This version of the light steamed buns, commonly - and erroneously - known as just 'bao' and often made with rice flour in the mix, can never be truly authentic due to the lack of meat, so I've thrown caution to the wind with an unami-rich stuffinf of roast pumpkin. As in the Popiah with Shredded Vegetables (page 85 of The New Vegetarian), it's refined flour all the way here.
- For the bao:
- 450g strong white bread flour, plus more if needed
- scant 1 1/2 tsp (7g) fast-action dried yeast
- 50g unrefined caster sugar
- For the filling:
- 700g pumpkin, peeled, deseeded and cut into batons
- 2 tbsp dark soy sauce
- 1 tbsp honey
- 1 tbsp finely grated root ginger
- 1 tsp 5-spice powder
- 1/2 tsp chilli flakes
- 3 tbsp toasted sesame oil
- 1/2 large cucumber
- 2 tbsp mirin
- 1 tsp unrefined caster sugar
- 1 tbsp rice wine vinegar
- pinch of freshly ground white pepper
- 3 spring onions, finely shredded
- handful of sprigs of coriander
- 100g salted roasted cashew nut, crushed
1. Mix the flour, yeast, sugar and 225ml of water in a food mixer fitted with a dough hook, or with a good old wooden spoon. Knead for 8-10 minutes, until smooth and elastic. The dough will be quite stiff, but flours can differ and the weather might be particularly wet or dry, so add up to 1 tbsp more flour or water, as needed. Cover with a damp tea towel and leave to prove for about 1 1/2 hours, or until doubled in size. Or chill the dough, letting it rise overnight, and return to room temperature before shaping.
2. Preheat the oven to 220c/gas mark 7. Toss the pumpkin in a roasting tin with the soy, honey, ginger, 5-spice, half the chilli flakes and 2 tbsp of the sesame oil. Roast for 30 minutes, turning halfway, until glazed and soft.
3. Shred or slice the cucumber into a bowl. Put the remaining chilli flakes in a small saucepan with the mirin, sugar and rice vinegar. Bring to the boil and simmer briskly until the liquid is reduced to about 1 tbsp. Pour over the cucumber, adding the white paper and remaining sesame oil. Toss to coat and set aside for 10 minutes before eating, or chill for up to 5 days.
4. Cut out 16 x 10cm squares of non-stick greaseproof paper. Knock the risen dough back and divide into 8 even rounds. Roll each out on a large piece of non-stick paper to form ovals, about 12cm long and 9cm wide. Stick a cut-out square of paper on top and fold the ovals in half over them. Sit each on a second square of cut-out paper. Cover loosely with cling film and leave in a warm place for 30 minutes, until risen.
5. Set a large steamer, preferably with 2 tiers, over a medium heat and get the water boiling. Arrange the buns in the steamer baskets, spaced at least 3cm apart, and steam - not too fiercely - 10-12 minutes until piffed, shiny and cooked through. Split the buns open, removing the papers, and fill with roast pumpkin, drained cucumber, shredded spring onions, sprigs of coriander and lots of crushed cashews for texture.