Archive for the 'Steaming' Category


Purple Rice Zong Zi Wrapped Dumplings w/Apple-Guava Filling (Steamed)

[ Equipment: steamer. For more information about the terminology in this recipe, see Low Temperature Baking: A Journey of 3 Paths ].

The Dragon Boat Festival officially took place on June 23 this year. To celebrate, I made zongzi (粽子) steamed wrapped dumplings with “forbidden rice”, also called purple rice. I was shocked to find it in my local market which does not stock plain glutinous rice. A tiny bag of purple rice cost me almost $7. I learned that purple rice zongzi, relatively new in restaurants, command premium prices too.

Typically, purple rice zongzi contain a sweet filling, although savory fillings can complement the nutty flavor of the rice just as nicely. A sweet filling could be red bean paste or a yam paste. I had a can of guava paste in my food bin, so that became the central flavor for my filling. Guava paste has a strong flavor and lots of sugar, so I cut the sweetness with applesauce and mixed the fruit into a lima bean paste. As an alternative, the recipe does include a savory sausage filling.

I recommend steaming these dumplings only. Do not boil them because they will lose their color in the water. At the time of this writing, there were no other purple rice zongzi recipes online. As I did in my earlier white rice zongzi recipe, I wrapped the dumplings in corn husks, which are available locally.

Makes 4 dumplings
– 165 calories per dumpling
– Oven Temperature: steamed


  • 1/2 cup raw purple rice
  • 4 portions filling (sausages, apple-guava paste, etc. – see text, see below)

Apple-Guava Filling:

  • 1/4 cup lima bean puree
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons guava paste
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons unsweetened applesauce

Apple-Guava Filling Method

1. Soak beans for 4 hours or overnight. Drain. Put beans in a saucepot and cover with water. Simmer until tender, about 30 to 45 minutes. Put beans in a small bowl and puree to a smooth paste with an immersion blender (or do this in a food processor or blender).

2. Measure out 1/4 cup of the bean puree. Mix in applesauce and guava paste with a fork. Then puree the mixture to a smooth paste with an immersion blender or food processor.

3. Transfer to a heatproof cup. Heat the paste in the microwave for 10 to 15 seconds. Remove and stir the paste to cool and allow moisture to evaporate. Replace in the microwave and repeat this procedure until the paste darkens and thickens and an inserted spoon will remain standing in the paste (about 3 to 4 minutes). Mixture will have reduced down to about 2 to 3 tablespoons.

4. Cool. Store covered in a refrigerator until ready to use.

Dumpling Method:

1. Rinse and soak rice overnight or for about 6 hours. The rice grains will split open and double in volume. Pour out some of the soaking water, but leave enough to cover the rice.

2. Bring steamer water to a medium boil. Steam rice in a wide-bottom bowl for 40 minutes.

3. Prepare the fillings. In the picture above,  the bowl on the left has the apple-guava paste. The bowl on the right contains a

4. Lay flat a corn husk. Spread 2 heaping tablespoons of rice on the leaf into an area about 3-1/2 x 2 inches. Lay a piece of sausage over the rice or shape about 2 tablespoons of guava paste into a sausage and lay over the rice.

5. Cover with 2 tablespoons more of rice.

6. Wrap the husk closed, fold and tie with kitchen twine to secure. Steam the zongzi for 1 hour 30 minutes.

7. Cool. Unwrap and serve. The picture above shows a purple rice zong-zi with sausage filling. In the picture below, the filling is apple-guava paste. I like to serve the apple-guava paste dumpling with a drizzle of honey or agave syrup.


Recipe Redux: Tomato-Basil Focaccia (Steamed)

[ Equipment: Steamer. For more information about the terminology in this recipe, see Low Temperature Baking: A Journey of 3 Paths ].

This steamed focaccia features a slow-rise, no-knead wet dough and is delicious and flavorful by itself, in a sandwich or toasted. Baking with dry heat tends to mute flavors, but from the first bite, the key characteristic of this bread is fresh flavors. Basil, sun-dried tomatoes and olive oil together all scream “pizza” but with an unusual intensity in the ingredients. Choose the basil carefully, because any bitterness in the leaves will be preserved in the finished loaf. Unusual in a steamed bread, the “browned” top crust visually suggests a baked bread, and there is even a hint of crust texture and flavor. More discussion on the browning technique below.

This recipe is a redux of my original slow-baked tomato-basil focaccia. It could be steam-baked too, for maybe a little more flavor in the crust, because of the lower humidity.

