Vegetarian Steamed Pork Buns (Bao)

Image © 2011 Liv Gluten-Free

Vegetarian Steamed Pork Buns (Bao)
Makes 16 buns

At home we eat almost exclusively meat free, so I’ve made this verision with shiitake mushrooms and tofu. Feel free to use cooked roast pork instead for a more authentic Char Siu Bao.

For the Dough:
1 packet dry yeast (1 packet contains 7 grams of dry yeast)
2 tablespoons lukewarm water
1 teaspoon sugar plus 1/4 cup sugar, separated
1 1/4 cup cornstarch
1/2 cup tapioca starch
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons brown rice flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup warm water
1/2 cup warm milk
2 tablespoons butter or margarine (room temperature)

For the Filling:
1 tablespoon gluten-free tamari
1 tablespoon ketchup
3 tablespoons gluten-free hoisin
2 tablespoons gluten-free oyster sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon corn starch
1 pound shiitake mushroom caps, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 bunch scallions, sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 inch ginger, minced
1/2 package (7 ounces) firm tofu, drained, blotted on paper towels, then diced into 1/4 inch pieces

1. Start by proofing the yeast: Place the yeast, 2 tablespoons of warm water, and a teaspoon of sugar in a small bowl. Let sit until the yeast doubles in size and gets a foamy appearance. In a separate bowl, combine the warm milk and warm water.

2. Meanwhile, in a medium sized bowl, whisk together the remaining sugar, cornstarch, tapioca starch, brown rice flour, and baking powder. Using a wooden spoon, mix in the butter and the proofed yeast mixture to the dry ingredients, then slowly add the warm milk mixture, a little at a time until you have a soft, pliable dough. You will know you have the right texture if, when you flatten a ball of the dough, it cracks slightly around the edges, but it doesn’t fall apart. (you may not need all of the liquid or you may need to add a bit more water, a little at a time).

3. Place the dough inside a large zip lock bag, then place the bag in a warm place for about an hour, or until the dough has nearly doubled in volume.

4. While the dough is rising, prepare the filling. In a small bowl combine the tamari, ketchup, hoisin, oyster sauce, sesame oil, sugar, and cornstarch in a small bowl. Set the sauce aside. In a large saute pan, heat the 1 tablespoon of canola or peanut oil over medium high heat, until it begins to shimmer and the pan is hot. Add the mushrooms and saute 5-6 minutes or until the mushrooms have released their juices and begin to brown. Add the scallions, ginger, and garlic and cook another 3-4 minutes, until the mixture is fragrant and the garlic begins to turn golden. Add the sauce mixture to the pan, and cook about 1 minute until everthing is combined and the sauce is hot and has thickened slightly. Add the tofu and remove the mixture from the heat. Set aside to cool.

5. When the dough has risen and the filling is cool, get ready to assemble the buns. Set up a metal steamer basket with a lid, or bamboo steamer over boiling water. Cut parchment or wax paper into 16 3-inch squares. Take the dough out of the plastic bag and divide into 16 even pieces. Roll each piece of dough into a ball, using cornstarch on your hands to prevent the dough from sticking. Take 1 ball of dough and flatten it in your palm to form a 6-inch circle. Place about 2 tablespoons of mushroom filling in the center of the circle, then cup your palm around the filling to bring the dough up the sides of the filling. Use the fingers on your opposite hand to pinch the dough together and twist and pinch the dough at the top to seal the filling into the bun. Place the bun onto a square of parchment paper. Repeat with 3 more buns then place the buns on the paper into the steamer for 8-10 minutes, or until the buns are firm and the bread is cooked through, light, and fluffy.

6. Repeat this process 3 more times with the remaining ingredients until you have 16 steamed bao. For best results, serve warm. (The buns can be reheated in the microwave or steamer for the best texture.)

  • Approximate Nutritional Information: Per Serving (1 Bun)

Calories: 146
Total Fat: 3 grams
Carbohydrates: 25 grams
Fiber: 1 grams
Protein: 3 grams


Category: Entertaining, Entrees, Recipes, Sides, Vegetarian | Tags: , , , , , 30 comments »

30 Responses to “Vegetarian Steamed Pork Buns (Bao)”

  1. omar said:

    Thanks for this recipe. I’ll have to try it. If you have any suggestions for how to make a good mustard greens filling, please let me know. i used to buy these from a local asian foods store but I got the gluten problem too now.

