1. Let’s begin by making the spinach water, this stage is optional, however, it does add nourishment and a pretty cool look to the bao’s. In a small sauce pan add approximately 300ml of water and bring up to a boil. When boiling add 100g of washed spinach and boil for 1-2 minutes. When the spinach becomes nice and wilted, remove from the heat then use a hand blender or food processor to pulse until liquidised. Pass the spinach water through a fine sieve lined with kitchen paper into a fresh container then measure out 220ml of the spinach water and allow to cool.
2. Now to make up the bao dough, when the spinach water cools to lukewarm add 10g of white sugar, 125ml of almond milk and 6g of instant dried yeast. Whisk well and allow the yeast to activate for 10 minutes.
3. Next in a large mixing bowl add 500g of plain flour, 5g baking powder and a pinch of salt. Mix well then slowly add the spinach yeast mixture whilst constantly mixing to hydrate all of the flour. When all of the liquid is added begin to kneed together by hand until 1 cohesive ball of dough is formed. When ready continue to knead the dough for 5-10 minutes until the dough becomes smooth. Lightly drizzle the dough and bowl with a touch of oil then cover the bowl in clingfilm. Allow the dough to prove in a warm humid area for 1 hour 30 minutes.
4. After Proving, the dough should have now doubled in size, press into the dough to release any unwanted gasses from the proving process then lightly dust a work top with flour and place the dough on top. Kneed the dough again for 5 minutes until the dough becomes silky smooth. Next cut the dough into two equal pieces then roll each piece of dough into 2 long logs of dough. Cut the dough into 12- 14 pieces that are approximately 70g in weight each, however, for larger bao’s 80g and smaller bao’s 60g. When ready place the cut dough to one side then lightly dust again with flour and cover with clingfilm.
5. To begin rolling the bao’s take a few pieces of dough and roll into a tight balls. Next flatten the dough with your palm then begin to roll the dough with a rolling pin to form a flat oval piece. When rolling leave a slightly thicker lip at the top and bottom part of the dough.
6. Next lightly brush the top of the dough with a touch of cooking oil then fold the dough in half to form a crescent. Finally use the rolling pin again to lightly go over and neaten up the top of the dough. Finally place each shaped bao onto a small squared cut out piece of parchment paper and place onto a tray. Repeat this process for each piece of dough then cover with clingfilm and allow to prove for 1 last time for 30 minutes.
7. Now whilst the bao’s are on their final prove we can start to prepare some simple fillings and toppings to fill them up. For a simple teriyaki sauce that will add some extra umami for the panko begin by placing a small saucepan onto a high heat. When hot add 50ml of mirin and 50ml of sake then cook for 2 minutes to burn off the alcohol content. Next add 75ml of light soy, 1 tbsp honey, 1 tbsp white sugar, 30mls of water and a few slices of ginger. Cook the teriyaki for 10 minutes or until the sauce reduces and has a glaze like consistency. When ready remove from the heat and keep at room temperature.
8. As for toppings a few basic lightly pickled vegetables and shredded spring onion work perfectly. Slice a few spring onions into a fine julienne then add to cold water which will give them a nice curl. Julienne 2 carrots and 1/4 of a cucumber then add to a simple pickling liquid made up of 1 part sugar to 3 parts rice wine. Finely slice a few small radishes as fine as possible and our toppings are ready.
9. All that’s left before we steam the bao’s are to make the panko vegetables, you can use various other vegetables but I quite like king oyster mushrooms and aubergine for this as they work really well together and offer a little meaty texture to the bao’s. Start by slicing 1 aubegiene and 2 king oyster mushrooms into bite sized pieces. Lightly make a cross score in the oyster mushrooms and aubergine as this will ensure that they cook quicker. Next in 3 separate bowls add 150g of panko breadcrumbs, 200ml almond milk and 75g of plain flour. Season the flour with either some salt and cracked black pepper or make it interesting by adding some shichimi Japanese pepper.
10. To cook place a saucepan onto a high heat and add a generous amount of oil. Next begin dredging the vegetables firstly in the flour, then into the almond milk and finally coating well in the panko. When the oil temperature reaches approximately 160-170°c add the vegetables in batches and fry on both sides until crispy golden brown. When ready remove and drain onto a cooling rack then lightly season with salt.
Steam and finish the Bao’s:
11. By this point and after at least 1/2 an hour of resting the bao’s should have puffed up nicely and are ready to steam. Bao’s are best served straight from the steamer, therefore, best to do this just before serving. Load up a steamer layer by layer with the bao’s ensuring room between each one as they will expand. Place which ever steamer you use onto a boil then when ready add the bao’s. Steam the bao’s for 10 minutes (size depending) until cooked. When ready remove from the steamer and we are ready to build the bao’s.
12. To serve, start with an optional scrape of vegan mayonnaise then add a generous filling of the panko vegetables. Layer some pickles on top, some sliced spring onion and finish with some toasted sesame seeds and a good drizzle of the teriyaki sauce. Hope you like this alternative delicious vegan bao!
If you want to skip the the green bao thing then simply leave out the spinach and use 220ml of warm water instead. As for fillings then instead of aubergine and king oysters you could use pumpkin, squash, various other mushrooms, sweet potato, tofu etc…The panko part of the recipe is just a simple go to, however, you could also slowly braise the vegetables or even just grill them until charred. I think the great thing about bao’s are that they are so versatile when it comes to what to add inside of them, therefore, simply just take the vegan bao dough recipe and run with it! Have fun and as always peace!