Vegetable-Stuffed Steamed Buns

We often buy frozen steamed buns at our local Asian market, but a special treat is to have the homemade version. The vegetable-filled version, cai bao,  makes a great savory breakfast.


  • 24 squares of wax or parchment paper, 2×2″
  • steamer: for this recipe, if you have been rigging up a steamer as I discussed in the Steamers post, you will need to add some sort of rack to the pot over the plate – if you steam the buns on a plate, the bottoms will get too soggy.



  • 10 oz fresh or frozen chopped spinach
  • 1 c cooked noodles, chopped into roughly 1/2″ lengths (preferably rice noodles or bean thread, but even spaghetti will do)
  • 3 scallions, minced, or 1/2 leek, minced
  • 1/4 c garlic chives, chopped or regular chives, chopped (optional)
  • 1 T light soy sauce
  • 1 T sesame oil
  • 1/2 tsp salt, to taste


  1. If you’re using fresh spinach, blanch and shock it, then squeeze out all the liquid you can. If you’re using frozen spinach, thaw it and squeeze it well.
  2. Combine all the filling ingredients, seasoning to taste with salt – you may not need to add any.
  3. Divide the dough in 1/2, keeping one half in a bowl under a damp cloth.
  4. Roll or pat the first 1/2 into a rough circle, being sure to press out any air bubbles as you go. If your dough is the right texture, you shouldn’t need to add extra flour, but it’s okay if you need to flour the counter a bit.
  5. Poke your thumbs through the middle to make a doughnut shape, then cut that on one side to achieve a cylinder.
  6. Roll the cylinder between your hands and the counter until it is approximately 1 foot long.
  7. With a bench scraper or very sharp knife, cut the cylinder into 12 sections.
  8. Roll the dough pieces one at a time into a ball, then flatten each into a small circle.
  9. Place 1 T of filling in the center of a circle, then keeping your thumb roughly over the middle of the filling, start bringing the edge of the circle up to the thumb, crimping it into little pleats as you turn the circle slightly in your opposite hand. You should end up with a tiny hole at the top of a round bun – pinch this tightly closed.
  10. Place each roll on a square of paper and transfer to the steamer rack.
  11. Repeat steps 2-9 with the second 1/2 of the dough, then stack and cover the steamer racks.
  12. Allow the buns to rise 20 m.
  13. Steam for 8-10 m. Be careful when removing the steamer cover to catch the condensation on the lid with a towel – don’t let it pour onto the buns.

do ahead:

Unless you get up insanely early (like I do – well, usually!), you won’t want to be making these for breakfast the day you plan to consume them. The buns can be steamed and either refrigerated or frozen for another day – just pop them back in the steamer to heat through – from frozen it will take about 10 minutes. I don’t recommend microwaving them, although some people swear by wrapping an individual bun in a damp cloth or paper towel and microwaving it.

nutritional data:

Yikes – to be added later – outta time this morning if I want to get my laps in before work!

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