As is true of most steamed breads, the steamed focaccia is moist, but it also has a soft, light texture and it stays soft and moist for several days due to the incorporation of olive oil. By itself, the olive oil dough has become one of my favorite doughs for steaming. I make it when I need a basic bread, and am too busy to knead dough for a baked loaf. Compared to a freshly-baked water-roux sandwich bread, it doesn’t taste as creamy and may be a bit firmer in springyness, but it also keeps longer.

I’ve tried doughs with a higher olive oil content and recommend caution. The oil inhibits the rise, so more oil requires more yeast to leaven the dough. For example, increasing the olive oil to 2-1/2 teaspoons reduces rise height over 30% with the “pinch” of yeast specified. Even with double the yeast (say 1/8 teaspoon), the rise may not completely recover – though oil does enrich the bread and the softer, more cake-like, denser loaf may still be very tasty. The taste of the olive oil itself begins to stand out, so I recommend a good quality oil.

Although the dough is heavily hydrated (it’s almost a batter, but not quite), over- and under-hydrating will alter the texture. An under-hydrated dough (too little water) will stream up dry. An over-hydrated dough will need more time in the steamer and may produce a cakey texture and/or a coarser crumb, although my experience has been that steamed breads hold onto so much moisture that a coarse crumb isn’t as objectionable as in baked loaves. Rather, as the bread ages, the coarser texture stands out, more so after a light toasting. Even then, some may prefer the coarser texture in toasted bread.

The golden tone in the top crust is my idea for “browning” a steamed bread and is more than a cosmetic touch: it imparts a subtle flavor and texture as well. I brushed the top of the loaf with alkalized olive water before steaming. While it’s not the dark, thick, crispy crust of a regular focaccia, it does complete the presentation to the eyes and the mouth – and without adding the off-flavors of other browning agents.

I got the idea while making Chinese steamed buns, after observing that mixing baking soda into the dough after the first rise to neutralize acid caused brown streaks in the buns. Any unreacted soda alkalized the dough and facilitated Maillard browning, the same process for coloring pretzels dark brown by dipping them in a baking soda solution. Maillard reactions (specifically the binding of sugars to the amino acid asparagine) are responsible for the formation of acrylamides in baked foods, but in this recipe, the bread is steamed, and steamed foods have not been a significant source of acrylamides. In any case, the olive water can be omitted if no browning is desired.

Makes 6 servings
– 110 calories per serving
– Oven Temperatures: steamed


  • 1-1/4 cup all-purpose flour (6.1 oz)
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • pinch of active dry yeast or dry rapid-rise yeast (approx. 1/16 teaspoon)
  • 1/2 to 1 cup warm water
  • 1-1/2 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons fresh basil, roughly chopped

mix dry. add 1/2 c water. add water 1 tablespoon at a time to form spreadable dough with a wet sheen – 1 T water for my 6.1 oz flour. mix in basil. rise

mash 6 green olives in a cup. cover with 1/4 cup hot water. infuse at least 30 minutes. Strain, reserving liquid.

steam 35-40 minutes. int. temp over 200F


  • 4 sun-dried tomato halves, rehydrated in 1/2 cup hot water, sliced into thin strips
  • 2 teaspoons fresh basil, sliced into thin strips
  • extra virgin olive oil for brushing dough
  • coarse salt

1. Mix the flour, yeast, salt and water as described in steps 1 to 5 of the Chinese Steamed Buns recipe and let rise for 12 to 24 hours. Add the basil leaves and 1/2 cup of the warm water to the flour mixture first, mix and then add more water, a tablespoon at a time to form the dough. Hydration level is important. Too much will produce bread with a coarse texture. Too little and the bread will fail to rise.

Hydration depends on the moisture in the flour, which can vary brand to brand and batch to batch, and in the fresh basil leaves.

The focaccia dough differs from the steamed bun dough only in the amount of flour and the higher salt-to-flour ratio. The steamed bun dough has less salt because the filling dominates the seasoning of the buns.

2. Add olive oil and basil and vigorously mix the dough to deflate it and evenly distribute the oil and basil. Let the dough rest for 15-30 minutes to relax the gluten.

3. Cover the bottom of a 7-inch springform pan with a sheet of wax paper or parchment paper. Seat the pan collar around the bottom section and latch it. The wax paper should be securely held in place. Cut off any excess paper sticking out of the pan, leaving a small border of about 1/2 inch.

4. Grease the inside of the springform pan.

5. Pour the dough into the springform pan and spread it evenly to completely cover the bottom of the pan. Cover and let rise in a warm place until at least double in size – about 2 to 4 hours.

6. Preheat the oven or cooker to 250°F/121°C.

7. Gently brush on a thin layer of olive oil over the dough and sprinkle with coarse salt.

8. Press small clumps of tomato strips deep into the dough, distributing the clumps evenly over the dough. There should be about 10 or so tomato depressions. Too many depressions could deflate the dough.

