Growing up as a kid, I ate many types of bao buns, custard, lotus seed paste, red bean, and pork and chive filled ones. To be honest I was always wary of bringing them to school because I didn’t want to be made fun of or have to explain what I was eating.
Flash forward 15 years and things have really changed. Bao buns can now be found at food festivals and food trucks and are filled with a plethora of unique and innovative ingredients. This is what inspired me to try making bao buns from scratch at home.
I wanted my bao buns to be colourful, flavourful, and innovative. Which is why I not only set out to make bao bun dough from scratch, but also char siu seitan from scratch. What is char siu? In Cantonese culture, it’s a popular way to season and prepare barbecue pork. I haven’t had char siu in many years since I’ve been vegan, but I do miss this classic flavour. Since the pandemic, I’ve been living at home with my parents, and they love to make char siu. So I did some investigating and it turns out the seasoning packets used to marinate char siu are vegan! This was perfect because it meant I could take a seitan recipe and adjust the seasonings to make my own vegan char siu seitan. This is where the It Doesn’t Taste Like Chicken blog comes in. Their vegan seitan steak seemed like the perfect base to build off of to create my char siu.
But it wasn’t easy. Seitan is made from vital wheat gluten, which becomes tough and stretchy the more you work with it. So as I was making it in the food processor, it became harder and harder to mix. Not to mention that when raw you can’t exactly taste it to make sure it’s seasoned well enough.
Nevertheless, I prepared my char siu seitan and put it in the steamer to cook, and then removed it from the steamer and marinated it overnight. Because this recipe is a work in progress and it did not turn out exactly the way I liked, I have not included a recipe here. But keep an eye out! For now, if you’re looking to try out bao buns, I’d recommend some seasoned tofu or tempeh, or even just more veggies!
Now, to the dough.
When it comes to bread dough recipes, I’m not an expert, so I took to Pinterest in search of a vegan bao bun recipe that looked promising. This is where the Eat Little Bird blog comes in. I read through multiple recipes for dough, but theirs seemed the most simplistic and logical.
So I rolled up my sleeves and got to making dough. I’ve seen my mom make bao dough from a mix before many times as a kid, so I had a vague idea of what I was doing. One of my downfalls was that I did not have a 8 cm/3 inch round cookie cutter, therefore I had to use the top of a mason jar, which is not sharp. If you’re going to try out this recipe, I would highly recommend getting a cookie cutter, as the sharp edge will make cutting through this elastic dough much easier.
Oh, and another thing. If you’re thinking of making bao buns, be prepared to spend at least 4 hours working on them. Although I had an idea of the time required, it really was labour intensive! You have to make the dough, let it rest, roll it out and cut it, let it rest again, and them steam them. That on top of the time to make the seitan is a lot!
Something that the Eat Little Bird blog doesn’t mention is that the dough is extremely elastic and when you cut out the circles, the dough will spring back and the once 8 inch circle with shrink into a tiny and thick circle, which is not ideal for bao buns. What I had to do after I cut out the circles was roll the circles out as thin as I could, which yielded these buns that were the perfect size and shape.
So I made, rolled, cut, rolled again, and then steamed the dough and voila! About twenty-four bao buns ready for stuffing. That’s another thing I didn’t account for. This recipe makes a lot of buns! So get ready to share or freeze them.
Once the buns were ready, I made a quick pickle carrot recipe, which was a combination of water, white vinegar and sugar. Pickled carrots are a classic in bao buns and add a nice crunch and flavour. I also used a vegetable peeler to make cucumber ribbons, and washed some cilantro and green onion for garnish.
And this was the final result:
I will admit, the seitan is not exactly what I was hoping, but for my first time making it, I think it was a step in the right direction. I was very surprised by how quickly the carrots “pickled” and took on the vinegary taste, but they were the perfect garnish to these buns.
With all that being said, I hope to keep testing out this recipe so that I can one day share my perfected one with you!