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Test Kitchen tips: Making bao

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You can tell when a dish has made it into the mainstream by looking it up in the dictionary. There you’ll find entries for sushi, taco and pho. I still have to italicize as a foreign word bao, the term for Chinese steamed bread and filled buns, but my hunch is that I won’t have to do that for long. Bao is on the rise, and that’s not just because it features leavened dough. Just check Costco, supermarket chains such as Vons/Pavilions and Ralphs, and of course, any nearby 99 Ranch. It’s not hard to find bao in the frozen or refrigerated food sections. Convenient as they are, packaged buns are never as satisfying as homemade ones -- freshly steamed, chewy-soft and filled with fragrant roast pork or curried chicken redolent of spices.

The above is from a great story on homemade bao that food writer Andrea Nguyen shared with us in 2009. Before trying her recipes, I’d never known homemade bao could be so simple and fun. There is the little trick of getting the pleats at the top of each bun to look just right, but nothing beats the light texture of the finished buns and that homemade flavor.

If you’re a fan of bao, you’ll have to try making your own. And if you’ve never had bao before, you don’t know what you’re missing! They may take a little time, but they make a perfect weekend project.

Continue reading for some recipes and a step-by-step on assembling your own bao:

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1.When rolling out a wrapper for bao, look at the center of the dough disk and imagine a quarter-sized circle. This is what the Chinese call the belly of the wrapper. You want to roll out the disk into a flat, round wrapper that retains a thick belly. A lightweight Asian-style rolling pin, which is essentially a three-fourths-inch wooden dowel, is ideal for this job. With this in mind, start rolling out the disk from the center to the rim. Apply more pressure to the outer one-half-to-three-fourths-inch border of the wrapper. If you are using the skinny Asian rolling pin, work it with one hand in short downward motions while your other hand rotates the disk. Regardless of the tool used, be sure to frequently lift and rotate the dough as you work to ensure an even shape and make sure the wrapper doesn’t stick to your work surface. Aim for the wrapper size indicated in the recipe. Set aside the finished wrapper while you roll out more.
2. Assemble the bun: Cup the circle with the filling in one hand; use the other hand to form pleats.
3. Pleat the dough: Form several overlapping pleats to completely enclose the filling.
4. Finish the bun: Gather the pleats, pinching and twisting the top of the bun shut. 5.Savory and sweet: Freshly steamed homemade bao, filled with fragrant roast pork or chicken, has a slightly chewy, flavorful dough.

Recipe: Basic yeast dough (famian)

Recipe: Barbecue pork filling (Char siu haam)

Recipe: Curried chicken bun filling (Gali ji bao)

Recipe: Steamed filled buns (Zheng bao)

If you have any kitchen tips or questions you’d like me to explore, leave a comment below or shoot me an email at noelle.carter@latimes.com.

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-- Noelle Carter
twitter/noellecarter

Photo credits: Glenn Koenig / Los Angeles Times


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