These vegan steamed buns (bánh bao chay) remind me of growing up
to the mornings where my mom would make these fresh for breakfast <3
Growing up, I was very lucky to have a Vietnamese mother who loved food. Not only loved food, but loved to cook. We’d have huge family gatherings where people would swarm around my mother’s cooking. There would be trays upon trays of steaming, fresh, Vietnamese food: spring rolls, bánh bột lọc, bánh hỏi, bánh cuốn, etc.
Growing up with Bánh Bao
Not every family was fortunate to enjoy home cooked meals every day, let alone epic Vietnamese ones bursting with flavour. I remember groggily rolling out of bed, dragging my feet until I caught the scent of sweet, fresh steamed buns. The best way to wake up is to the sweet smell of these buns wafting upstairs from the kitchen.
Every now and then, my mom would wake up super early to cook these complicated dishes. Sometimes breakfast was bánh cuốn chay or these bánh bao chay.
Growing up, I remember being tasked to cutting pieces of paper into squares for the buns to steam on. I distinctly remember cutting up my blue, Hilroy lined sheets of paper. I relished in my ability to cut them evenly without needing to fold or measure them. Once they were steamed, I always choose a bun that didn’t have a binder holes. Did it make a difference? No, but something about the lack of binder hole made it special.
Why are Steamed Buns Not Vegan?
Vietnamese steamed buns traditionally have pork, stuffed with quail egg and a chunk of Chinese sausage. Since we lived in a small town with no Asian market, my mom made them using a quarter wedge of hardboiled chicken egg instead. Traditionally, people will make the dough with milk or water, and season the filling with fish sauce.
How to Make Vegan Steamed Buns
To make this vegan, I used a vegan ground meat alternative: here I used Yves. The Yves ground is made from TVP and doesn’t stick together, but does a great job at mimicking the texture. Nowadays you can find vegan ground meat substitutes that bind and cook up like ground pork. I have a recipe coming soon with a more traditional filling, whereas this version has a lot more vegetables.
Vegan Steamed Buns Video Tutorial
I filmed this video in collaboration with Rose from Cheap Lazy Vegan! For the video, I had intended to double the recipe for the dough, but I doubled the flour and not the rest of the ingredients, which is why it was a hot mess for the video.
But don’t worry, I retested the recipe and modified it to be what it is in this post haha. I hope you enjoy the shenanigans nonetheless. We also filmed my pho recipe (with some modifications) together if you want to check that out too!
Weighted Vs Volume Measurements
This recipe has both weighted and volume measurements. The weighted version is more accurate, but I provided the volume measurements for those who don’t have a kitchen scale. If you have a kitchen scale, please use that! The volume measurement will yield a tasty dough, but you may find you need to adjust liquid or flour levels depending on how you measure your ingredients.
The texture of this dough is similar to a pizza or a sweet bread dough. Yeast and baking powder are the active agents that give this dough rise. When handling, this vegan steamed bun dough has a similar texture to pizza dough: soft and workable but fairly tacky. Depending on where you live (if it’s more humid or more dry) you may need more flour or more water.
For the dough:
- 360 mL (1 1/2 cups) warm water or unsweetened soy milk
- 8 g (3 1/2 tsp) dry active yeast
- 120 g (1/2 cup + 2 tbsp) sugar
- 60 g (scant 1/2 cup) cornstarch
- 1 tsp salt
- 10 g (2 tsp) baking powder
- 500 g (4 cups) flour + extra flour for rolling out the dough
- 70 g oil (about 1/4 cup grapeseed oil)
For the filling:
- 2 tbsp grape seed oil
- 5 green onions, finely chopped, greens and whites separated
- 1 cup finely diced jicama (about 1/3 of a medium jicama)
- 1 cup finely diced carrot (about 3 small/medium carrots)
- 1/4 cup soy sauce (I used Golden Mountain Soy Seasoning), you'll be adding this tbsp by tbsp.