    Best wishes, and I appreciate what you’re doing for the GF community.


  2. Liv said:

    Thanks Omar!

    I’ve never had them with a mustard greens filling, but that does sound delicious. I’m so excited for you to try this recipe! Please report back and let me know how they turned out.


  3. Todd said:

    Followed the instructions — but my dough came out soupy… any idea what happened??

  4. Liv said:


    Unfortunately the moisture in the air and in your flours can make a huge difference in the texture of your dough. In this case, not all of the liquid (milk and water) will be needed to form your dough. I’m sorry it didn’t turn out for you. Next time, add the liquid a little at a time until you get a soft dough. I’ve updated the directions to reflect this.

    Thanks so much for your feedback, and I hope you will try again!


  5. Leanne Opaskar said:

    Hiya Liv,

    I’m working on making the GF steamed bao right now, and I can’t tell exactly where the dough is supposed to end up before it rises. Should it still flow a little bit like a batter, or should it be firm? If it’s firm, it doesn’t seem to turn out smooth, but cracks and breaks.

    I’ll run it through to the end and see how it turns out … thanks for the recipe, as I’ve got a dear friend who’s a celiac and I’m hoping to make these as a huge surprise for her. (:

  6. Liv said:


    Thanks for your question- I hope my response comes in time!!! Because there is such a high amount of cornstarch in these the texture can teeter between runny and crumbly. It’s a pretty fine line, but it should be slightly soft, if anything. If your dough is crumbly, just add the liquid a teaspoonful at a time, until it becomes more malleable. When you flatten a ball of the dough, it should crack slightly around the edges, but it shouldn’t fall apart. I hope this helps!


  7. Leanne Opaskar said:

    That helps, thanks. I may need to add just a smidge more cornstarch — well, potato starch, I ran out of cornstarch, but they’re close to interchangeable when it’s tiny quantities. Hoping it turns out!

  8. Leanne Opaskar said:

    Hmm. Well, something didn’t turn out right. The dough did steam, but it turned out flat as a pancake, and the flavor’s a little strange. I’m thinking it’s one of two possibilities: either my rice flour has gone off, or tapioca flour is not the same thing as tapioca starch. Hmm. More experimentation is apparently necessary.

  9. Kira said:

    Hmmm. so I’m planning on making these sometime, I’m gluten free, but my friend is corn free. Would arrow root powder work as a replacement for the corn starch? Or something else? Also, is tapioca starch and flour the same thing? I have no idea.

  10. Liv said:

    Hi Kira,

    Tapioca starch and flour are the same thing :) . I haven’t tried the recipe with any substitute for the cornstarch, but you could try using more of the tapioca or arrowroot in place of the cornstarch and see how that works. Enjoy!

  11. Kira said:

    OK. Thanks! I tried it the day before yesterday and they were too big and dry and gooey in spots, but then yesterday i tried again. This time they were smaller, doughy,tender and delicious! I mixed a sauce for mine with homemade barbecue sauce and soy sauce, since I had no hoisin sauce. it was sooooo good! You just have to get the right consistency! I will defiantly make this recipe again!

  12. Samantha said:

    I made these a few weeks ago, and they came out quite well, but a little dry – I only used about half the liquid as I was going by the description you gave of the dough texture. But they were still delicious. I made them with a pretty standard pork filling.

    I’m going to make them again tomorrow with a pumpkin curry filling. I will try with a bit more liquid this time!

  13. Char Siu Buns « Choose Your Own Eatventures said:

    [...] package dried yeast 4 1/2 cups flour (I haven’t tried making these gluten-free, but Liv from “Liv Gluten-Free” has!) 1/4 cup plus one tablespoon sugar 2 tablespoons olive oil 4 tablespoons sesame seed oil 1 [...]

  14. norm said:

    Are you sure this recipe isn’t missing a vital ingredient? The batter was really loose (I used only 3/4 of the liquid) until I added 2 teaspoons of xanthan gum.

  15. MissBlissMom said:

    We just tried these for dinner (but with our favorite cabbage-pork filling). THEY WERE AMAZING!! Fluffy and tender, just like they should be. I did add 1/8 tsp. xanthan gum (I was nervous after some of the other comments) and 1/8 tsp. baking powder (because the woman I learned from in China always used it). At first it was too dry, making it very difficult to stir, then I made it nearly soupy with too much liquid, then I used my favorite GF featherlight mix (from the Gluten Free Gourmet books) a little at a time to get the right consistency. It was still fairly moist, but firm enough to hold its shape. PERFECTION! Thanks a million!

