There is genuine pleasure to be had in things that feel just right: the weight of a pound coin, a bath at the perfect temperature, the feel of a well-worn wooden spoon. To this list, I’d add the bao: this little bun, a staple of Taiwanese street-food stalls, is ergonomically designed for eating—it ﬁts snugly into the nook of a hand; the pillowy dough gives like memory foam; and the semicircular shape slots cleanly into the mouth.
For the bao buns
- 3 cups + 2 tbsp all-purpose ﬂour,
plus extra for dusting
- 1 tsp instant yeast
- 2 tbsp sugar
- ½ tsp salt
- 1¼ tsp baking powder
- 1 cup warm water
- canola oil
For the pickled cucumber
- ⅓ cup rice vinegar
- ½ a cucumber, halved, deseeded,
and thinly sliced
For the mushroom filling
- ⅓ cup soy sauce
- ¼ cup creamy peanut butter
- 2½ tbsp rice vinegar
- 4 cloves of garlic, crushed
- 4 tsp toasted sesame oil
- 2 tbsp canola oil
- 1½ lbs oyster and shiitake mushrooms, thinly sliced
- a handful of salted peanuts, ground or finely chopped
- Start by making the dough. Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl, then add the water little by little and bring the dough together using your hands; you should have a sticky ball. Turn it out onto a ﬂoured surface and knead for 5 minutes, until smooth and bouncy, then place in an oiled bowl. Cover with a kitchen towel and leave in a warm place to double in size for 1 to 1½ hours.
- Meanwhile, put the vinegar for the pickled cucumber into a small saucepan with 3 tablespoons of water. Bring to a simmer, then pour into a bowl, add the cucumber, and leave to cool.
- Turn the dough out onto a ﬂoured surface, knead for a minute to knock out the air, then divide into 10 equal pieces. Take one piece, ﬂatten it into a ½-inch-thick disk, then brush one half with a little oil. Fold the bun into a half-moon and place on a small square of parchment paper on a tray. Repeat with the remaining dough, then loosely cover the tray with a kitchen towel and leave to rise for 30 minutes more.
- Now for the ﬁlling. In a small bowl, whisk the soy sauce, peanut butter, vinegar, garlic, and sesame oil. Heat the canola oil in a frying pan on a high ﬂame, then fry the mushrooms for 6 minutes, until soft and browning at the edges. Stir in the sauce to coat, then turn the heat to medium and cook, stirring regularly, for 5 minutes, until the sauce reduces and darkens.
- To cook the bao, set a steamer over a pan of simmering water. Put the bao, still on their parchment-paper mats, into the steamer in batches, making sure they don’t touch. Cover and steam for 8 minutes.
- Once done, ﬁll each bao with a generous tablespoon of mushrooms, 3 or 4 slices of cucumber and, for a little crunch, some peanuts.
You’ll need a steamer: the inexpensive bamboo ones are brilliant.