How to Steam Bao Buns Without a Steamer (Microwave, Oven, or Pan)

Image Credit: Lauren Topor via Flickr

Bao buns have become quite popular. Most people who make them use a bamboo steamer. However, a lot of people wonder if it’s possible to make bao buns without a steamer. This doesn’t come as a surprise seeing as a bamboo steamer isn’t that popular. 

Fortunately, it is possible to cook bao buns without a steamer. You can use several alternatives to come up with the same product and still enjoy bao bun kits. Other people may have a steamer but are looking to get a little more inventive in their cooking. No matter the reason you are trying to cook bao buns without a steamer, the good news is that it’s possible. 

The original bamboo steamer was crafted specifically for making bao buns. This utensil creates some condensation, but the basket collects the majority of it. This ensures that the condensation does not drip and make your bao buns wet. Of course, you will also want to achieve the same with the make-shift methods we are about to discuss.

How do You Steam Steamed Buns Without a Steamer?

There are several methods you can use to steam bao buns without a steamer. All these methods rely on water and heat to steam the buns, and they only differ slightly. To steam bao buns without a bamboo steamer, you can use a microwave steamer, an oven, a metal steamer, or an electric steamer.

How to Steam Buns in a Microwave

Steaming bao buns with a microwave is possible. However, when you buy your microwave, it doesn’t come with a container for steaming. Instead, you will have to buy one on the side. There are several microwave steamers available. Basically, a microwave steamer is a special plastic container that comprises a bowl with a steamer basket and lid. 

To steam your bao buns in the microwave, add just two or three glasses of water to the plastic container. You can then place the bao buns on the steamer basket and place the lid on top of them. Once the setup is complete, place the microwave steamer inside and switch the microwave on. 

You can also use a microwave to reheat frozen bao buns or cold bao buns if you don’t want them to become too crispy. For this, you will need a paper towel. First, wet the paper towel but don’t let it get soaked, otherwise, the buns will become wet. After that, wrap a few bao buns in the paper towel and add them to the microwave. To microwave frozen buns, you will need about 30 seconds for two buns. You can add 10 seconds more for each extra bun.

Do You Put Water in a Microwave Steamer?

The short answer is yes. It would be impossible to steam anything without water, even in a microwave. For steaming bao buns, two to three glasses of water will do.

How to Steam Bao Buns in the Oven

To steam bao buns in the over, you will need a hotel pan, a perf pan insert, parchment paper, and another hotel pan to use as a lid. After preparing your dough and letting it ride:

  1. Cut the paper into small squares that match your buns
  2. Add a little amount of water to the bottom pan, 
  3. Place the perforated pan insert on top of the water.
  4. Place each bun on the parchment paper square and place it on the perf pan insert. 

With this setup, you can even steam about 25-30 bao buns in one shot. If you don’t have a perf pan, you can also use an oven-safe plate placed on aluminum foil balls. All you need to do is place the dough on top of the plate, and you have an oven steamer that’s good to go. Once the setup is complete, close the oven, turn up the heat and wait for about ten to twelve minutes.

How to Steam Buns in a Pan

It is also possible to steam bao buns in a pan following a similar method with the metal steamer. However, with a pan, there are a few problems that can arise. Pans can hold condensation, which will drip down onto the bao. To avoid this, here’s what you can do:

  • Line the metal pan with greaseproof paper
  • Don’t put too much water
  • Avoid having the bao buns touch the sides of the pan as they can become too wet,
  • Cover the lid with a clean tea towel.

Bao Buns in Electric Steamer

It is possible to steam bao buns in an electric steamer. However, the method is slightly different from a bamboo steamer. Just like with a bamboo steamer, the first step is to prepare the dough and let it rise. After that is done, switch on the steamer to bring the water to a boil. 

From here, you will need to cut parchment paper to match the size of a bao bun. Before you place the buns into the paper squares, spray some nonstick spray onto the paper. Once that is done, place the buns on the paper squares and onto the steamer and wrap the steamer’s lid with a towel and rubber band.

It is recommended to steam the buns for about eight to twelve minutes. Once the buns are done, you can wrap them in a clean towel to stay warm.

Can you Steam Bao Buns in a Metal Steamer?

If you don’t own a bamboo steamer, you’ll be pleased to know that you can still enjoy bao buns made in a metal steamer. You can even make your make-shift metal steamer. This method is relatively easy and shouldn’t give you any problems at all. All you need is aluminum foil and a deep skillet.

To begin, place your large, deep skillet on the stove. Add some water and bring to boil. As the water is being heated, start tearing off a few rolls of aluminum foil. Crush these rolls into balls and toss them into the skillet. The aluminum, in this instance, will only be used as non-flammable support for your make-shift steamer.

Once you are done with the aluminum balls, get a heatproof plate that will act as your streaming platform and place it on the aluminum foil balls. As the water underneath the plate will be boiling, the rising steam will bake your bao buns for you. 

This method is quite simple, and it produces amazing results. Just like with the electric steamer, cut parchment paper into squares and place your buns onto them. Before you close the steamer, wrap the lid with a towel and secure it with a rubber band. This will prevent moisture from dripping onto your buns as they steam.

Why do my Steamed Buns Collapse?

There are several reasons why your steamed buns may collapse. The first and most likely reason is opening the lid immediately after steaming. Instead, leave the lid on for about two to three minutes before you open. If you open the lead just after steaming, the temperature change will be rapid, and this might cause your buns to collapse.

Another reason why your steamed buns might be collapsing is condensation. When steaming using an electric steamer, you must ensure that you wrap the steamer’s lid with a tea towel. This will help you trap condensation and prevent it from dripping down and spoiling the surface of your buns. Apart from that, you must also take some time to knead your dough thoroughly so you press out as many air bubbles as you can.

Is it Safe to Steam With Aluminum Foil?

Aluminum foil isn’t classified as a dangerous material. In fact, it is used in many cooking applications. However, steaming your bao buns with aluminum foil can slightly increase the amount of aluminum in your diet. Fortunately, many people eat far less aluminum than is considered safe. Therefore, using aluminum foil to steam your bao buns shouldn’t be considered a health risk. The problem only comes if you are overusing aluminum foil in other cooking applications. 

Are steamed Buns Healthy?

There are many ways to cook bao buns, and with many different ingredients. Therefore, how healthy they are is largely dependant on you and what you use to make them. There are some less traditional dessert ideas, like the chocolate bao bun. You can also come up with your vegetarian bao recipe. The decision is yours.

We can’t say that steamed buns are the ‘healthiest’ of snacks when it comes to calories. The buns pack a considerable amount of calories. However, if they are eaten in moderation, they shouldn’t cause any problems. The dough used to make bao buns is a mixture of flour, yeast, sugar, milk, oil, and baking powder. From the ingredients, you can generally guess that they will likely be on the sweeter side. However, the idea is to take them as part of a balanced diet. So you should just avoid making them the base of every meal as you might end up consuming too many calories.

Final Thoughts

A bamboo steamer isn’t a necessity for steaming bao buns but it is the traditional method. If you have a microwave, oven, or stovetop, chances are you can find a way to steam bao buns with the cookware you have around your kitchen.

Good luck and happy cooking!

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