The Fresh Loaf

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Red Bean Buns

I've been on a serious Chinese culture bender for the past month or two, watching a ton of HK movies (Shaw Brothers, Ti Lung/David Chiang, Stephen Chow) and hitting the Chinese market every day for lunch.

I'm halfway through reading Outlaws of the Marsh, a classic Chinese novel. One of the characters in there, Wu the Elder, is a steamed bun peddler. Ever since reading the chapter with him I've been dying for steamed buns, and what with the Chinese lunar new year almost upon us, I thought it was a good time to try making them.

I used Bernard Clayton's dough recipe. The same dough can be used for savory pork buns too (Char Siu Bao).

Red Bean Buns (Dousha Bao)
Makes 1 dozen buns

3 cups all purpose unbleached flour
1 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup warm water
1 tablespoon butter, margarine, or shortening
1/2 teaspoon baking powder

red bean paste

Combine the ingredients and mix well. The dough needs to be somewhat supple for streching and shaping, so add a little extra water if necessary (I added a couple of extra tablespoons).

Knead by hand for approximately 10-12 minutes or by machine for 5-7 minutes. Set aside in a covered bowl and let rise for 45 minutes to 1 hour.

red bean buns

Divide the dough into a dozen pieces form each into a ball. If you are going to fill them, as I did, let them rest for 5 minutes or so before flattening them to fill them.

red bean buns

Once they are shaped, let rest for 10 minutes. During this time, bring the water in your steamer to a boil.

Red bean paste can be made from scratch by cooking and sweetening azuki beans. I was pleased to find canned red bean paste at the local Chinese market.

I love this stuff.  I could eat it right out of the can!

To fill, flatten the balls of dough into circles and place a tablespoon of filling on top.

red bean buns

Close them up and either reroll them seam side down for a smooth bun or pinch them to the top if you want them to tear open on top. I personally prefer the torn look.

red bean buns

Place each ball of dough on a small piece of parchment or wax paper and place in the steamer. Cover and steam for approximately 15 minutes. Remove from heat and serve warm.

red bean buns

Here are a couple of the plain buns.

red bean buns

And the red bean buns.

red bean buns

red bean buns

Considering that this was my first time making them, I'm extremely pleased with the results. If you actually *know* something about making steamed buns, please share some tips!

Red Bean Buns


Kate's picture

Steamed buns... I think I'll have to try those tonight, they look so good. Thanks for the recipe!

mountaindog's picture

Floyd - those look great, what a good idea to make them yourself.

I've never tried anything like this myself, but at a favorite restaurant of mine in NYC's Chinatown, they serve a delicious steamed dumpling that somehow has hot broth sealed up inside of it, plus a little meatball. We've been trying to figure out how they do that! My guess is that they freeze the broth with the meatball inside in something like an ice-cube tray, then place each cube inside the dough like you did with the red bean paste and take it from there.

merrybaker's picture

I love red bean buns, and those look very tempting!  You can also steam them with the seam-side down for a nice, smooth round look.  Sprinkle a few black sesame seeds on the top before steaming, or, after steaming, dip a chopstick in red food coloring and dot it on top.  Pretty!  

grepstar's picture

Floyd, those look delicious.


I made some savory steamed buns last year for a party and found out a few things:

1) My filling was a little wet and made it challenging to seal the buns. I think maybe a wet filling is tough to work with. mountaindog's suggestion of freezing the filling might be the trick.

2) I didn't use parchment paper underneath the buns and they stuck like crazy to the steamer. That was a bad idea.

3) I like steamed buns a lot.


Of course, I haven't made them since then, but I'll root around for the recipe I used. It may have been from the site. 

Kate's picture

Okay, I couldn't wait until dinner to make these, so I made them for lunch. =) They are so yummy and so easy! I also didn't have anything proper to put inside them so I made most of them plain and put some frozen meatballs in one to try out - so good! And my two year old loved them, too. I think he ate two whole buns! I set aside a third of the dough to rise in the fridge so we can eat them with dinner. That should probably work, right? I was figuring I'd take the dough out an hour before dinner, let them sit for 45 minutes then steam them.

Thanks for the recipe, Floyd! 


