Steamed Bao Buns

These steamed bao buns are one of our favorite recipes to make on a date night in. I prep the filling while Jack mixes up the dough. Then, we eat!

Bao buns

Making these steamed bao buns is our idea of the perfect Valentine’s date. See, Jack and I enjoy going out to eat, but never on Valentine’s Day. The restaurants are more crowded, the food is more expensive, and we always end up having more fun at home. So we skip the crowds and celebrate simply, spending time together making something we both love. In years past, we’ve learned to make pasta (I make a delicious sauce while he cranks the pasta maker), homemade pizza (Jack does the crust while I do the the toppings), or sushi (I prep the fillings, and he rolls it up), but lately, we’ve been hooked on these cute little bao buns!

If you ask me, they’re the perfect couples cooking project. One person (Jack) can make the dough while the other (me) can whip up a fun, fresh filling. Then, combine the two to make a delicious date night meal!

But if you already have Valentine’s Day plans, don’t worry! Making these bao buns would be a fun project any night, with friends, a partner, or even solo. The buns themselves are soft and puffy. Stuffed with zesty marinated tempeh, avocado, and lots of fresh fixings, they become mini explosions of texture and flavor. Trust me, this recipe’s one you don’t want to miss!

Rolling out dough

How to Make Steamed Bao Buns

Ready to cook? Here’s what you need to do:

First, make the dough. Stir together dried yeast, sugar, and warm water, and set them aside for 5 minutes, until the yeast becomes foamy. Then, combine the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl, and add the yeast mixture and avocado oil. Mix to form a rough ball. Turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead vigorously until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes. Set it aside to rise for 45 minutes.

Cutting out dough with a glass

When the dough has risen, cut out the bao buns. Use a rolling pin to roll out the dough until it’s 1/4-inch thick. Then, use a drinking glass to cut out 3-inch circles of dough and place each one on a square of parchment paper. Brush the tops with oil and fold each piece of dough in half, pressing it down just lightly. Cover the buns with plastic wrap and let them rise for another hour. They won’t have quite doubled in size, but they will have puffed up slightly, before you move on to the next step.

Bao buns dough

Finally, cook! Transfer each bun, still on its parchment square, to a bamboo steamer set over an inch of water. Cover and steam until puffed, 9 to 11 minutes. That’s it!

Bao bun recipe

Bao Buns Filling

Traditional bao buns are filled with seasoned pork belly, but of course, I opt for a plant-based alternative. I make a sweet & savory hoisin tempeh using my favorite tempeh cooking method: steam, marinate, and bake. Marinated, baked tofu would be a delicious option in here as well.

As the tempeh bakes, I wash and slice the fresh veggie toppings. We always serve these buns with thinly sliced carrot and/or cucumber, fresh cilantro or mint, avocado, chiles, and sesame seeds. A few pickled jalapeños or the banh mi pickles from this recipe would also be excellent here.

Stuff the buns with the filling as soon as they come out of the steamer, as they’re best when they’re warm and soft. Top them with extra tempeh marinade, or soy sauce or tamari, and a big squeeze of lime juice, and enjoy!

Steamed bao buns

Bao Bun Recipe Tips

  • Use a neutral oil. I almost always call for extra-virgin olive oil in my recipes, but I prefer avocado oil here. Its neutral taste allows the flavorful fillings in this recipe to shine. If you can’t find avocado oil, use another neutral oil, like grapeseed oil, in its place.
  • Add water, a tablespoon at a time, if the dough is too dry. This bao bun recipe makes a stiff dough, so if it takes a bit of mixing to form it into a ball, don’t worry. However, if the dough is too dry, add water, a tablespoon at a time, until it comes together.
  • Let the dough rise somewhere warm. Because yeast responds to warmth, letting your dough rise in a warm place will yield the best results. We like to put ours on a sunny windowsill!
  • Serve the bao buns warm from the steamer. The steamed buns are best as soon as they come off the heat, when they’re still soft and pliable. If you have extra buns, they freeze well.

Steamed bao buns

More Favorite Date Night Recipes

If you love to cook with your partner, try one of these fun cooking projects next:

Or, check out my 25 Best Pasta Recipes or Favorite Vegan Desserts for more Valentine’s Day inspiration!

Bao Buns

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Steamed Bao Buns

rate this recipe:
4.72 from 42 votes
Prep Time: 2 hours 15 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Serves 12 buns
These steamed bao buns are so delicious and fun to make! I fill the soft, puffy buns with flavorful marinated tempeh and lots of fresh fixings.


