I had the rare cravings for dai bao or what’s literally translated as “big bun” (大包) from Cantonese but originated from Guangdong. These huge steamed buns that’s about the size of a medium grapefruit is densely stuffed with a mixture of pork, a hard boiled egg, Chinese sausage, and mushrooms. The bread itself is more of a sweeter, cake-y, fluffy kind of texture.
The issue is the old school Chinese bakeries in NYC’s Chinatown sadly doesn’t make it as good as it used to be and not many places make it either. Since I know how to make dumplings and steamed cha siu bao (叉燒包), it’s not too far fetched to make this from scratch.
Relative side note, my mother always like to pair her food with excellent teas and thought of pairing it with this clean, light, floral, hauntingly green nut nuanced Alishan High Mountain Oolong Tea from Taiwan. My aunt from Hong Kong sent us a huge care package, so to speak, and was generous to send us the rare tea leaves. Alishan is one of Taiwan’s most famous tea growing areas, producing beautiful high mountain oolongs from its misty peaks. We come to realize that it can go through multiple infusions as we kept refilling our teapot with hot water. The tea works with this dai bao to cut through the dense, meaty bun.
It’s not a complicated recipe. It just takes a little patience in regards to making and fermenting your yeast leavened bread. The good part about people who don’t know or want to pleat the buns – you really don’t! It’s a simple gather of the skin and pinch it together so it would hold together. Here’s the recipe…
Dai Bao (“Big Bun” 大包)
Yield: Approximately 32 buns
4 pounds fresh ground pork
1 large egg
3 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
3 teaspoons kosher salt
3 ounces oyster sauce
1 teaspoon soy sauce
5 teaspoons cornstarch
16 hard boiled egg, peeled and halved
16 Chinese sausage, cut into thirds
16 dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked in water and halved
840g low-protein flour like cake flour
300g wheat starch
270g powdered (or confectioners’) sugar
20g baking powder
24 g instant dry yeast
1 1/3 cup lukewarm water
90g lard or softened butter
Make the filling: Add the first seven ingredients listed on the filling section in a large mixing bowl and mix it with your hands or a spatula until it is homogeneous. It should feel dry. Wrap it and set it aside in the refrigerator. (Note: Do not feel tempted to add any vegetation or fresh herbs into this filling. It would make it wet and leak out juice, which this bun is not meat for.)
Leave the prepped three ingredients (eggs, Chinese sausage and mushrooms) aside until the wrapping phase.
To make the bun or bread: In a large mixing bowl add the flour, wheat starch, powdered sugar, baking powder, and yeast and mix it with your clean fingers briefly, just to get it combined. Add the remaining ingredients and mix it together. It should form a slightly tacky dough. Wrap it in plastic wrap and let it double in volume for at least 30 minutes to 1.5 hours, depending how warm is your kitchen.
Forming the buns: Punch down the dough and lightly knead it into a long log and divide it into about 32 large pieces. Take the cut piece of dough and roll it out into a 5-inch (12.7cm) circle that is about 3mm thick (3 dimes thick, if you need to visualize) so it could support the massive ball of filling by the time you form and steam it. Repeat this until you gone through the entire batch.
Take a 3-ounce ice cream scooper and scoop the meat filling and place it to the center of the dough. Add one of the halved hard boiled egg, a piece of Chinese sausage, and a piece of shiitake mushroom.
Delicately gather the edges of the dough toward the center, give it a slight twist and pinch it tightly, so it won’t unravel while it’s rising and steaming. Place a 3-inch square of parchment or aluminum foil underneath the bun, set it on the steamer basket. Repeat for the remaining dough and meat. When you place the formed buns, give it about a 1-inch spacing to allow steam and space to let the buns expand so it won’t attach to another bun. Cover it with moist towel and let it rest for 10-15 minutes.
Steaming the buns: Prepare your wok or steamer so that it’s a full boil. Place your baskets full of rested and risen dai baos in the steamer for about 20-25 minutes or until the center is fully cooked. Immediately remove the buns to a cooling rack so it won’t have a soggy bottom and let it rest for 2-3 minutes. Eat the buns while it’s still hot or very warm.