9. Sprinkle the top with the sliced basil. Lightly press down on the basil so that it sticks to the surface.

10. Bake at 250°F/121°C for about 2 hours. If baking in an oven, place a small ovenproof cup of boiling water on the oven floor to moisten the air inside. If baking in a cooker, place two layers of paper towels under the lid to absorb excess moisture. Do not open the oven or cooker while baking. The moisture will help keep the crust from drying out before interior of the loaf has finished cooking.

11. Insert an instant-read thermometer into the center of the focaccia. If it reads 180°F/82°C or higher, continue to the next step.

12. Remove paper towels (cooker) or cup of water (oven). If baking in a cooker, leave lid slightly ajar to vent moisture. Reduce temperature to 225°F/107°C and bake for another 45 minutes or until the crust is dry and the focaccia has begun to pull away from the sides of the pan. When the focaccia is toasted in step 15, the drying will help produce a crunchier crust, especially at the edges.

14. Cool in cooker/oven with lid/door open a crack to vent moisture. Unmold. Put focaccia inside a plastic food bag and seal until ready to serve.

15. To serve, mark the focaccia into 6 wedges and cut out one wedge. Slice the wedge in half horizontally (this focaccia turned out 1-1/4 inch thick). Place each half in toaster and toast on the lightest setting or a setting to obtain the desired amount of browning. I set my toaster to the lowest setting of “1” and measured just over 300°F/148°C before the cycle ended.


Pumpkin Ganache Mochi (Steamed)

[ Equipment: steamer. For more information about the terminology in this recipe, see Low Temperature Baking: A Journey of 3 Paths ].

With the Chinese New Year approaching (February 3, 2011) and a can of pumpkin puree sitting in my food bin, I prepared to celebrate by making a batch of spiced pumpkin ganache mochi. The traditional celebratory food is glutinous rice cake layered with red bean paste. Japanese mochi is similar but molded into different shapes and with a greater variety of fillings. I suppose I could also call them glutinous rice cupcakes. At first, I wasn’t sure if a pumpkin filling would be authentic; I’ve never seen pumpkin in Asian markets. I discovered online that the Chinese in China have been eating and growing pumpkin for hundreds of years (since the Ming Dynasty). Chocolate, introduced into China in the 1970s and still regarded there as a foreign food, has been popular in baked goods.

The pumpkin ganache could not be simpler (nor lower in calories): just pumpkin puree and chocolate syrup. In my recipe, the chocolate syrup is Hershey’s Special Dark Syrup. Any chocolate syrup should work, although the ganache may not have quite the same flavor or deep color. I spiced the pumpkin so that it would stand out more against the chocolate, the same baker’s-5 spice in my oatmeal cran-raisin cookies. The harvest spice from my oat-rice soda bread (a.k.a. pumpkin spice) or even plain powdered cinnamon would be fine substitutes.

I like my pastries only mildly sweet, so the ganache has no extra sugar. However, the sugar content of chocolate syrups can vary, and some people have a preference for intense sweetness. I recommend tasting the pumpkin-syrup mixture before reducing it and stirring in the optional tablespoon of sugar if desired.

Glutinous rice and glutinous rice flour can be found in Asian markets, occasionally in the mainstream markets in the Asian foods aisles. One market near me had glutinous rice flour, but not glutinous rice. Bob’s Red Mill, the ubiquitous brand for specialty flours, still does not produce glutinous rice flour. Without the flour, another method of making mochi cooks the glutinous rice and then grinds the rice into a doughy paste with a mortar and pestle. It takes LOTS of work to get the smooth texture with that method.

Once the mochi have finished steaming, they are rolled in a starch to dry up any residual stickiness. The recipe states cornstarch, but any number of other food starches could substitute: tapioca, rice, potato. Cocoa powder also works well (see the pictures at the end of the recipe). Do NOT, however, cover the mochi in powdered sugar. The moist surface of the mochis will dissolve powdered sugar into a soggy mess.

I purchased the star molds (1/4 cup capacity) shown in the pictures at Cost Plus World Market (shelved in the baking supplies section), $3 for a set of 6. I strongly recommend silicone molds, because they can literally be peeled off the sticky rice cakes. Refrigerating the mochi for a day or two will also help the unmolding process. They longer they rest, the more set and firm they become.

