As a child I liked that my sandwich on factory white bread only tasted of peanuts and butter, or Vegemite and cheese. It was cushioned in softness, and nothing but the filling showed though. These folded steamed buns, according to Fuschia Dunlop -author of Every Grain of Rice - are a little like Chinese 'lotus leaf buns' (he ye bing), they float the filling in a wrap that's all about texture. So in making them we break most artisan breadmaking rules. Use lots of yeast and warmth, some sugar, and a very short first rise to keep the texture fine.
300ml warm water, about 25C
20g castor sugar
50g rice or potato starch (available in Asian supermarkets)
one 7g sachet dry yeast
450g white bread flour
flour and oil to finish
Put the warm water in a mixing bowl, whisk in the sugar, rice starch and yeast until dissolved then add the flour and mix to a dough. Cover and leave for 10 minutes then lightly knead the dough until smooth.
Repeat this cover-leave-and-knead routine twice more, then divide the dough into eight 100-gram pieces (for supersized bao) or 12 70-gram pieces (regular sized). Roll these firmly into neat balls, cover and leave for 10 minutes.
Roll each ball into a disc about 1cm thick with a little flour, brush the top of each disc with oil then fold in half. Sit each one on a disc of non-stick parchment (I use small paper steamer liners) on a tray, dust with flour, cover loosely and leave until doubled.
Place the risen bao in a bamboo steamer and steam for 10–12 minutes until slightly firm. Either serve immediately, or cool, bag and freeze for later. To reheat, either lightly microwave or re-steam until piping hot.
Serving suggestion: Serve with Dan Lepard's spiced pork with miso and apple filling.
Note: Bao are slightly tricky to make at home as they often use a specially treated flour that keeps the texture very light and a pure white colour. Chef David Chang adds to the lightness with baking powder mixed through once the dough has risen slightly, a great idea but tricky without a mixer. What I do is make the dough with a little rice starch to keep the crumb tender, then make them with extra water so they puff more.