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Basic Bao (Steamed Buns)
Appliance: Rice Cooker - 6 cup or larger with Steamer Basket.
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This Kitchen Tested recipe is part of the Dim Sum Collection
Basic Bao (Steamed Buns)
Ingredients
For the Bao Dough:
   1 cup warm water
   3 tablespoons sugar
   1 package active dry yeast (about 2 1/4 teaspoons)
   3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour (14.7 ounces), plus more for dusting
   1/2 teaspoon salt
   3 tablespoons oil, plus 1 teaspoon (for rising bowl)
   1 teaspoon baking powder
   1/4 teaspoon baking soda


Directions
Combine water, sugar and yeast in a large bowl. Allow to rest until frothy, about 5-10 minutes. Add remaining ingredients and stir until a soft, shaggy dough forms. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured board or silicone mat and knead, adding only enough flour to prevent sticking, until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. Alternatively, use a stand mixer fitted first with mixing paddle, then a dough hook, to perform this process. Follow your manufacturer's directions.

Coat the inside of a large, clean bowl with about a teaspoon of oil. Add dough and turn to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about an hour at 85 degrees(F), or about an hour and a half at 75 degrees(F).

Remove plastic wrap. "Punch down" the dough by gently but firmly pressing your fist into the center of the dough, then pull the sides of the dough over to form a loose ball. Lift the ball back onto your board or mat and sprinkle the baking powder and baking soda over the dough. Knead just until incorporated - 10 turns or or so. Cover and let dough rest about 10 minutes.

Divide dough in half, then each half in half, repeating until you have 16 fairly equal portions. When filling, work with one piece at a time, and keep the remainder covered so they don't dry out. Shape dough piece into a ball then roll into a 4 inch circle. Place about 3 tablespoons of your choice of prepared, precooked filling in the center of the circle and pull up the sides to meet in the middle. Pinch closed, then twist seam to seal. Repeat with remaining dough and filling.

Buns can be frozen at this point. If freezing, allow buns to rest, covered, in a warm spot for about 30 minutes, then place them on a tray in a single layer, not touching, and put in the freezer. A covered cake pan works well for this. Once buns are fully frozen, transfer them to airtight storage bags, label and use within 3 months. Steam frozen buns directly from the freezer by adding about 5 minutes to cooking time.

To steam, cut several pieces of parchment (not waxed paper) or foil about the size of the buns. Place each bun on a square, seam side up and into your steamer basket. Stackable bamboo steamers work great for this. Leave about an inch between each bun.

Fill your rice cooker's inner bowl with a few inches of water, cover and push Cook button. Use steam cooking setting, if applicable. Once water has come to a rolling boil, replace rice cooker's lid with the lidded steamer basket. Steam buns until they are puffed and set, about 13 to15 minutes, in batches, if necessary. Replenish water between batches, as needed. If using stacked trays, switch the position of the top and bottom trays halfway through cooking.

Lift steamer baskets from rice cooker and uncover. When buns are cool enough to handle, lift them out, peeling away any parchment or foil that sticks. Allow to cool about 10 minutes before serving.

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