Two leaveners give baozi a cloud-like fluff that’s a perfect compliment to a sweet barbecue (or bean paste, or custard) interior. Sampling one straight from the steamer you could almost convince yourself that you’re eating some form of savory cotton candy. Such is the magic of steam baking. What you lose in color and crisp you gain in other-worldy lightness.
I confess that boazi intimidated me a little at first, I was worried about the shaping step. But a decent top crimp is well within the grasp of the average baker. And heck, if it fails you can just pinch it closed and steam the buns upside down instead. No shame there. They taste just as good. Start by preparing the filling of your choice and assembling your ingredients. Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl (or the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle). Stir them together.
Add the wet ingredients and stir on medium until a shaggy dough starts to come together.
Like so. Switch to the dough hook and knead for five minutes.
Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl, cover it with a cloth and let it rise for 90 minutes.
At which point it will look about like this:
Divide the dough into 12 roughly two-ounce pieces. Shape those into balls by rolling them like so. If they’re not perfectly round do not sweat it.
Since the balls are a little slippery, you’ll probably need to wet your work surface so you generate the right sort of friction. Here I’m wiping the board with a wet paper towel. It makes a big difference.
Once all the dough is rolled it’s time for the shaping. There’s only one trick to rolling boazi dough, which I’ll show you in a moment. For now, focus on rolling the dough out into circles. Starting with the first ball you made apply it to a lightly floured board and get busy with the pin.
Give it a few rolls, then a quarter turn and roll some more. Depending on the nature of the gluten in your flour, the dough may snap back some. Just keep rolling.
Now for the one trick. A good circle of boazi dough is thinner at the edges than it is in the middle. This very thin outer edge make the crimp easier to execute. It also makes the crimp prettier. So starting about an inch from the edge, roll out ward, pressing hard. The dough might smear a little under the pressure, that’s OK.
Rotate the dough slightly, roll outward. Rotate a little more, roll outward. Trust me, it gets faster and more natural after a bao or two. Once it’s rolled, apply about a tablespoon of filling to the center.
I wish I’d had a helper to photograph both of my hands for the crimp. Basically you want to pinch the dough, gather up a little, pinch it, gather a little more, etc. The motion is quite simple. This video goes a great job of showing it. This same crimp comes very handy for lots of other pocket pies, like pasties and empanadas.
Work your way around, pinching firmly so the bao doesn’t open during steaming…
…tum tee tum…
…until you’ve got something like this. Kinda cute, right? This was my last and best one.
The others weren’t terrible, but not exactly world class either. Hey, these things take practice, am I right? Let these proof for half an hour.
Place each on a small square of parchment paper to keep them from sticking, and put them in a steaming device of some sort. This Chinese steamer I bought for $12.95. I’ll get plenty of use out of it because these buns amazed Mrs. Pastry. Give them plenty of room. Four would have been better here since they increase in size by about 100%.
Steam them for 20 minutes until they’re extremely plump. Serve them warm, straight from the steamer and get ready for the oohs and ahhs.