffing it with the spicy mix), tasted out of this world, any idea of what it might be? If so how about a recipe? I have sent requests to Chengdu for the name of the recipe, I will let you know if I hear back. Thanks again for all your wonderful recipes.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *