Bao or baozi is a type of steamed filled bun or bread-like bun (often made with yeast) in Chinese cuisines. There are countless number of variations to the fillings and methods of preparing these buns. These buns are similar to the traditional Chinese mantou, they can be stuffed with meat or vegetables and sweet fillings. Buns are most frequently served in a push cart in Yum Cha restaurants as dim sums and they are often dished up in a bamboo steamer comprising of 3 buns.
There are many different variation of buns available, the fillings can be sweet or savoury. The variety of buns include the all-time favourite dim sum char siu bao, sweet red bean paste buns (doushabao), lotus seed bun, custard buns (naihuangbao), black sesame paste buns (zhimabao), pork buns (bah-pau), large bao (normally filled with pork, eggs and vegetables), tangbaozi (soup-filled buns), shaobao (filled with any fillings of chicken, pork or salted eggs) and Shanghai xiaolongbao. There’s also another variation of bun popular in Malaysia and Singapore called kaya bao (fillings made with kaya jam prepared with coconut, eggs and pandan). Other variety of mantou include shengjian mantou, a small Shanghai fried mantou stuffed with minced meat. For my gluten free recipe of sweet custard buns, I am using custard powder, agave sugar, gluten free corn (maize) starch, maple syrup and vegan butter for the sweet fillings. My recipes is also vegan, dairy free, soy free, egg free, nut free, refined sugar free and allergy friendly.
According to a legendary folktale, bao were created by a Chinese scholar and military strategist named Zhuge Liang in the Three Kingdoms era during AD220-280, when China was divided and ruled by three-party states of Wei, Wu and Shu, after the Han dynasty and before the Jin dynasty. While in many different parts of contemporary China with different Chinese cultures, buns are an extremely popular food staple and are broadly available. Buns are most commonly eaten for breakfast and as a snack or even as a meal itself.
Chinese Steamed Custard Buns
- Some gluten free flour for dusting work surface
- Baking paper or parchment paper cut into 2½ inch square pieces
For the dough:
- 600 g 1.32Ib gluten free self-raising flour (Orgran)
- 100 g 3.5oz gluten Free corn (maize) flour
- 3 teaspoons gluten free baking powder
- 50 g 1.8oz agave sugar or 2½ tablespoons agave syrup
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons rice bran oil or extra virgin olive oil
- 350 ml plus 1 tablespoon rice milk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
For the Custard Filling:
- 165 g 5.8oz gluten free and vegan custard powder (Orgran)
- 100 g 3.5oz gluten free corn (maize) starch
- 375 ml water
- 400 ml gluten free coconut milk
- 2 tablespoons all vegan non-diary buttery spread Nuttelex Buttery or any vegan butter
- 50 g 1.8oz agave sugar or 2½ tablespoons agave syrup
- 2 tablespoons maple syrup
- ¼ teaspoon salt
For preparing the dough:
- In a large bowl, combine and whisk together all the dry ingredients except agave sugar. Make a well in the middle of the flour mixture.
- Warm the rice milk in a small pot for around 2 minutes, then turn off the heat. Add in the rice bran oil or extra virgin olive oil and agave sugar and mix well until all the agave sugar has dissolved.
- Pour the warm rice milk mixture in step 2 into the well in the large bowl, add the vanilla extract, stir and combine well with the flour.
- Then use your hands to knead the dough until you have a smooth dough. Add 1 tablespoon rice milk if required.
- Divide the dough into 2 portions. Seal in ziplock bags and let the dough rest on the benchtop for 1 hour.
For the filling:
- Mix the gluten free corn (maize) flour with all the water.
- Combine and mix well all the ingredients including the corn (maize) flour mixture in step 6 for the custard filling in a non-stick frying pan on medium to low heat for 5 mins or until the custard mixture is smooth and has thickened.
- Remove the frying pan from heat and let the custard filling cool for around 2 minutes.
- Roll the custard filling into 16 balls about 54g (1.9oz) each. Set aside to cool to room temperature.
For the dough:
- Dust the work surface and rolling pin with some gluten free flour.
- Remove 1 bag of dough from the ziplock bag at a time, divide the dough equally into 16 large balls around 72g (2.5oz) each. Repeat until all the dough are finished.
- Flatten each ball into a disc or patty. Roll out each dough, turning it as you roll, to form a 4 inch round dough around 0.7cm in thickness.
For stuffing the dough:
- Place a cooled custard ball into the centre of the dough.
- Wrap and pinch the dough together. Making sure that the thickness are even throughout the ball. Seal the edges and shape into a smooth ball.
For cooking the buns:
- Arrange each dough onto a piece of baking/parchment paper.
- Heat up a wok with a steaming rack with some water and place the bamboo steamer on top of the steaming rack. Steam the buns for 20 minutes on high heat in batches. Ensure that there is sufficient water in the wok for the whole steaming process. Repeat until all the buns are cooked. You can use any type of steamer.
- Remove and place the cooked buns on a cooling rack. Best serve warm.
- You can also store the buns in an airtight container in the refrigerator and reheat by steaming on high heat for 3 minutes or in microwave for 1½ minutes or until buns are soft.
Disclosure Statement: I am NOT paid by Orgran or Nuttelex for this post.
12 thoughts on “Chinese Steamed Custard Buns”
I tried this recipe and LOVED it. This is one thing I dearly miss since developing a wheat allergy. Thank you so much for sharing this recipe! Have you had luck making these with any other GF flours? I have run out of the Orgran and cannot find it in stock 🙁
Thanks for your good feedback. If you can’t find Orgran gf self-raising flour, you can try buying online or use other good brands of gf self-raising flour like Bobs Red Mill, Well & Good and YesYouCan, all availale online. They should all work well. 🙂
I am a little confused as the allergen information says yeast, yet there is no yeast in the ingredients that I can see. am I missing something?
You are correct, there is no yeast in the ingredients list. I have removed yeast and included corn (maize) as an allergen instead. Thanks for pointing this error out. 🙂
So I have a few questions:
Can I use honey instead of Agave sugar? If I should stick with agave sugar should it be liquid or granules? (have a hard time finding granules)
and last I am planning on using bob red mill’s active dry yeast, would that work?
Thanks so much!
You can use honey instead of agave sugar. Alternatively 2 1/2 tablespoons agave syrup for 50g agave sugar will be better.
Any active dry yeast will be ok for this recipe. 🙂
This looks amazing! But wil this work with the same non-gluten-free ingredients? I don’t have any of these ingredients.
This will definitely work with gluten ingredients. It is always easier to work with gluten as it has elasticity and rise easily. The only thing I would do differently is to add the rice milk gradually until you get a smooth dough. You can also substitute for soy milk if you prefer. 🙂
I have never tried steamed buns but these certainly look wonderfully delicious.
If you have dim sums in a Chinese yum cha restaurant, they normally serve steamed char siu bao, sweet custard buns is another version of baos. Hope you get to try steamed buns soon, as they are really delicious indeed. 🙂
These steamed custard buns look and sound amazing. It’s so nice that you’ve also told some of the history behind them!
I love to know and write about history and origin of all kinds of food/cuisines, just make them a little more special in a way. 🙂