Bao Buns

  • 2 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • ½ cup + 2 tablespoons warm water, 110°
  • cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons sea salt
  • ¼ cup avocado oil, more for brushing


  • 8 ounces tempeh, sliced into 12 strips and steamed
  • 6 tablespoons hoisin sauce
  • 3 tablespoons sriracha
  • 1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
  • 1 teaspoon lime zest
  • Avocado slices
  • Sliced cucumber and/or carrot
  • Mint or cilantro
  • Diced Thai chiles
  • Lime wedges, for serving


  • Make the Bao Buns. In a small bowl, combine the yeast, sugar, and water and stir. Set aside for 5 minutes, or until the yeast is foamy.
  • In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add the avocado oil and the yeast mixture and mix to form a rough ball, adding 1 to 2 tablespoons more water if the dough is too dry. Transfer to a lightly floured surface, shape into a ball, and vigorously knead it until it’s smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes.
  • Brush the inside of a bowl with a little oil and place the dough inside. Cover and set it aside in a warm place for 45 minutes. (Note: it won’t rise as much as other traditional yeasted doughs.)
  • Make the tempeh filling. Preheat the oven to 425°F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a small bowl, whisk together the hoisin sauce, sriracha, ginger, and lime zest. Reserve half of the sauce for serving and toss the remaining half with the tempeh slices and set aside for 20 minutes to marinate. Place the tempeh on the baking sheet and bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until browned around the edges.
  • Finish the buns. Cut twelve 4-inch squares of parchment paper and place them on a large baking sheet. Transfer the dough to a clean work surface and roll out evenly to ¼ inch thickness. Use a 3-inch glass to cut out circles of dough and place them on the paper squares. Brush the tops with a little oil, then fold each circle in half and gently press down, flattening just a bit so that the halves stick together but you still have a puffy bun shape. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest for 1 hour, until puffed. Transfer to a bamboo steamer set over a pan with 1-inch water. Bring the water to a simmer, cover, and steam until puffed, 9 to 11 minutes. Work in batches.
  • Assemble. Squeeze a little lime juice over the avocado, cucumber, and carrot. Assemble each  bun with the tempeh, spooning a little sauce over each tempeh piece, the avocado, veggies, herbs, and chiles. Serve with remaining sauce on the side and lime slices for squeezing.

Bun recipe adapted from The Elizabeth Street Cafe Cookbook


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Rate this recipe (after making it)

  1. Syd

    5 stars
    These were THE BEST, MOST FLAVOURFUL, BIG DATE NIGHT WIN flippin buns ever. OMFG im dead. I used chicken which i marinated instead of tempeh but cotdammit they were fireee

    • Jeanine Donofrio

      I’m so glad you loved them!

  2. Claire

    These were amazing!! I used tofu instead of tempeh and air fried them and I can’t believe how good it was!! The buns were so light and fluffy. I’ll definitely be making them again!

  3. Alex

    2 stars
    This was unfortunately a total flop for me 🙁 Despite following the recipe exactly, my dough was incredibly dense, as were the buns. Any ideas as to where I may have went wrong?

    • Jeanine Donofrio

      Hi Alex, without more information, I’m not sure what went wrong. If you didn’t change any ingredients or alter the flour, it’s possible your flour could have been to packed as you measured it (here’s a post about our method: Or if they didn’t rise, it’s possible that your yeast was bad – a lot of stores have been selling expired yeast this year.

      • Alex

        Thanks for the feedback! Is there a certain gluten content of flour you would recommend? After doing some reading I’m wondering if the all purpose flour I use has too much gluten in it

        • Jeanine Donofrio

          we use all purpose flour and it works great – it sounds like your cup measurements might just be too tightly packed.

  4. Annette

    Can the kneading be done with a stand mixer, and if so, at what speed and for how long?

    • Jeanine Donofrio

      I’m not sure, since it’s a stiff dough and not a huge quantity, we found it easier to knead it by hand.

  5. Minh-Hai

    I bought a bamboo steamer just to make this recipe! It’s a two-tier one. Did you steam both at the same time, or just one layer of bao buns at a time? Thank you!

    • Jeanine Donofrio

      We did one layer at a time in 2 batches.

  6. Kai

    5 stars
    Hi! This recipe is amazing and tasted great, but you may want to edit the title? This is Gua Bao—bao meaning bun. So you titled it bun buns.

    Great recipe tho!

  7. Priya

    5 stars
    I made these and they turned out yummy 😋 Explained very well . Thank you 😊

  8. Sanjna

    These look so easy to make but instead of avocado oil, could we use olive oil?