Floydm's picture

Yeah, my two year old loved them too. She was happy with the plain ones until she tried the red bean paste, then all she wanted was the filling. I had to give her an extra spoonful of the filling to dip the remaining bun in.

I'd think refrigerating the dough and baking them later would work fine, but I've never tried it. Let us know how it works out.

tomsbread's picture

Hi Floyd,

Beautiful buns. Here are 2 links which may be of interest to you. The soft flour results in a fluffier texture. Hope you can get them in your chinatown.

The recipe uses a starter and the dough is made over 3 days.

Typically for sweet buns like DouSha Bao, the top is smooth, made like a roll, not open top like yours. Char Shao Bao is open top, made the way you made it.

Now about your current interest in Chinese Literature. Outlaws is interesting but since you mentioned Wu Da and his buns, I wonder if you are aware of a spin-off from the story of Wu Song, his brother Wu Da and his wife Golden Lotus. There is a translation of this novel entitled The Golden Lotus. My version is by Clement Egerton and I got it for US$42 back then. Can't believe what they are asking for at Amazon now. Be warned though, it was considered too erotic and was banned for many years.

Other great works include Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Liao Zhai, Journey to the West and my favorite The Tao Te Ching. For anyone who have problems grasping the Tao, I'd recommend Headless Tao and more on the headless way

Pardon me for going tangential.


ps. BTW, I have not made these buns myself because my mother used to make them for me. I am only interested in hearth bread.:)

Floydm's picture

Tomsbread -

Thank you for the links on both bread and books. Both interest me.

Yes, I realize that one never sees DouSha Bao with the tops open like I made them. As you say, I've only seen Char Shao Bao served that way.

I used AP flour, not bread flour, because my thought was that bread flour would be too tough. It looks like my hunch was right and that an even softer flour would be appropriate. I've never looked for flour at the Asian markets I go to. It'd be interesting to check if they carry a softer flour than American AP flour. If not, adding a cup of cake flour (or rice flour, as herbivora suggested) might help. I've got a bunch of red bean paste left over, so I'll have to try making them again in the next few days.

I wasn't aware of Golden Lotus. Wait, hang on... my wife reminds me that years ago we watched The Reincarnation of Golden Lotus, but I hadn't made the Water Margin connection and haven't read the original book.

While looking through for different films based on Outlaws of the Marsh, I did stumble across another adult spinoff of the Water Margin stories (link probably not safe for work).

I read quite a bit of Chinese philosophy in college, such as Confucius, the Tao Te Ching, and Chuang Tzu, and watched many HK films, but I hadn't picked up any Chinese literature until Outlaws of the March. I'm loving it, so I went ahead and ordered a translation of Journey to the West just the other day.

tomsbread's picture

There is an interesting story/legend about The Golden Lotus. The title is just an English name for the work because it is called Jin Ping Mei in Chinese meaning Gold Vase Plum. These are the shortened names of three of the concubines of the villain Lord Hsi Men (no pun intended!!) in the story. Jin is Jin Lian or Golden Lotus, whom the villain married after murdering Wu Da.

Apparently, the author who wrote Golden Lotus did so out of revenge. His parents were murdered by a corrupt official who had a penchant for erotic literature. That official had a habit of licking his thumb while flicking through the pages. The corrupt official was killed when he read a copy of the Golden Lotus which had been smeared with poison. Does this sound familiar? It was the theme for the hollywood movie "The name of the Rose" starring Sean Connery.


Floydm's picture

Name of the Rose is based on an Umberto Eco book. Eco's books are full of literary references, so it is entirely possible he is referencing Jin Ping Mei consciously.

It has been over 10 years since I've read Name of the Rose. All I can remember is that the library in the book is taken straight from a Jorge Luis Borges short story.

Kate's picture

So, I took the dough out of the fridge and let it sit for an hour or so, shaped mine into a ball, put meatballs in my husband's, put a little kosher salt on the tops (yum) and steamed them up and I think these were even better than the earlier ones. Not sure if it was the time spent in the fridge or maybe I got my steaming technique down a little more (I don't think I've ever steamed anything before today) but they were just perfect - light and fluffy and tasty. My husband made stir fry for dinner (he does all the cooking, that's how I have managed to stay away from the steamer until now) and they were a wonderful way to sop up the extra sauce.