Makes 6 mochi
– 100 calories per mochi
– Oven Temperature: steaming


  • 3/4 cup glutinous rice flour
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons pumpkin ganache (see below)
  • cornstarch or cocoa powder for dusting

Pumpkin Ganache (makes about 1/8 cup):

  • 1/4 cup pumpkin puree (canned or homemade)
  • 1 tablespoon Hershey’s Special Dark Chocolate Syrup (see text)
  • 1 tablespoon sugar (optional, see text)
  • 1/8 teaspoon baker’s 5-spice or pumpkin spice (see text)

Pumpkin Ganache Method:

1. In a heatproof bowl, mix the pumpkin puree, chocolate syrup and spices until well combined. Taste the mixture for sweetness (keep in mind that it will get sweeter when the pumpkin reduces in the next step). Add sugar, one teaspoon at a time, if desired – tasting the mixture with each addition.

2. Place the bowl in the microwave and heat on HIGH power for about 20 seconds. Remove and stir to release steam. Repeat this step until the ganache is thick and a spoon inserted will remain standing – about 3 to 4 minutes total in an 800W microwave. The heating process will reduce the volume of the mixture almost by half. The mochi recipe requires 2 tablespoons of ganache, so do not overprocess.

Alternatively, the heating could be done in a saucepan on low heat.

3. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

Mochi Method:

1. In a large bowl, whisk the flour and sugar until well combined.

2. Add water and whisk in thoroughly to make a thick batter.

3. Grease 6 molds with oil (the star molds shown have about 1/4 cup capacity).

4. Fill each mold with 1-1/2 tablespoon of glutinous rice batter.

5. Steam (water on medium boil) the batter for about 5 minutes until the batter sets.

6. Remove from steamer and fill each mold with 1 teaspoon of ganache. The ganache should not touch the sides of the mold. In the picture above, I filled them by stacking two 1/2 teaspoon mounds of ganache, because the width of the 1/2 teaspoon measure fits the molds better than my 1 teaspoon measure.

7. Fill each mold to the top with more batter. If the ganache filling sticks up over the top of the mold, lightly press and smooth it down with the back of a spoon.

8. If the filling is exposed after any smoothing in the previous step, cover with a little batter.

9. Steam the mochi for about 35 to 40 minutes until firm.

10. Cool the mochi on a rack. Then cover and refrigerate for at least 4 to 5 hours or preferably a full day. The longer they sit, the firmer they get, and the easier it will be to unmold them.

11. Unmold the mochi. Place a mochi in a small bowl.

12. Dust and roll the mochi in cocoa powder or cornstarch.

13. Plate and serve. Drizzle with chocolate syrup if desired.


Cinnamon Basil Crumb Cake (Steamed)

[ Equipment: steamer or steam oven. For more information about the terminology in this recipe, see Low Temperature Baking: A Journey of 3 Paths ].

The title of this recipe is not a typo: it’s really a steamed crumb cake. Crumb cakes are usually baked in dry heat, because the topping is supposed to be dry and crumbly. On this cake, the topping is crumbly but moist, similar to those on the individually wrapped coffee cakes sold in delis and convenience stores. In a regular crumb cake recipe, a high-temperature oven hardens the streusel into a fragile crust. Here, the oven is powered by steam, so the topping starts off dry, almost white and powdery. As it cooks, it absorbs water from the steam and aggregates into a blanket of delicious, soft brown pebbles.

Besides the unusual topping, this recipe illustrates a technique common in the assemblage of steamed cakes. Because steaming is so efficient, a cake can built up in a series of flash-steamed layers. This recipe demonstrates the versatility of that technique. The plumped raisins float just above the bottom of the cake, although the batter itself is not sufficiently buoyant to support the raisins. The trick is a thin strip of batter poured into the pan and flash-steamed as a platform for the raisins. Similarly, the crumb topping would sink if sprinkled over the cake batter. Instead, it goes on after the body of the cake has finished steaming.

The inspiration for the flavoring is an herb called cinnamon basil. It’s not available at my local markets, so I simulated the ingredient by mixing regular basil and powdered cinnamon. An accurate substitution would be a pinch of cinnamon per teaspoon of dried basil. For a crumb cake, I thought the cinnamon should be more assertive, so the flavoring is half cinnamon and half basil. The taste of basil remains distinct. Even the raisins are re-hydrated in basil-infused water.

The cake itself is a cottony-soft sponge cake, leavened with egg foam and a tiny amount of baking powder. The high ratio of cornstarch to flour is the reason for the fluffy texture. The applesauce and higher sugar content give the cake its moistness – it has double the sugar-to-egg ratio of a basic Genoise cake. The weight of that extra sugar partially collapses the egg foam, hence the need for the baking powder boost.

The instructions for beating the egg foam repeatedly state that the batter should be heated until all the sugar has been mixed in and dissolved. The recipe was formulated with an electric whisk as the mixing device. Electric whisks are not as fast or powerful as a high-speed stand mixer or even a handheld two-beater electric mixer, and the heating expedites the formation of the egg foam. If the recipe is implemented with a high-speed mixer, it may be possible to omit the heating, although I have not tried it that way.