  16. norm said:

    Yes, it is a fine balance of cornstarch to liquid. This time, when the batter was too runny, I simply added more cornstarch and the final product was perfect. In fact, I think the bao tasted better the next day when I reheated a couple in the microwave–after the dough soaked up the yummy sauce?

  17. Tommy said:

    I’m having a pretty hard time getting these to seal up when folding in on the filling. The dough is more apt to crumble than stick but once moistened turns into a runny slip. Did I screw up somewhere along the line, causing this consistency issue or do I just need more practice?

  18. Liv said:

    Hi Tommy,

    If the dough is crumbly then it is too dry. You don’t just want to add water to make the edge seal, you want it malleable enough so that it sticks to itself without addition water but not so soft that it is runny. Hope this helps!


  19. jasmine said:

    Thanks for the recipe. What brand of brown rice flour are you using?

  20. Liv said:

    Hi Jasmine! I used Bob’s Red Mill brand. Hope that helps!

  21. Jasmine said:

    Hi Liv,
    I tried the recipe this morning. When I combined the flour with yeast, butter and water was directed, the flour seamed slightly dry (breaks apart easily). Then I slowly added water up to 2 tablespoon and the dough felt malleable. Once poofed and I tried forming the dough, it was a little looser than I wanted. The form dough did not hold it’s shape well and started to spread out. The steamed dough itself was soft but just did not hold the shape. Please help. Thanks!

  22. Liv said:

    I’m sorry this recipe gave you trouble, as you can tell from the other comments, it’s a tricky balance. I’m going to work on getting a video up that will show exactly what the consistency of the dough should look like. Please stay tuned!

  23. Marie said:

    Hi, Can the brown rice flour be substituted with white rice flour? If so, would you recommend plain rice flour or glutinous rice flour? Thanks!

  24. CraftyMouse said:

    These are simply AMAZING! I substituted ground pork and finely chopped shiitake mushrooms for the shiitake in the recipe and it was so heavenly. I thought I would never be able to eat pork buns again, so thank you SO much for posting this recipe! My whole family loved these!

  25. Liv said:

    Hi Marie,

    I haven’t tried any substitutions, but please keep me posted if you do! -Liv

  26. Liv said:

    THRILLED you liked these! Thanks for sharing your feedback! -Liv

  27. Karen said:

    I made this with pork instead of the vegetarian option and they came out wonderfully. However, I did find I had to tweak the dough ingredients a bit. I initially added only 1/2 cup of warm water, rather than the full cup called for, and found this wasn’t enough. I then added one tablespoon, which wasn’t enough, and then two tablespoons at once, which was too much and turned the dough suddenly soupy. I had to add tapioca and rice flour a heaping tablespoon at a time (several tablespoons in total) to get the right texture. Also, I found flattening the dough into a 6-inch circle resulted in too flat a dough and buns that were too thin on the bottom and too thick on top. A 3-4 inch circle worked better for me. Oh, I also added a teaspoon of xanthan gum to the dough.

  28. Kerry said:

    These are delicious!

    I had some trouble with the dough being incredibly breakable (although moist), difficult to shape, and not rising well in the steamer. My bao had a bit of a glistening sheen like you would normally get steaming just rice flour, but the insides were soft and light like a normal bao. Is that supposed to happen and do you have any advice? I accidentally dumped all the water/milk mixture in only to find it had the consistency of pancake batter, so I added some extra rice flour, and later a bit more cornstarch.

    Nonetheless delicious! I made them with a kimchi/tofu filling with rice noodles, onions, and scallions.

  29. Starfish Zombieism and Other Internet Goodies | alphabetically inclined said:

    [...] turned up lately include homemade chai syrup (spoiler: it’s lovely) and a recipe for gluten-free bao, something I’ve missed. I don’t have enough of a kitchen to try making the bao right [...]

  30. A Chinese feast | Gluten Free International said:

    [...] I thought about making gluten-free barbecue pork buns, which I have also done before using more or less the recipe linked to in this sentence (I followed [...]

Leave a Reply

Back to top


Free Newsletter
  • My new book is out and ready in stores!
  • You can purchase online or in-stores
  • Sign up for my newsletter for the latest updates
  • Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Pinterest!