Serve these buns warm with any roasted meat you like—a roasted chicken would be good—sliced or shredded and topped with a crunchy, acidic condiment like pickled cucumbers or pickled mixed vegetables. The only way to cook these buns is to steam them; there’s no way around it. The best and the most foolproof steaming vessel is the bamboo steamer, which can be purchased from most large Asian supermarkets and online. Stainless steel or aluminum steamers will suffice, but they aren’t as effective as bamboo in absorbing condensation—which may result in slightly soggy buns. Considering the versatility of a steamer, this is a modest investment that you won’t regret. If not for buns or dumplings, it can be used to easily cook vegetables or meat.
- Put all of the starter ingredients in a large bowl; stir to combine and let sit in a warm, draft-free spot until bubbly and doubled in volume, about 30 minutes.
- Add all of the dough ingredients, except the water, to the starter; stir to combine. Add the water to the mixture a little at a time and mix with your hand until you get a smooth dough that wipes the bowl clean. Be careful not to add too much water and to allow the flour a few seconds to hydrate after each addition (you may or may not need all of the water). Knead the dough until it becomes smooth and supple, about 2 minutes. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave in a warm, draft-free spot to rise for 3 hours.
- Punch down the dough and divide it into 4 equal portions. Keeping 3 portions covered with a kitchen towel, roll out 1 portion into a 5x7-inch rectangle, about ⅓ inch thick. Brush the surface lightly with cold water. Starting from the long side of the rectangle, roll up the dough into a tight log. Pinch the seam shut and place the roll seam side down. Cut the log with a sharp knife (to avoid misshaping the dough) into 4 pieces. Place each piece on a wax paper square and keep covered. Repeat with the remaining 3 portions. Cover and leave the dough to rise for 30 minutes (the buns can be arranged about 2 inches apart and left to rise right in the steamer baskets).
- Prepare the steamer, making sure the water is boiling hard. If the buns haven’t already been arranged in the steamer basket, very carefully transfer the risen buns to the steamer, lifting them up by grabbing the corners of the wax paper as opposed to the buns themselves in order to avoid deflating and misshaping them. Steam for 10 minutes. Remove the buns from the basket immediately and leave to cool under a kitchen towel.
Shayne Chammavanijakul is the founder of Dill Magazine. She lives in Chicago.