Here are a few more tips for assisting the egg foam to maximum height:

  • Fresh baking powder – the recipe specifies only a little baking powder, so it must be fresh. Test the strength of baking powder by putting a tiny spoonful in hot or boiling water and seeing how much it fizzes.
  • Beat the egg foam a lot – even when the egg foam forms a ribbon when dripped from the beaters, it’s doesn’t hurt to continue beating it for a few minutes more, because the egg foam stabilizes with longer beating time.
  • Greased and floured pan – out of laziness, I don’t always flour my pans. With egg foam batters, however, it’s a good idea to do that always. Pans with only grease are slippery, and the batter can’t grip the sides and pull itself up.
  • Rolling boil – a rolling boil means that the inside of the steamer is thick with steam and thicker steam means more heat transfer to the pan, which invigorates the air bubbles and the baking powder reaction in the batter.
  • Don’t wait – if the batter begins “bubbling”, steam the cake at once. Bubbling is a sign that the batter is losing air.  Low temperature cakes need all the leavening power they can get to puff up.

A final thought: if the crumb topping steams up too dry, try making it with a very little more butter. It’s easy to add too much butter, and then the topping could turn out soggy.

Makes 1 cake, 8 servings

– 83 calories per serving
– Oven Temperature: Steamed

Basil Infused Raisins:

  • 1/8 cup raisins
  • 1 tablespoon coarsely chopped, fresh basil (or 1 teaspoon dried basil)
  • 1/2 cup boiling water

Crumb Topping:

  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon rolled or instant oats
  • 1/8 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tablespoon butter
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Sponge Cake:

  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour (1 oz)
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch (0.3 oz)
  • 1 teaspoon non-fat milk powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 tablespoon applesauce
  • 1 tablespoon milk (regular or low-fat)
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup sugar

Basil Infused Raisins Method

1. Put basil and raisins in a heatproof cup. If using dried basil, crush it in a mortar or between fingers to release flavor. Pour in hot water and infuse for at least 30 minutes.

2. Strain and reserve raisins, discarding water and basil.

Crumb Topping Method:

1. If oat flakes are larger than 1/4 inch, pulse them in a coffee grinder or food processor for 2 or 3 seconds to chop them up a little. Put dry ingredients in a small bowl and mix until well combined. Add butter, cut into small chunks.

2. With fork, cut butter into flour mixture until topping is uniformly crumbly. Set aside.

Cake Method:

1. Cut a strip of aluminum foil 6 inches wide and at least 11 inches long. Press the foil into a small loaf pan (5-3/4 x 3 x 2 inches) to cover the bottom and the long sides. Grease and lightly flour the pan. Set aside.

2. Mix the applesauce and milk in a small dish and set aside.

3. Bring sauce pot with at least 1 inch of water to a simmer. In a large metal bowl, lightly whisk the egg, 1/8 cup of sugar and vanilla extract until frothy. Take sauce pot off heat and place bowl over sauce pot. The hot water must NOT touch the bowl. While monitoring the temperature of the egg mixture with an instant-read thermometer, gently stir the mixture until it reaches 100F/38C. Remove bowl from sauce pot.

4. With an electric whisk or mixer, whip the egg mixture on high speed until it is pale yellow and double in volume and forms a thin ribbon that lasts 2 to 3 seconds when dripped from the beater. This step should take about 3 to 5 minutes.

5. Bring the sauce pot back up to a simmer and remove from heat. Put the bowl over the sauce pot. Beat until the mixture forms a thicker ribbon that lasts at least 15 seconds when dripped from the beater. The temperature of the batter should never exceed 110°F/43°C or the heat will cook the egg foam. If the batter gets too hot, remove it from the sauce pot and continue beating as it cools. When the batter attains the thicker ribbon stage, remove the bowl from sauce pot.

The first picture above shows the thicker ribbon that remains visible for a count of 15 before completely dissolving. The second picture above shows that the batter should now be so light and thick that a small amount will mound in the beater.

6. Sprinkle in a portion of remaining sugar. Put bowl back over hot water and beat on HIGH until dissolved. At this stage, the batter should not exceed 100°F/38°C. Repeat until all remaining sugar has been mixed into the batter and remove from the sauce pot. The sugar will partially collapse the egg foam and the ribbon will only stay on the surface for about 5 seconds. Continue beating another 4 or 5 minutes on HIGH to stabilize the batter and cool.

7. Alternately, FOLD in portions of the applesauce and flour mixtures. The applesauce should be dripped along the edge of the batter. The flour should be sifted over the batter. Repeat until all the applesauce and all of the flour have been incorporated.

