These homemade Chinese steamed buns with scallions emerge from the steamer puffed and bouncy, feathery light in texture with a nice chew and an onion-y flavor permeating every bite. Hua Juan are mainstays of Chinese breakfasts and snacks, fluffy white vehicles to be eaten on their own or stuffed with countless fillings from barbecued pork to egg custard. This recipe is surprisingly simple to make and so, so delicious.

A steamer filled with Chinese steamed scallion buns.

Shortly after opening Cynthia McTernan’s A Common Table, I found myself reading about Chinese steamed buns, mainstays of the country’s breakfasts and snacks, fluffy white vehicles to be eaten on their own or stuffed with countless fillings from barbecued pork to egg custard.

The recipe looked simple and surprisingly familiar, not unlike making a brioche roll: knead together a slightly sweet yeasted dough, let it rise, punch it down, divide, shape, and … steam! Unlike a brioche bun, steamed buns are, well, steamed.

Lured by a photo of spiraled knots, I made the scallion buns, which emerged from the steamer puffed and bouncy, feathery light in texture with a nice chew and an onion-y flavor permeating every bite. My family, or, I should say, Ben, me and two of the four children (50%, hey, I’ll take it) gobbled them up.  I served them with okonomiyaki, a favorite, and a soy dipping sauce, which we used for both the buns and the cabbage pancakes.

I haven’t had a steamed bun quite so good since many years ago now, when I found myself in San Francisco trying to get into the Slanted Door for lunch. Deterred by the hour-long wait, I headed instead to Out the Door, the Slanted Door’s takeaway outfit, and before long found myself, pork bun in hand, strolling the streets just as happy as ever.

I still dream about that bun: the warm, springy bread; the sweet barbecued pork nestled inside. It was perfect. Never would I imagine being able to make something even remotely similar at home. With this new knowledge of steamed-bun making in hand, I feel confident that pork bun of my dreams is closer to becoming a reality. As always, I’ll keep you posted.

Friends, I’ve been a long-time follower of Cynthia’s blog, Two Red Bowls, and her book, A Common Table, is a beautiful extension of that space, a mix of stories and recipes inspired by both her and her husband’s cultural and geographical roots. Read more about A Common Table on Cynthia’s lovely blog.

Cynthia McTernan's A Common Table next to un-steamed scallion buns.
A bowl with flour, salt, and yeast.

Here’s a steamed-bun-making play-by-play: Whisk together flour, sugar, salt, and yeast.

A bowl with flour, salt, yeast, milk, and oil.

Add warm milk and oil.

Chinese steamed scallion bun dough on a floured counter top.

Form into a dough ball.

A ball of kneaded dough.

Knead until smooth and elastic.

A bowl with a ball of risen dough.

Let rise until doubled, at least 2 hours.

A work surface with 12 rounds of dough rolled out.

Divide into 12 pieces, then roll each into 4×6-inch ovals.

A board with scallions on top.

Gather some scallions.

A bowl of sliced scallions, seasoned with oil and salt.

Slice them finely, then mix with oil and salt.

A board with a round of dough topped with scallions.

Make slits in the ovals and top with the scallion mixture. Then …

A board with 12 shaped Chinese scallion buns, each on a square of parchment paper.

…twist into knots. Video guidance is very helpful with this step—skip ahead to frames 14-16 for shaping guidance.

A board with 12 shaped Chinese scallion buns, each on a square of parchment paper.
A steamer basket fitted with 4 scallion buns ready to be steamed.

After 30 to 40 minutes of resting, the buns are ready to be steamed.

A wok with a steamer basket fitted inside.

After 15 minutes in the steamer …

Overhead shot of a steamer basket open to reveal 4 steamed scallion buns.
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A steamer filled with Chinese steamed scallion buns.

Chinese Steamed Buns with Scallions (Hua Juan)


  • Author: Alexandra Stafford
  • Prep Time: 3 hours
  • Cook Time: 15 minutes
  • Total Time: 3 hours 15 minutes
  • Yield: 12 buns

Description

From Cynthia Chen McTernan’s A Common Table

As always, a digital scale is recommended when measuring flour for bread.

Video guidance found on this Instagram Story: Steamed Scallion Buns

This is really nice with Okonomiyaki (Cabbage Pancakes), and it would wonderful aside Red-Cooked Pork Belly and Simple Cucumber Salad as well.


Ingredients

for the dough:

  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 3 cups (375 g) all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading
  • 2 teaspoons instant yeast
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon nonfat dry milk powder (optional)

for the buns:

  • 1 cup finely sliced scallions, from 8 to 10
  • 1/4 cup oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

for serving:

  • sea salt, optional
  • soy dipping sauce, I like this one, optional

Instructions

  1. In a small saucepan over medium heat, bring the milk to a gentle boil. Remove pan from heat. Let cool till 100ºF to 110ºF. Stir in the oil.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, yeast, sugar, milk powder (if using), and salt. Add the milk-oil mixture to the flour bowl, and stir to form a dough ball.
  3. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 6 to 8 minutes. Return dough to bowl and let rise in a warm spot for at least 2 hours or as as long as 24 in the refrigerator.
  4. In a small bowl, stir together the scallions, oil, and salt. Cut out twelve 6-inch square pieces of parchment paper. Lightly flour a work surface.
  5. Turn dough out onto prepared work surface. Punch down to deflate. Using a knife or bench scraper, divide the dough into 12 pieces and shape each roughly into a ball. Using a rolling pin, roll each into a 4×6-inch oval. Working with one oval at a time, slice ribbons lengthwise into the oval, leaving about 1/2 inch at the top of the oval intact—video guidance for this cutting/shaping process can be found here; skip ahead to frames 14-16 for shaping guidance. Brush or spoon about 1 tablespoon of the scallion mixture across the dough. Pick up each end of the oval, gently pull outward, then twist into a coil. Then, twist the coil into a knot. Place the knot on a sheet of parchment paper. Repeat process with remaining ovals until all 12 knots are shaped. Let rest 30-40 minutes.
  6. Prepare a steamer basket. If using a wok with a bamboo insert, bring 2 inches of water to a boil, being sure water does not touch the bottom of the steamer basket. If using a pot with steamer insert, fill with water, again being sure water does not touch the bottom of the steamer basket, and bring to a boil.
  7. Place 3 to 4 scallion knots with parchment paper into steamer. Cover. Reduce heat so that water is just simmering. Steam for 15 minutes.
  8. Serve warm sprinkled with sea salt, if you wish, or a soy dipping sauce.
  9. Leftovers can be frozen and reheated in a steamer or microwave (about 15 seconds).

  • Category: Bread
  • Method: Steamed
  • Cuisine: Chinese

Keywords: Chinese, steamed, buns, scallions, Hua Juan