May 24, 2018

Chinese Steamed Buns Mantou | Chinese Basic Dough 饅頭

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My dearest grandma 奶奶 used to make basketfuls of these basic chinese steamed buns, known as Mantou 饅頭, and feed them to us hungry children day in and day out, filling our hungry growing tummies with this sweet fluffy bread.  

These buns are eaten all over China as breakfast, for a quick snack or just whenever one needs a filler.  When I was in my teens I could eat probably the whole plateful of the bread you can seen in the photo above in one go...yup, kinda gross but true, I could eat a lot of food back then.  

These classic Chinese buns are quite simple to make and delicious to eat, just sweet, white puffs of cloud like yummiliciousness.   The same dough is also a Chinese Basic Dough that can also be used to make all kinds of other stuffed and filled chinese buns and breads and the like!

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Activate yeast in water
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Yeast is activated!

The first step to make these buns you must activate the yeast.  Use instant yeast or active dry yeast. (I always use this yeast, it's so reliable.)  Activation is just like magic, just mix up warm water with sugar and yeast and leave the yeast to grow.  In a few minutes the yeast will boom all of a sudden!  

If it doesn't foam up like in the photo this means that your yeast is KO'd and you'll need to get some fresh stuff.

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It's a super simple and pretty foolproof dough, just flour, sugar, yeast and a wee bit of lard (see our post on making your own lard or get premium leaf lard here).  If you don't want to use lard, you can substitute with oil like organic extra virgin coconut oil or even shortening in a pinch, though I don't use that if I can.

A tip if you want your Chinese steamed buns to be really white like they serve in restaurants.  Try to find Hong Kong or Taiwan made flour to make the buns.  These flours tend to be bleached within an inch of their lives and therefore will produce a whiter product.  

If you don't care just use regular all purpose (like we did) and your buns will be a lovely creamy white color.  And if you're a sucker for extra tender buns try using cake flour or low gluten flour.

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Start of rise
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End of rise

This next observation is something I've learned from the many, many disasters experiments I have conducted in pursuit of bread.  The official name for this bread matter is 'hydration' I think, but I have never understood all the technical stuff that comes with it.  Just understand this, the more water in your dough is the more able it is to rise.  And more rise means better bread!  

So always add enough water to your dough so that, at the end of your knead, your bread is as soft and tender as a baby's bottom.

One thing I like about this particular bread dough is how well the bread rises.  I suppose it is to do with the fact that it is a sweet bread.  For the first rise the kneaded dough rises like a fluffy pillow...just lovely.

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After the dough finishes its first rise, it's punched down, rolled out to a rectangle, rolled up into a long roll, and cut into equal portions.  This cutting and rolling of the dough creates the classic Mantou shape.  

 Note: See our post on Silver Thread Rolls 銀絲卷 for another take on how to use this versatile dough.  

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Before steaming
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After steaming

Another great thing about this dough is how much the dough rises during the steaming!  I did not expect this at first and was quite shocked at how much bigger the bread was after steaming.  It was almost tripled!  So while the first rise of the dough is good, don't worry if your second rise is so-so.  The dough will rise while steaming so leave plenty of room for the dough to expand when in the steamer.

I've been going crazy making these buns and stuffed and unstuffed variations of it.  Yummilicious and just right for a quick hearty breakfast before school or work.  Better yet you can store mantous in the fridge and when you want it just pop it in a steamer for a quick steam and it's just as soft and fluffy as when first steamed.  If you make a lot of bread you can freeze it for longer storage.  

A classic Chinese bread, easy to make and keep, and most importantly delicious to eat!

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Chinese Steamed Buns Mantou Recipe | Chinese Basic Dough 饅頭
Prep time: 10mins Rise: 2 hours  Cook time: 15mins
(makes 6 buns)  (adapted from Wei-Chuan's Chinese Snacks)



Dissolve sugar in 1/2 cup warm water in small bowl, add the yeast and mix to incorporate.  Let stand undisturbed for 10 mins or until foam head forms over the the water.  

Sift flour, add lard and use fingertips to rub it in until flour resembles crumbs.  Add in the yeast water and mix until dough comes together.  If the dough does not come together, add in extra water, 1 tbsp at a time.

Knead the dough.  The dough should end up soft, smooth and elastic.  To achieve soft as baby bottom softness add additional water a careful tsp at a time, incorporating thoroughly each time until the consistency is correct.  Check if kneaded enough with the window pane test*.

*Window Pane test:  Carefully stretch the dough between your hands.  If you can get the dough to stretch far enough that the dough becomes thin enough to allow light through without breaking, then the dough is kneaded enough.

Put kneaded dough in a deep bowl and cover.  Let rise in a warm spot for 2-3 hours or until the dough almost triples in size.  Punch the dough down.  At this point you can either go on to make Mantou as per instructions below or use your Chinese Basic Dough for other yummilicious chinese bun recipes.

Sprinkle working surface lightly with flour and roll out the dough to a 12" by 6" rectangle.  Roll up the dough starting from the long side and use sharp knife to cut the roll into 6 equal sections.  Cut out 6 nos. 3"x 2" pieces of parchment paper.  Place each bun seam side down on paper and place into steamer**, leaving approx 2" between the buns.  

Cover and let rise for 30 mins or until springy to the touch.

Steam over high heat for 15 mins.   Serve hot and fluffy, remembering to remove paper on bottom.  To keep wrap in bag and store in fridge for a week or so.  If you want to keep buns longer wrap well and freeze.  To reheat simply re-steam, 2 mins for buns from the fridge and 8-10 mins from the freezer.

**Tip:  If you use a metal steamer, consider wrapping a towel around the underside of the lid to catch water drips while steaming.  If you use a bamboo steamer (recommended) no need to worry, no drips. (Check out our post on handmade bamboo steamers.)



  1. Hi Ellen. I just made the mantao and it turned out well. Thanks so much.

    1. Hi thinktax - Your very welcome, so happy you're happy with your mantao! ~ellen

  2. Hi Ellen...thank u so much for the recipe...I'm trying it now...god bless u always..😊😊😊

  3. Hi there, first time trying, first time trying yeasted dough. Exciting! Made them, texture okay, steaming a little longer (in bamboo) alittle doughy. Hubby was excited to try but said not sweet enough.
    Is it 1 whole tablespoon and a half tablespoon right? That's all right? Maybe something in my process didn't release sugars? Thx!

    1. Hi JYGL - wow, glad you got a chance for trying yeasted dough. The doughiness is probably due to a need for a longer knead. A proper knead will help with the rise which eliminates doughiness. The sugar is 1 and half tbsp but you can always add more if you like your mantou sweeter. ~ellen

  4. Hi Ellen,
    Could I use bread flour instead of all purpose flour? Thanks!

    1. No, sorry, this delicate bread requires APF or lower gluten level. ~ellen

  5. Thanks Ellen. I'm a complete noob using flour. When I steamed the buns, the skin turned bubbly? I didn't have lard and used oil instead. Before steaming, the buns looked so pretty =(

    1. Try steaming over a lower heat, adding a few more steaming mins and then leave the buns inside the steamer to cool down for a few mins after turning heat off. Also if you're using a metal steamer, water may be dripping down from the steamer cover, line with a towel before covering to catch the drips. Hope this helps!

  6. Hi Ellen, can i use this recipe for bbq pork bun? It is so simple, my son loves the mantou.

    1. HI Tien - yes, for sure, this basic bread recipe can be used for all types of chinese buns! ~ellen

  7. Yes,as Italian 00 flour can substitute for all purpose flour it's fine to use in this recipe. ~ellen