8. Bring steamer water to a rolling boil. Pour 1/4 cup of the batter into the loaf pan and tilt the pan to fully coat the bottom of the pan with batter. Steam the batter for 3 minutes. Remove.

9. Sprinkle basil raisins over the steamed cake base.

10. Pour the remaining batter into the cake pan over the raisins and even out. Grease the underside of a sheet of aluminum foil large enough to fit over the pan. Cover the pan with the foil and crimp the foil against the pan ledge to secure it. Put the pan in the steamer and steam for 30 minutes. Check the steamer’s water level periodically; the water should be at a rolling boil.

11. Remove from steamer. Carefully remove the foil without tearing it. Sprinkle crumb topping over the cake. Re-cover the pan with the foil, crimping it loosely in place and allowing enough room so the topping does not press against the foil. Return to steamer and steam for another 15 minutes. At this stage, the water does not have to be at a rolling boil – a medium boil will suffice.

12. Remove from steamer and remove foil. Cool in pan for 15 minutes. Loosen cake from short sides with a knife and lift the cake out of the pan by grabbing and pulling up on the aluminum foil flaps. Peel off foil and cool cake on a rack for 30 minutes.

13. Slice and serve.


Zong-Zi Wrapped Rice Dumplings (Boiled or Steamed)

[ Equipment: steamer or large pot for boiling. For more information about the terminology in this recipe, see Low Temperature Baking: A Journey of 3 Paths ].

The Chinese Dragon Boat Festival takes place on June 16 this year. They don’t race dragon boats in the US, but people do celebrate by eating zong-zi (also written zhongzi and called jung in Cantonese), rice dumplings with assorted fillings, wrapped in bamboo leaves, that are boiled or steamed. In Chinatown markets, bakeries and from street vendors, zong-zi are sold year-round. Because the dumplings are wrapped, they can be held and eaten as a meal on the run (don’t forget the soy sauce packets). My favorite way to eat them is in bowl with an assortment of chopped vegetables.

Although supermarkets in the US dedicate a few shelves to Asian foods, two basic components of zong-zi are still rare: bamboo leaves and glutinous rice. Asian specialty markets stock them and esoteric ingredients for the filling, but I decided to make American-style zong-zi. That is, I would make them only from ingredients that were found locally.

Instead of bamboo leaves, I used dried Mexican tamale corn husks. Banana leaves would have been great as wrappers (being large and green), but I didn’t find any locally. Tamale corn husks are between a half and a third as long as the average bamboo leaf. Printed on the bag of medium grain rice (discussed next), the recommended serving per person is 1/4 cup of uncooked rice. Happily, one large corn husk will wrap that amount of rice plus a few heaping spoonfuls of filling. Smaller husks can be joined to make one large wrapper or even a super-sized wrapper.

In place of the glutinous rice, I substituted a medium grain rice (Hinode brand Silver Pearl). Because the dumplings in this recipe are boiled, the individual rice grains flow into each other and merge into a cake, with a texture very much like a glutinous rice dumpling. I have read of zong-zi made with a long grain rice, so the lack of speciality rices should not be a deterrent from making zong-zi. Sushi rice might have been a better substitute for glutinous rice. Both are short grain, sticky rices, although a couple of online sources insisted that glutinous rice is stickier than sushi rice. I didn’t look for the sushi rice because I discovered a bag of medium grain rice hiding at the bottom of one of my food bins.

Zong-zi can have a variety of fillings, from meats to sweet bean pastes. My dumplings were stuffed with a savory filling made of vegetables (mushrooms, green onions and bamboo shoots) and a meat or meat alternative. Traditionally, the mushrooms would be reconstituted dried Chinese or shitake-type mushrooms. I substituted white button mushrooms that had been steam cooked for 5 minutes and roughly chopped. The bamboo shoots bring in a crunch, scent and presence of bamboo, as a reminder of the missing bamboo leaves. Chopped water chestnuts would also add crunch. The meat component can be cooked chicken or pork or a Chinese sausage or an equivalent. The “meat” in the pictures below is actually slices of vegetarian riblet, each one about the size of a mini sausage link. To bind everything together, I mixed in a few spoonfuls of prepared hoisin sauce. Hoisin sauce is sweet and tangy. For a more savory taste, oyster sauce or a thick stir-fry sauce would be good binding sauces as well.

The shape of a zong-zi can be the simple rectangular package or the famous pyramidal or tetrahedron forms. Because the corn husks are so small, it was much easier to wrap the rectangular shape. The tying technique shown below is efficient and traditional, but the dumplings can be tied any way that holds the husk flaps down.

