Bánh bao literally translates to "cakes that wrap something" in Vietnamese. The dough is made of flour, milk, sugar and a hint of oil. Once the dough rises, it's formed in the desired shape, usually dumplings similar to a pointy turban, then steamed until plump and perky. In general, they're stuffed with savory meat or sweet egg custard (called bánh bao cadé).
I've also seen them plain and shaped into a taco-style envelope at a few dim sum places. This is the version I used to finish the leftover braised duck leg from the night before. I shredded the tender duck meat and added pickled carrots and daikon and cilantro. I drizzled the bánh bao with a mole sauce using the reduced braising sauce adding 2 ounces chopped unsweetened chocolate, which tied the dish together beautifully. I was tempted to post this bánh bao bun in my second cookbook, Bánh Mì: 75 Banh Mi Recipes for Authentic and Delicious Vietnamese Sandwiches but decided to keep the recipes more traditional. Still, they’re a a lot of fun to make and quite versatile.
Since it's the weekend already and I usually post a dessert, I’ll also mention that the leftover bánh bao wraps can be turned into sweet treats with the right filling. Dried fig spread, lemon curd (I had jars of the lemon curd I made last winter) and chocolate mousse or the more traditional sweet egg custard are all great choices.
If you live in the Bay Area, don't forget to pencil in next Saturday (May 25th) for my cooking demo and cookbook signing for Haute Potato at Los Altos Library. Hope to see everyone there. Have a great weekend!
Servings: 8 pieces
¾ cup bột bánh bao (or self-rising flour)
2 scant tablespoons granulated sugar, to taste
¼ cup whole milk, warm
⅛ teaspoon sesame oil
⅛ teaspoon lemon juice
⅛ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon white vinegar
Dissolve the sugar in milk. Stir well.
Combine the flour (reserving 1 tablespoon for dusting) and salt in a bowl. Form a well in the center of the bowl. Pour in the milk.
Dust your work space with a little flour. Roll the dough balls in a little flour.
Using food service disposable gloves, mix well until it forms a non-sticky dough ball (similar to pizza dough). Add the lemon juice and sesame oil. Roll the dough ball in a bit of flour so it's not sticky. Let rest for 10 minutes, then knead the dough again. Cover with a damp towel so it doesn't dry out. Let sit for 1 hour.
Roll the dough into a long log, then cut in half. Cut each half into 4 equal portions. Roll them into golf ball-sized pieces. Flatten the dough into 3 x 3 x 3½" ovals. Place on its own small piece of parchment. Cover them with the damp towel and let sit for 10 minutes.
Fill a large pot (that accomodates a steamer) with cold water until it barely touches the steamer level. Add vinegar. Bring to a boil and reduce the heat to medium-high.
Place the tip of a chopstick in the center of the oval, then fold the bánh bao in half, applying very little pressure to the dough so it doesn't stick shut. and place in the steamer (I needed to stack 2 levels to fit all the buns), Steam for about 15 minutes. Turn off the heat. Allow to rest for about 5 minutes. Remove the bánh bao and transfer to a cooling rack.
You can add savory filling. I shredded duck meat and added pickled carrot, daikon cilantro and turned it into a bánh mì-style bánh bao. You could also use them for your favorite sweet fillings.
You can find all the ingredients listed in any Indian specialty market.
The lemon juice prevents the dough from darkening.