Steamed Bun – Mantou ‘馒头’ is a soft and fluffy bun that is made from just a few simple pantry ingredients. There are endless ways to serve these buns, such as with jam, nut butter, butter, or as an accompaniment for the Spicy Thai Basil Tofu dish.
What is Steamed Bun – Mantou ‘馒头’
Mantou ‘馒头’ or Mantau is a type of plain soft bun typically consumed during breakfast. I personally love to add nut butter or pair it with a savory side dish.
You may be wondering why am I sharing this plain bun that looks so simple to make. I honestly think this is not as easy as it looks especially when I want that smooth layer on the top. After many trials, I finally have a recipe that works and I hope you give it a try as well.
How to make Steamed bun – Mantou
Step 1: Place flour in a mound on a cleaned surface. Then create a well in the middle using your fingers or spoon to make it like a volcano.
Step 2: Add the yeast, a pinch of salt and sugar in the well. Gradually pour in the water while bringing the surrounding flour into the mixture. I find that a bench scraper is very helpful while mixing in this step.
Alternatively, mix all the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl until well combined. Then, gradually add in the water and knead into a shaggy dough. Transfer to a cleaned surface and continue to step 3.
Step 3: After about 10 – 12 minutes of continuing kneading, you’ll get a very smooth dough. This is the most crucial step as you want to remove as many air bubbles as possible.
Step 4: Divide the dough into 8 equal portions. Mine came out to be about 48g each. Mold each dough into a ball and place it on a parchment paper. TIP: When you divide the dough, you should see a smooth with no tiny holes on each of them. These are air bubbles and means more kneading is needed to remove them. To fix this, knead each portion again before molding into balls.
Step 5: Let the buns rest for 30 minutes, uncovered. This will create a layer of outer skin after steaming that you can peel off easily. Alternatively, you can cover the buns with a damp towel during proofing.
Step 6: Prepare a pot with water for steaming. Turn on the heat and bring the water to a rolling boil. Then, place the buns in a bamboo steamer and steam over high heat for 12 minutes. Remove and serve warm or check storage tips below.
How to knead with mixer
To knead the dough with a standing mixer, mix all dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl until well-combined. Attach the mixer with a dough hook, then turn it to the lowest speed setting.
Gradually add all the water until you get a shaggy dough or until there are no dry spots of flour left in the bowl. Continue to knead until you get a smooth dough, about 5 to 8 minutes. Transfer the dough onto a cleaned surface, and knead a few more times. Then, continue to step 5 from above.
- Yeast – I used Instant Yeast in this recipe and see below Cooking Tips if you are using active dry yeast.
- Baking Powder only – If you can’t have yeast, try subbing this recipe with 2 teaspoons of baking powder. This method creates a denser bun and tastes equally delicious.
- Yeast + Baking Powder – This is a great combination as the baking powder will give the yeast another boost during proofing. I added 1/2 teaspoon along with the other ingredients in the recipe.
- Plant-based milk – unsweetened plant-based milk can be used to replace the water to create a milkier buns
- Flavored buns – Try adding matcha, cocoa or berry powder to create colorful buns.
Steamed Bun (Mantou) Cooking Tips
Measure flour using a scale – if you plan to use cups, please see the Notes section under recipe.
Warm vs room temperature water – I tried warm water with Instant dry yeast and yielded very soft buns in spite of some wrinkly tops. That said, I used room temperature water from the tap (filtered) in this recipe. However, if you are using active dry yeast, the best way is to mix it separately with sugar and warm water before adding it to the flour.
Knead until you get a smooth dough. Once you divide the dough into portions, you should see no tiny holes in each of them. This is one of the most important steps to prevent the buns from getting a wrinkly top after steaming.
Do not overproof – Overproofing the dough will have a higher chance of collapsed buns. I find that 30 minutes is the ideal time. Since I have a small steamer, I start steaming in batches of 4 while waiting for the last set to proof. To check if the buns are ready for steaming, poke the bun lightly with your finger. If the area bounces back, they are ready to go into the steamer.
Bamboo Steamer – this works the best for me as bamboo steamer absorbs some of the moisture during steaming and gives me the best smooth buns’ results. If you have a stainless steel steamer, be sure to wrap the lid with a piece of cloth during steaming to prevent water condensation.
How to store the buns
- You can freeze these buns once they are cooled after steaming. To serve, re-steam the buns in the steamer or wrap them with a damp paper towel and microwave for 10 – 15 seconds to warm it up.
How to serve Steamed Bun (Mantou)
This Steamed Bun (Mantou) is
- Soft and fluffy
- Vegan and Dairy-free
- Perfect for make-ahead dishes
- Delicious as-is or serve with jam, nut butter, butter, or even fried
If you try this recipe, I would love to hear your feedback and see your beautiful re-creation. Leave me a comment, rate it, and tag @woon.heng and #woonheng to your photos on Instagram or Facebook. Happy cooking, friends!
Steamed Buns – Mantou ‘馒头’
- Bamboo Steamer
- 240 g all-purpose flour about 2 cups
- 3 teaspoons sugar
- 1 teaspoon Instant dry yeast
- a pinch of salt
- 133 g water
- Place flour in a mound on a cleaned surface. Then create a well in the middle using your fingers or spoon to make it like a volcano.
- Add the yeast, a pinch of salt and sugar in the well. Gradually pour in the water while bringing the surrounding flour into the mixture. I find that a bench scraper is very helpful while mixing in this step.