Zong-zi can be steamed or boiled. However, unless the rice is pre-cooked, steaming may not evenly cook the rice inside the dumplings. Thus, for steamed zong-zi, pre-cook the rice first by steaming it for 30 minutes in a dish filled with water to cover the rice. Dumplings stuffed with uncooked rice will expand during boiling and could burst through the wrapping, but dumplings containing pre-cooked rice are more stable because the rice is already plumped.

This starter recipe makes only 2 dumplings. It’s far more convenient to assemble and cook a large batch of zong-zi at a time. Double, quadruple or otherwise multiply the quantity of ingredients as desired. For the Dragon Boat Festival, home cooks may devote an entire day to preparing different varieties of zong-zi, hung all around the kitchen to dry. Large batches of zong-zi freeze well, and quickly reheat in the microwave.

Makes 2 zong-zi dumplings
– 250 calories per dumpling (varies with filling)
– Oven temperature: boiled or steamed

  • Dried Mexican tamale corn husks (or dried bamboo leaves)
  • 1/2 cup medium grain white rice (or glutinous rice or sticky short-grain rice)
  • 1/4 cup roughly chopped white mushrooms (or shitake mushrooms)
  • 1 tablespoon sliced green onion
  • 1-1/2 tablespoon julienned bamboo shoots (or chopped water chestnuts)
  • 2 teaspoons hoisin sauce (or stir-fry sauce, oyster sauce or other thick dipping sauce – see text)
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons soy sauce (see text)
  • 1/8 teaspoon chili powder
  • 2 mini sausage links (or equal amount of cooked meat or meat alternative about 3 inches long)
  • 2 three-foot lengths of cotton kitchen twine

1. Soak rice in water for 3 or 4 hours or overnight. Drain.

Raw rice is for boiled dumplings. For steamed dumplings, the rice should be pre-cooked (see text above).

2. Soak corn husks in warm water for about an hour. Put in more husks than actually needed, in case some of them have splits, which are difficult to see when the husks are in dried form. The husks should be very pliable after soaking or they will be hard to fold.

3. In a small bowl, mix vegetables. Drain off any excess water. Add chili powder and hoisin sauce. Add soy sauce to taste, but not so much that the mixture turns runny. In a second small bowl, put the mini sausages or meat alternatives.

4. Place husk on flat surface or over a small baking cup. Husks measuring about 6 inches wide at the top and 9 inches long or larger are the easiest to wrap.

Overlapping Two Smaller Husks To Make A Big Wrapper

Two small husks (less than 6 inches wide) can be overlapped top to bottom to form a rectangle and hold one dumpling.

5. Spread two tablespoons of rice on the husk starting about 2 to 3 inches from the top and in an area about 2-1/2 x 3-1/2 inches.

6. Spoon 2 teaspoons of the vegetable mix over the rice. Put a sausage link (or other meat or meat alternative) over the vegetables.

7. Spoon 2 more teaspoons of the vegetable mix around the sausage or to cover it. Spoon 2 tablespoons of rice over the filling.

8. Fold sides of husk closed to cover the filling.

9. Fold the bottom flap over against the dumpling.

10. Fold the top flap over against the dumpling, overlapping the bottom flap. Secure the top flap with a loop of cotton twine tied in a half knot.

11. Place more loops of twine and half knots along the dumpling to secure both flaps and bring string around the bottom of the dumpling and back up over the top. The tension should be sufficient to hold the dumpling together but allow for some expansion. If the dumpling is tied too tightly, the rice could split the corn husk when cooked.

15. If needed, wrap one more loop at the top of the dumpling. Then tie the string ends together.

16. For boiled dumplings, bring large pot of water to boil and drop dumplings into the water (two dumplings will fit in a 2-3 quart saucepan) and boil on medium heat for 2 hours. For steamed dumplings, put dumplings in steamer and steam for 1-1/2 hours.

17. Remove dumplings and cool.

18. Serve by removing the string and unwrapping the husk or leaves. Sprinkle with soy sauce.

19. Refrigerate or freeze extra dumplings for later.


Fast-Rise, Kneaded White Bread Mini Loaf (Steamed & Baked)

[ Equipment: steamer and slow cooker or oven. For more information about the terminology in this recipe, see Low Temperature Baking: A Journey of 3 Paths ].

Jan. 5, 2011 Note: A fast-rise, baked-only version of this recipe can be found here.

