Chinese Steamed Bread

(Photo by Alexandra Moss/Flickr)
(Photo by Alexandra Moss/Flickr)


30 g/1 oz fresh yeast or 1 sachet dried yeast
250 ml/8 fl oz/1 cup warm water
3 tablespoons sugar
approx. 625 g/1 1/4 lb/5 cups plain
(all-purpose) flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
sesame oil


In a large bowl sprinkle yeast over warm water, leave to soften for 5 minutes, then stir in 2 teaspoons sugar and 1/2 cup flour and leave in a warm place for 10 minutes or until mixture bubbles. Add 1 more cup warm water and remaining sugar, stirring to dissolve. Beat in 2 cups flour sifted with the baking powder until smooth. Add remaining flour and knead at least 5 minutes or until dough is smooth and elastic.

Wash and dry the bowl, lightly grease with sesame oil and put the ball of dough in it, then turn the dough over so the top surface is oiled. Cover and leave in a warm place to rise until doubled in bulk, about 2 hours, depending on temperature. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead lightly, then divide into 2 equal portions.

Plain steamed buns: Divide half the dough into 8-10 even-sized pieces, and mould each one into a smooth ball. Place each one on a square of greaseproof or non-stick baking paper brushed lightly with sesame oil, and put them into a bamboo or other steamer, allowing room for them to rise and spread. Leave in a warm place for 30 minutes, or until doubled in size, then place over boiling water and steam for 10 minutes. Do not uncover immediately the cooking is finished, but allow them to remain covered for a further 5 minutes and cool off slightly, as a sudden rush of cold air can cause the tops to wrinkle.

Flower rolls: Divide remaining half of dough in 2 equal portions. On a lightly floured board, roll out one portion with a floured rolling pin, to make a rectangle 40 x 30 cm (16 x 12 in). Brush surface with sesame oil, and roll up to form a cylinder, starting at the long edge. Cut into 12 equal slices.

Place two slices together, one slice on top of another. Use a chopstick to press firmly in the centre, causing the cut edges to open like the petals of a flower. Repeat with remaining 5 slices, and place in a lightly oiled bamboo or other steamer. Repeat with remaining half of dough.

Leave covered in a warm place until about double in size. Steam over boiling water for 10 minutes. When ready to serve, reheat by steaming gently for 3 minutes.

Note: Bamboo steamers are particularly good for steaming breads because of their woven lids. If a bamboo steamer is not available, use a large saucepan and place the buns or rolls on a plate held on a trivet above the water level, but wrap the lid of the saucepan in a tea towel to prevent condensation collecting and dropping on the rolls.

Recipe excerpted from Encyclopedia of Asian Food by Charmaine Solomon (Periplus Editions, 1998).