How To Fold Chinese Steamed Buns the Traditional Way

published Nov 16, 2021
How To Fold Chinese Steamed Buns the Traditional Way

This tutorial shows you how to fill and pleat Chinese steamed buns the traditional way.

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Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

Pillowy, snow-white Chinese steamed buns are one of my favorite comfort foods. They’re blank canvases for your filling of choice — from savory-sweet barbecued pork to sweet red bean paste — and the soft dough is quite easy to make and work with.

The heavy lifting comes when it’s time to fill and seal the buns. There’s an easy way to do this without any pleats (which I share in my char siu bao recipe), but there’s also the traditional way. It’s a whole lot prettier, involving pleats that swirl together to form a little peak on top.

Perfecting the traditional folds involves practice, but it’s a technique worth learning, because you can apply the same folding technique to some dumplings, too. Let’s walk through it together step-by-step so that you, too, can make picture-perfect steamed buns.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

Start with Dough and Filling

To get started, you’ll need dough and filling. Here, we reference the amounts of dough and filling from our recipe for char siu bao, but you can use this technique for other buns that use a similar dough, too. If your dough is too dry or sticky, that’s easily remedied: If it’s dry, very lightly dampen your hands while working with it, and if it’s too sticky, dust your hands with flour. Your filling should be cold or at room temperature before you start.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

How to Roll Out the Wrappers

Start by rolling a portion of the dough out into a 3 1/2-inch-round disc, then gently stretch the edges to make them a tad thinner. (The finished disc should be about 4 inches wide.) A wrapper that’s thinner on the edges and thicker in the middle ensures that the filling is centered in an even amount of dough when it’s all wrapped up. Plop the filling onto the middle of the wrapper, piling it high instead of spreading it out.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

How to Fold the Pleats

Next comes the pleating, which takes some practice. Hold the wrapper in your non-dominant hand, and push down on the filling with the thumb on this hand to keep it away from the pleats. Using your other hand, pull and pleat the dough, folding and working your way around the wrapper until you get back to the starting point. If your first few aren’t picture-perfect, it’s OK — as long as the buns are mostly sealed, they’ll still steam up deliciously.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

The Final Step: Pinch and Twist

After you make all the folds, you’ll be ready for the last step. Cradle the bun in one hand and pinch the dough where the folds meet with the index finger and thumb of your other hand. Twist the pinched portion in one direction while you twist the bun in the opposite direction. This creates the beautiful swirled look of traditionally pleated buns. Cup and round out the bun a little if you’d like, then place the bun on a square of parchment paper and you’re ready to steam.

We’ve included step-by-step photos below so you can practice traditional pleating yourself. If you want even more guidance, watch this video, which I found immensely helpful. Happy pleating!

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk
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Prepare the steam papers. Cut out 15 (3-inch) squares of parchment paper. Alternatively, flip 15 paper muffin liners inside out to flatten slightly and coat lightly with cooking spray or brush with vegetable oil.

How To Fold Chinese Steamed Buns the Traditional Way

This tutorial shows you how to fill and pleat Chinese steamed buns the traditional way.

Ingredients

  • 1 recipe

    bao dough (about 1 1/4 pounds dough)

  • 1 1/2 cups

    filling of choice

Equipment

  • Parchment paper, or paper muffin liners and vegetable oil

  • Dumpling dowel (optional)

Instructions

  1. Prepare the steam papers. Cut out 15 (3-inch) squares of parchment paper. Alternatively, flip 15 paper muffin liners inside out to flatten slightly and coat lightly with cooking spray or brush with vegetable oil.

  2. Divide the dough. Turn the dough out onto a work surface and divide into 15 pieces (38 to 40 grams each). Form each into a smooth ball (it’s best to pinch off a piece of dough and form immediately into a ball). Fill and form one bun at a time, keeping the remaining buns covered under a damp towel to keep them from drying out.

  3. Form the wrapper. Press a dough ball into a 3 1/2-inch-wide disc (if the dough is sticky, dust your hands with cake flour). Pick up the disc and place it flat in your non-dominant hand. Gently flatten and stretch the edges with your other hand until the disc is about 4 inches wide with a slightly thicker center. (Alternatively, roll the dough out with a dumpling dowel.)

  4. Fill the bun. Form the wrappers to the desired size, making the center slightly thicker than the edges. Holding the wrapper flat in your non-dominant hand, spoon about 1 1/2 tablespoons filling onto the center, piling it high and cupping your hand slightly.

  5. Fold the first pleat. Pleat with your dominant hand: Place your thumb next to the filling and your index finger on the underside of the wrapper and lift that section up slightly. Use your middle finger to gather and pull the next section of wrapper toward your thumb to form a pleat. Pinch the pleat together.

  6. Continue pleating all the way around. Keeping your thumb in the same position the whole time and using your index finger to hold the last pleat in place, repeat using your middle finger to grab and fold more pleats, working your way around until all the wrapper is pleated. Use your non-dominant thumb to push the filling down as you pleat.

  7. Pinch and twist to seal. Pinch the dough where all the pleats meet and twist this part toward you while at the same time twisting the bun away from you with your other hand. This will make the folds take on a more swirled look. Gently round out the bun with your hands if you’d like, then place on a parchment square. Repeat filling the remaining buns.