- After about 10 – 12 minutes of continuing kneading, you’ll get a very smooth dough. This is the most crucial step as you want to remove as many air bubbles as possible.
- Divide the dough into 8 equal portions. Mine came out to be about 48g each. Mold each dough into a ball and place it on a parchment paper. See TIP on Notes section.
- Let the buns rest for 30 minutes, uncovered. This will create a layer of outer skin after steaming that you can peel off easily. Alternatively, you can cover the buns with damp towel during proofing.
- Prepare a pot with water for steaming. Turn on the heat and bring the water to a rolling boil. Then, place buns in a bamboo steamer and steam over high heat for 12 minutes. Remove and serve warm or check the storage tips on 'How to store buns' section.
- To measure flour in the cup, I used the spoon & sweep method. Spoon flour into a standard measuring cup, then level the top with a knife without packing the flour, which I had about ~63g in 1/2 cup.
- To knead the flour using a standing mixer, please see above ‘Knead using a mixer’ section.
- TIP: When you divide the dough, you should see a smooth with no tiny holes on each of them. These are air bubbles and means more kneading is needed to remove them. To fix this, knead each portion again before molding into balls.
When you were steaming small batches of pao, how do u prevent the rest from overproofing? Can we put it in a fridge?
Hi Dee, you can keep it at your countertop or in the fridge if you need it the next day. Thanks!
Lim Chu Wa
Hi, I have tried making mantou the second time but I can’t seem to get the super smooth texture after proofing. Before proofing I managed to knead the dough till it become smooth but after proofing it didn’t look smooth but look like crumple with small holes too and after steaming it my mantou is a bit dense. I don’t really know what went wrong. I did knead till I don’t see any holes but then after steaming it the holes was there.
Is there any tips on it?
Hey Chu Wa, thanks so much for your feedback. When that happens to me, it was due to too much moisture and over proofing. It helps to steam with a bamboo steamer or cover the lid with a cloth to avoid water condensation. You can try that. Let me know if you need anything else. Feel free to email me if you have questions again firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you very much for your kind feedback.
I’ve seen some recipes for this where you roll it out and then brush with water fold, roll out, and repeat. Is there rhyme or reason to doing or not doing that?
Also if one wanted to steam these in an instant pot, do you think that would be possible?
Hello Erica, thank you for your interest. I believe that is to create layers, I have a recipe that I brush oil and fold, you can see that in Guo Kui. I haven’t tried in an instant pot yet but it should work. 🙂 Happy cooking!
It was only this year that I came across Woon Heng and her amazing page on Instagram. I do consider her to be my vegan Chinese food guru🙏 Her recipes are so perfectly detailed that it is super easy to recreate. She not only posts recipes, but also answers any of your questions if you are stuck or need clarification. She takes the time and effort to respond to all her recreations with such kind words, motivation them to make more!! I have followed 8 of her recipes so far and they have not disappointed me even once. Thank you again Woon Heng for creating such amazing community ❤️
Much love and admiration
– Shruthi Rao
Aww, Shruthi, you are the sweetest! Thanks so much for your sweet words and loving support! Your message melts my heart, I love all your amazing creations and really grateful for your feedback and comment. Thanks so much and wishing you all the best. I can’t wait to see you try out more recipes too. Have a wonderful day. Best, WoonHeng ❤️
Hi! Long time fan here. What size steamer basket do you have and use for this recipe?
Hello Marty, thank you for your loving support! Mine was too small, it was 6″, it’s better to get a bigger one so you can steam all buns at once. 🙂
Hi! Long time IG follower excited for the new blog!
Could you please clarify Step 5: “Let the buns rest for 30 minutes, uncovered. This will create a layer of outer skin after steaming that you can peel off easily.” Most recipes keep the dough covered when proofing so that a skin doesn’t impede further rise. If I keep the buns uncovered, a dry outer skin will develop. Do I peel this skin off before steaming? I’ve never been able to fully peel off the skin, so if I don’t peel, how will this affect the bun’s rise? What if I cover the buns instead?
Also, could you please make a post on how to steam? I find that there are lots of discrepancies between recipes on what they mean by steaming 🙁 (ex: start in cold vs hot water, cooking minutes based on when boiling starts vs when heat is turned on, etc.)
Finally, do you know how to make xie ke huang (crab shell bun, 蟹壳黄)? I can make a cheater’s puff pastry version but am struggling to find a recipe with the traditional shell.
Also, can I use this to make bao zi 包子 or sheng jian bao 生煎包? How do I know when the bao zi is done cooking?
Hello again Kat, I actually have a different recipe for bao zi which I’ll be posting soon. If you would like to use steaming method for baozi, then, a good steam over high heat for about 15 minutes will work. For ShengJianBao is quite different as it uses the method of pan fry and steaming at the same time. My Sheng JianBao is normally once all the water has been absorbed. Hope that helps.
Hello Kat, thank you for your questions. On step 5, you can definitely cover it if you prefer. Since I prefer to have a layer of skin, I chose to do it this way. You’ll only be able to peel off the skin after steaming. To steam the buns, I normally bring a pot of water to a rolling boil before placing the buns in. This will distribute even temperature to cook the buns. I’ll update it and thanks for the feedback. I haven’t tried the xie ke Huang yet but I am testing a bakery version of puff pastry. 🙂