So, yeah, refrigerating the dough works great - perfect way to make the dough in the morning for dinner that night since the buns really need to be eaten right away - unless they are frozen, which is a great idea and I'll try that next time.  


KNEADLESS's picture

Sounds like something my wife would love.  Can you post your filling recipe? Much thanks.



TRK's picture

I made these this weekend too (sorry, I didn't take pictures). My dough overproofed a little, so they were kind of wrinkly anyway. Cook's Illustrated had a recipe for Char Siu in the most recent issue, so I had some leftovers to use. I made 1.5 recipes with pork and 1.5 with tofu (same filling recipe, just substituted cubed tofu for the pork for vegetarians) and took them to a party. They were a hit.


George, here is the recipe for the filling from Bernard Clayton's book.



½ teaspoon sesame oil

½ pound Chinese-style barbecue pork*

3 tablespoons chopped green onions

2 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon soy sauce

¼ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger

2 teaspoons all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons cornstarch

¼ cup water

*You can also use your own roast or barbecued pork, or other meat including chicken. You can find this in many supermarkets in the meat department. It is the stuff that is a frightening bright red on the outside


• For filling: Dice the pork. Heat the oil and stir-fry for 30 seconds in a sauce pan or small skillet. Add onions, sugar, soy sauce, salt, and ginger. Mix the flour and cornstarch with water. Add to the mixture in the pan and cook over medium heat for 3 minutes until the mixture thickens. Set aside to cool. You can process this in a blender or food processor or leave it chunky as it is. Both are good.



sphealey's picture

Could someone post a picture of the steamer they are using? My spouse and I were trying to figure that out.





Floydm's picture

Mine is just a tray with holes in it and a lid over a pot of boiling water.


You can kinda see the steaming tray there. I think the tray came with my rice cooker.

A bamboo steamer would be more traditional but even one of those vegetable steamers that folds up like a little UFO will work too. The most important thing is not to boil away all of the water or you'll damage your pot.

Kate's picture

I used the same type of steamer and I was very careful about not running out of water so I wouldn't damage my pot. And then I ran out of water and very nearly damaged my pot!

apers's picture

i love love love red bean buns and my husband was just asking if i had a recipe for them.


:)  I cant wait to make these! 



apers's picture



I made these just now and they are DELICIOUS and just like the buns we buy from the asian food store.


So So good.


Thank you so much for posting the recipe and the pics for a step by step!



verminiusrex's picture

I made these the other night, they were excellent!  Unfortunately our local Asian market is out of bean paste, so I have to drive half an hour to Kansas City to find some (there's are several good Asian markets with good selections).  

One of the local Chinese restaurants makes a fist sized loaf without any filling and just calls it "steamed bread", which is great with a touch of butter and some duck sauce.  You can also get it fried briefly after it's done steaming so it has a golden crust.



sqpixels's picture

I made some a couple of months back. You can view them here (
I found a Bāo Forum ( with some good discussion and tips too!

TRK's picture

While we are on the subject of dim sum-style buns, I love those sesame coated buns that have red bean paste in the middle, chewy rice-flour in the middle, and a crisp fried outside with sesame seeds.  Does anybody know what those are called?  If you have a recipe that would be even better, but if I had a name at least I would be able to keep an eye out for one.





apers's picture
TRK's picture

That is it exactly!  Thank you April.

verminiusrex's picture

I saw these used at a Chinese buffet and figured out how they were done.  Take a square of parchment a bit bigger than your steamer basket, keep folding it in half about 6 times, then snip off the innermost corner (it should have no outside edge on it).  Instant steamer basket lining with vent holes so the steam comes through.  Also easy to pull the steamed buns out of the basket on the parchment for cooling before handling.

parchment liner for steamer 

RobynNZ's picture

Enjoyed reading Andrea Nguyen's article on Bao and her recipes in the LA Times and thought others here might too (her efforts in getting the steamed bun dough right mirrors the work of so many here getting their bread dough right):,0,7536561.story