- 20 g (1 cup) dried black fungus/cloud ear fungus, hydrated and finely diced
- 1 package (12 oz/340 g) of vegan ground "meat" (you can also use hydrated TVP, but you may need to add some dark soy sauce and a bit of extra regular soy sauce for seasoning)
- 2 portions/bunches of mung bean vermicelli, hydrated and finely diced
- 1/2 tsp white pepper (or to taste)
- 10-12 pieces of parchment paper squares (3x3 inches)
- ~1 tbsp (I just added a splash) of white vinegar
- 3 cups water (depending on the size of your steamer pot)
To make the dough:
- In a separate bowl, combine water, yeast, and sugar and stir to combine and allow the yeast to bloom.
- In a large mixing bowl, combine cornstarch, salt, baking powder, and 4 cups of flour.
- Once the yeast has bloomed, combine the yeast mixture and half the oil to the dry mixture and stir to combine. It'll be a very sticky dough, but it should come together and be slightly tacky. Turn onto a clean and then lightly floured surface and knead until moderately smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes.
- Place the dough back into the mixing bowl (it should be relatively clean if you pull any extra dough off of it as you were mixing it). Coat the dough in the remaining amount of oil and mix in as well as you can. It will be quite tacky but that's okay. You should be able to incorporate most of the oil but turn the dough in the bowl to coat in oil just before letting it rest. The dough should absorb the rest as it rises.
- Cover with a damp towel and let rise in a warm place (like microwave or oven) for at least 1 hour. It should rise a little but don't be too worried if it doesn't rise too much.
For the the filling:
- In a large wok/pot/or pan with high sides, cook the whites of the green onion with 2 tbsp of oil for a minute or two over medium high heat. Add the finely diced jicama and carrot and cook until carrot is tender. You may need to add 1 tbsp of the measured soy sauce and about 1/3 cup of water to cook and deglaze the bottom of the pot.
- Once carrot is tender, add the chopped black fungus and stir to heat through, about 3 minutes.
- Add the vegan ground round and stir into the mixture. Add 2 tbsp of the soy sauce and stir to combine and heat through (about 3 minutes again).
- Add the chopped, hydrated mung bean noodles, the last of the soy sauce, the greens of the green onion and stir to mix through. As the noodles cook, they'll absorb moisture from the rest of the mixture and sort of bind it together to make it easier to stuff the bao.
- Add white pepper to taste (you may need to add more soy sauce or salt if desired, but I liked it at 1/4 cup. Let it cool until it's just warm before you fill the bao.
To make the bao:
- After about an hour or so of the dough resting, turn it over to a floured surface and divide between 10-12 pieces (If you're really intense about exact measurements, it's about 100g per piece of dough). Cover the cut pieces with a damp towel while you're stuffing them so they don't dry out.
- Generously dunk the cut piece of dough into some flour then roll out to about 1/4 inch thickness (5-6 inches in diameter). Add about 3-4 tbsp of the filling into the middle of the dough then pinch the outside edges together and twist to seal the bun.
- Fill a steamer pot with about 5 cups of water + 1 tbsp of vinegar. The vinegar will help brighten the buns as they steam, resulting in a lighter bun in the end).
- Place the pinched bun on a perforated layer of a steamer pot on top of a parchment paper square. Repeat and fill the buns with the remaining filling. I tend to go quite heavy handed with the filling, and I ended up using all of the filling for these buns. If you find you have any extra leftover, put it on rice, in fresh spring rolls, or on lettuce cups for lunch.
- Try not to put the buns too close together like I did in the photos, if they're touching, they'll tear once you pull them apart after cooking. If you find you need them to touch, place some parchment paper in between so they don't stick.
- Steam on medium heat for 20 minutes, then take off the lid and let them steam for another 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let the buns cool on a wire rack.
- For any leftovers, wrap them as soon as their cool in some plastic wrap (if you put them in a container they'll dry out). To reheat, either re-steam or microwave for 2 minutes.