Holy Bao Buns Batman!
I’ve been wanting to try and make bao buns at home for awhile. After my great dumpling success I thought heck why not dive right in and make them sooner rather than later!
Bao buns are very hot right now. Tons of restaurants in cities all over are popping up specializing in these tasty buns. If you’re reading this and still wondering what bao buns are then let me drop some knowledge. Bao buns originated in China. They are a steamed filled buns made from a yeast (and typically milk) dough. When they’re not fill they’re called mantou, but that’s a whole other thing. These buns are famous for being soft and pillow like in texture and they can be filled with savory/sweet, meat/vegetarian. Basically what I’m getting at here is they are versatile!
For my buns I wanted to go the hip non traditional route (obviously). Though, I must digress, the idea to make them a ‘buffalo chicken’ bao bun was sadly not mine – it was Chris.
This past weekend Chris and I were brainstorming some new recipe ideas.I was getting a little frustrated at my ‘writers block’ when Chris blurted out ‘lets fill them with buffalo chicken!’
You guys…I married this man for a reason – he’s a genius.
(Still slightly jealous I hadn’t come up with the idea myself) we went straight to the grocery to get our supplies.
To ensure these buns came out juicy and delicious I choose boneless skinless chicken thigh over breast meat – it’s better for frying in my opinion. We wanted to make biting into it reminiscent of the whole buffalo wing experience. This meant adding carrots and celery into the buns. The cold crunch from the veggies really took this from something good to something great!
Let’s talk about the real outlier here, the dough. Since I’ve only eaten bao at restaurants I thought it was going to be difficult to pull off. To my happy surprise it was so much easier than expected. The real trick is to knead it for a long time. I let my stand mixer knead the dough for 10 mins on medium high to ensure good strong gluten development. If you don’t have a stand mixer this can totally be done by hand kneading – it’ll just take a bit of effort. Strong gluten is the key to bao dough – it’s what gives them their unique soft springy texture.
Once you have the prep out of the way everything comes together pretty fast. Then, before you know it you’ll be enjoying homemade bao and patting yourself on the back!
- 2/3 cup warm milk (I used whole milk)
- 1 tsp yeast (I used instant)
- 2 tbsp sugar
- 1 1/4 cup flour (plus more for rolling)
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 1/4 tsp baking soda
- 1 tbsp vegetable oil + more for coating buns
- 1 lb boneless skinless chicken thigh
- 1/4 cup + 2 tbsp Franks RedHot
- 4 tbsp butter melted
- 1 medium carrot (cut into match sticks)
- 1 stalk celery (cut on the bias)
- 4 oz blue cheese crumble
- 1/2 cup all purpose flour
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp smoked paprika
- 3 cups vegetable oil (for frying)
- salt and pepper to taste
- In a stand mixer (fitted with the dough hook attachment) combine all ingredients for the buns. Mix on medium low speed until everything is combined. Dough should be tacky not sticky, if it's sticky add 1 tbsp flour at a time until dough is no longer sticky.
- Once dough comes together and starts to pull away from the sides turn the speed up to medium high and let knead for 10 mins. Once 10 mins is up the dough should be very glossy and smooth. Cover the bowl with clingwrap and let proof in a warm draft free place (I like my oven with the light turned on) for 2 hours or until doubled in size.
- While dough is proofing prepare the chicken. Cut chicken thigh into bite sized pieces. In a small bowl (or ziptop bag) add the chicken and 1/4 cup Franks RedHot. Let chicken marinate for at least 30 mins (2-4 hours is best).
- Once dough has doubled in size punch it down to deflate. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, and roll to 1/4 - 1/3 inch thick. Cut out dough using a circular cutter (I used a small bowl). Lightly pull on opposite sides to create a slightly oval shape. Lightly coat with vegetable oil, fold in half and set aside.
- Over medium heat, fill a large heavy skillet about 1/3 the way full (I used about 3 cups oil). In a small bowl combine flour, garlic powder, paprika and salt and pepper - mix together well. Remove chicken from Franks and dredge each piece in the seasoned flour. Shake off any excess and transfer to a plate.
- Once oil is about 350 F (or 175 C) add half the chicken pieces to the pan. Cook chicken 6-7 mins per side or until cooked all the way through. Remove and transfer to a paper towel lined plate to cool. Repeat with the rest of the chicken. Once chicken is cooked, combine 2 tbsp Franks RedHot and 4 tbsp melted butter in a medium bowl. Toss fried chicken pieces in Franks and butter mixture. Set aside.
- While chicken is cooking place the buns in a steam basket lined with parchment and steam until the buns have expanded, about 7 to 9 minutes.
- Once buns are steamed, remove and open like a taco - fill each bun with the carrots, celery, chicken and blue cheese. Serve.