The Rising Popularity of Baos

Baos, the Chinese steamed bun, have become increasingly popular in many restaurants.  Baos can be eaten plain or with a sweet or savory filling.  Some traditionally common fillings include Chinese bbq pork, red bean paste, or custard.  However, the baos offered in restaurants have demonstrated that baos can be stuffed with anything!  Dave and I recently tried out Shojo Restaurant in Boston’s Chinatown, whose dinner menu offers many different kinds of baos.  Although their dinner menu changes, shrimp baos, shitake mushroom baos, pork baos, and even burger baos (a hamburger using a bao as the bun) have been offered before.  We tried the pork baos and although we thought they were good, they were very pricey.  Many of Shojo’s bao dishes which come with two baos cost $8-10+.  I (Sharon) have always loved steamed buns and can’t recall any other time I’ve paid so much for any kind of bao in Chinatown.  I recently had a craving for baos and since we didn’t want to pay the same prices as before, we decided to try to make our own today.

Making Our Own Baos

We followed this recipe with a few minor changes.  We followed all the dough making steps until it was time for second proofing, the process of letting the dough rise.  As we didn’t have a bamboo steamer, instead of proofing the dough in the steamer, we performed our second proofing on a baking tray as shown below.  We flattened each round of dough on a piece of parchment paper and covered it with another baking sheet.

Flattened dough rounds.

Flattened dough rounds.

 

Flattened dough rounds covered for second proofing.

Flattened dough rounds covered for second proofing.

 

Here’s what the dough looked like after the second proofing.

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Afterwards, it was time to steam the buns.  We put the buns into our steamer pot.  Here they are.

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Buns being steamed.

 

After 25 minutes, we took them out.  However, as soon as we took them out, they shrank and had wrinkly skins!  Some online resources mention that adding some fat such as oil and baking powder will help prevent the skins from becoming wrinkly, so we’ll keep that in mind for next time.  Despite the look, I (Sharon) took a bite and they tasted just fine.

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Homemade Pulled Pork Baos

We then sliced them hamburger-style and used them to make pulled pork sandwiches using some leftover homemade pulled pork from our freezer and some quick-pickled carrots and cucumber Dave made (similar to this recipe, but substituting cucumbers for the daikon and adding some ginger and raw garlic to the pickling liquid). They were delicious and we ended up having three sandwiches each.  We still need to iron out the kinks with the wrinkly skins, but I’m excited that from now on, I can satisfy my bao cravings in our own kitchen!  And if the post on baos has you craving them too, try making your own!

Pulled pork bao with coleslaw.

Pulled pork bao with coleslaw.

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Since I started my Brandywine seedlings indoors very early this year, the seedlings were quite tall (1.5 to 2 feet tall) by the start of May.  I was worried that they would not be able to adapt when I transplanted them outside, especially because I hadn’t had the opportunity to harden them off.  However, I didn’t want to start additional seedlings from seed, since I wasn’t sure if they would be big enough to transplant as soon as the soil outdoors was warm enough. I also wanted to give my tomatoes the longest growing season possible, so I decided to try propagating tomatoes.  Here’s the details of my tomato propagating experiment.

How I Propagated a Tomato Plant

Step 1: On May 1, I snipped a sucker — a small growth at the point where a branch meets the stem — from one of my Brandywine plants.  The sucker is shown by the red arrow in the picture below.

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Step 2: I planted the sucker it in a 4″ pot filled with potting soil.  Here’s what it looked like on May 15, two weeks later.

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After three weeks in the pot, on May 22, the new tomato plant looked like this.  The plant has noticeable growth from when it was a sucker.

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Step 3: On May 25, I transplanted the new tomato plant in my community garden plot outside. I used velcro plant ties to loosely tie the transplant to a small wooden dowel for support.

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Step 4: I was patient and kept watering and fertilizing for a few weeks.  Soon, new leaves began to grow.  The sunlight certainly helped too.  I’ve found that grow lights just cannot fully replicate the effects of sunlight, but grow lights are the best alternative when your condo lacks a north-facing window and you live in a city where winter lasts at least four months.  By June 12, about six weeks from when I first snipped the sucker, here’s what the new tomato plant looked like.

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And by June 27, about two months after the start of my propagation experiment, the new tomato plant looked like the following (outlined in red).

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Encouraged by my initial success, I am now propagating a second Brandywine tomato (outlined in white in the above picture).  The second one seems to have grown more slowly.  Perhaps this is because it isn’t getting as much sunlight, since it is shielded by the neighboring taller tomato plants.  Or perhaps not every sucker is equally good for propagation.  It’s difficult for me to say with only two data points, but as with most science experiments, you don’t always get the results you wish for.  Propagating the Brandywine tomato worked well for me as only 3 of the 6 original seedling survived transplanting outdoors, although even if they had all survived, in my opinion, it never hurts to have additional tomato plants if you have space to plant them.  Brandywine tomatoes are my favorite!  Emboldened by my success at tomato propagation, I no longer have to worry when I start my tomato seedlings from seed to early.  I’m still working on Step 4, continuing to water and fertilize this new tomato plant (and all my other plants), but I suspect I will be able to taste the success of my tomato propagation soon!  Can you spot the fruit?

 

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