    • Jeanine Donofrio

      You could use olive oil, they might have a stronger olive oil taste, which might not be terrible. I chose avocado because it’s flavor is neutral.

  9. Bex

    5 stars
    These came out great for me!! I don’t have a bamboo steamer, but i made do with a wire racket on top of a pot with another pan covering it! Not perfect, so it took closer to 15 minutes for them to steam but was wonderful! I did a different filling that required some re-microwaving due to that timing difference so fair warning!

    • Jeanine Donofrio

      I’m so glad you loved them! Very clever DIY steamer 🙂

  10. K. Cottell

    Can i used instant dry yeast instead of active yeast? If yes how much shall i put? Thanks

    • Jeanine Donofrio

      Yep – same amount!

  11. jeffrey

    If I’m not quite ready to steam, but the buns have rested (after folding) for an hour, can I wait another hour to steam them? (Bad at time management here!)

    • Jeanine Donofrio

      you can wait, it’ll be ok!

  12. AW

    At a minimum, the baking soda is probably superfluous since it requires an acid to activate and wouldn’t retain much of it’s leavening power after the rise and forming time. The baking powder has it’s own acid which activates with heat, so it’ll provide some slight extra “oomph.”

  13. simone

    5 stars
    these turned out so well I didn’t even end up freezing them, we ate them all!!!

    • Jeanine Donofrio

      I’m so glad you loved them so much!

  14. simone

    hi! should i freeze them before or after steaming? thanks 🙂

    • Jeanine Donofrio

      Hi simone – after steaming. They’re best fresh right out of the steamer, but if you don’t finish them all on the first day, freeze the rest once they’re steamed and cooled.

      • Emma

        Great recipe, thank you Jeanine!
        Once frozen, do you just defrost and serve them with the filling? Or do you recommend warming them in some way or further steaming before filling and serving?
        Last batch I made we had a mix of bao buns plus home made pot stickers, so we couldn’t eat all of the buns!

        • Jeanine Donofrio

          Hi Emma, you could let them thaw at room temp, I usually pop them in the microwave for 20 seconds or so to warm back up.

          I’m so glad you loved them!

  15. Haley

    5 stars
    Is the tempeh you buy fully cooked? If mine is, would you recommend skipping the steaming step?

    • Jeanine Donofrio

      yep – the recipe is for raw tempeh. If your tempeh is cooked and seasoned then the marinade/baking would be different as well.

  16. Lydia

    These are adorable! 😍 Is there any way to make them without a bamboo steamer?

    • Jeanine Donofrio

      Hi Lydia, they have to be steamed, so any steamer could work but the bamboo one is nice because they can lay flat.

  17. Roslyn

    Do you know how to make these little buns with a sourdough starter?
    Also would these be the same little buns that you can fill with sweet adzuki beans or cooked tofu or tempeh before steaming?

    • Jeanine Donofrio

      Hi Roslyn, I don’t have experience with a sourdough starter so I’m not sure how that would change the recipe. These are the type that you fill (like little sandwiches) after they steam.

      • Daniel

        Sourdough starter would have to be fully activated (I’d still us some fast yeast too) and it’ll just change the flavor a little, maybe.. a big key to sourdoughs is the long cold fermentation time..

        • Sabrina

          If you started the dough in the morning with sourdough you probably wouldn’t need yeast. Just baking powder and baking soda. Would be worth a try!

  18. Sabrina from

    love the idea of making these, would never have even tried unless I had this recipe and walk through, thank you

  19. Sara

    Oh my goodness I’ve been looking for a cooking project EXACTLY like this for my boyfriend and I for tonight. This is perfect timing! He’s going to love it because like Jack, he loves working with dough and I adore all the cute, fresh fillings.
    Thank you so, so much! This is the kind of content the internet needs more of. Sending so much Valentine’s Day happiness to you and Jack!

    • Jeanine Donofrio

      Hi Sara, aww, you’re so sweet :). I hope you enjoy the steamed buns!

  20. Fay

    Do you think the Bao buns will work with gluten-free flour?

    • Jeanine Donofrio

      Hi Fay, I haven’t tested it, but I don’t think they’ll be as puffy. I’d recommend searching specifically for a gluten free bun recipe as the ratios might be entirely different.

A food blog with fresh, zesty recipes.
Photograph of Jeanine Donofrio and Jack Mathews in their kitchen

Hello, we're Jeanine and Jack.

We love to eat, travel, cook, and eat some more! We create & photograph vegetarian recipes from our home in Chicago, while our shiba pups eat the kale stems that fall on the kitchen floor.