The name of this recipe has been changed to distinguish it from the many slow-rise recipes on VaporBaker. Also, at the time this recipe was written, I had not yet experimented with many low-temperature browning agents (for example, alkaline olive oil was first described in my REVISED slow-rise no-knead focaccia recipe, not the original recipe). The writeup below refers to the older version of focaccia.
Unlike my first focaccia bread which emerged from the oven very pale, this white loaf is adorned with a golden crust. The focaccia’s lack of color might have been due to the falling oven, in which the temperature dropped from 250 to 225°F in the final 40 minutes. However, I did bake one at a steady 250°F throughout, and while that loaf singed at the edges (and dried out hard as a Frisbee), it never managed the even golden tonality of this mini loaf. The browning trick of this bread, the key difference in the recipes, is the addition of sugar to the dough, which begins caramelizing at 230°F and imparts color without searing heat.

This mini loaf is baked in 2 stages: steamed first and slow-baked at 250°F to finish. A regular loaf of bread baked at high temperature is done when the internal temperature reaches about 180°F. Water steam can heat well over 200°F (at sea level), so steaming is as effective as oven baking in an oven to cook the bread. For the finishing touch, the bread is then baked at 250°F to dry and brown the crust.

I have tested the bread dry steamed and wet steamed. Both techniques work, but dry steaming produces a drier surface that browns faster. To wet steam, the pan is put in the steamer and a piece of greased wax paper or foil is placed over the dough to protect it against any water dripping down from the lid. Despite the greasing, the paper or foil might stick to the bread anyway, leaving a rougher surface for the browning stage. To avoid that problem, don’t cover the dough and cover the steamer instead with a dish towel under the lid to absorb moisture.

In dry steaming, steam doesn’t touch the bread. The pan can be encased in a large foil pouch, seams along the top and sides. The pouch idea works best if the steamer is big, so it isn’t a hassle to form a foil dome that will fit in the steamer with the cover on. An alternative is to make a foil bonnet that fits over the pan and is secured with string against the pan’s rim. I make the bonnet by pressing a sheet of foil into a large loaf pan as the mold.

The bread should be steamed until it reaches an internal temperature of at least 180°F, by which time it’s fully cooked. However, since the bread will be baked next, the steaming stage could end a little earlier, when the internal temperature is a degree or two less than 180°F, and the bread will finish cooking in the oven.

This mini or demi loaf is a great size for snack sandwiches, not too big and not too small. It tastes best if eaten soon after it’s cooled, although it toasts up very well a day or two later. With the lessons from this recipe, I’m working out the details for a larger loaf and a new version of the focaccia.

Makes 1 Demi Loaf
– 540 calories per loaf
– Oven temperature: steaming, oven at 250°F/121°C

  • 1-1/8 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon rapid rise yeast
  • 1/2+ cup warm water

1. Put flour, salt, sugar and yeast into a large bowl and mix thoroughly.

2. Add 1/4 cup of warm water and mix. Continue adding warm water, one tablespoon at a time until it forms a sticky but kneadable dough.

3. Knead dough to form a smooth and elastic ball. If the dough is too dry, it won’t rise properly. Sprinkle in water to hydrate it. If the dough’s too wet to knead, mix in a little flour to absorb the excess water.

For this amount of dough, my favorite kneading method is to hold the dough in both hands and stretch-fold, as though I were making taffy, for 8 to 10 minutes, until the dough becomes elastic and will stretch about 1 foot without breaking. .

4. Cover and put in a warm place (90°-100°F) to rise until double in height, about 2 to 3 hours.

5. Deflate the dough. Briefly knead it. Shape and put dough in a small (5-3/4 inch x 3 inch) loaf pan.

6. Cover and put in warm place to rise until double in height, about 1 to 2 hours.

7. Prepare pan for dry or wet steaming as described in text above.

8. Preheat oven/cooker to 250°F.

9. Bring steamer water to rolling boil and reduce to a medium boil. Put bread in steamer and steam until the bread’s internal temperature reaches 180°F or higher (about 40 to 50 minutes).

10. Remove bread from steamer. Remove pouch or any covering and put bread in oven or slow cooker and bake for about 40 minutes until crust is lightly golden. Do not overbake or the crust may harden. If baking in a slow cooker and the surface of the loaf is wet, position lid slightly askew for venting and bake for another 10 minutes to dry the crust.

11. Remove bread from oven/cooker and cool about 10 minutes. Unmold and continue to cool bread on a rack.

12. Slice and serve.


Slow-Rise, No-Knead Chinese Steamed Buns

[ Equipment: steamer. For more information about the terminology in this recipe, see Low Temperature Baking: A Journey of 3 Paths ].

Revised: September 24, 2010.

These steamed buns get their tang from the long fermentation of the yeast, like a sourdough, but without the fuss of attending to a starter. The basic dough process comes from the recipe for no-knead bread first reported by Mark Bittman of the New York Times and adapted from a recipe by Jim Lahey of the Sullivan Street Bakery in New York City. When I first read about no-knead bread, I fell into a depression because I did not have a high-temperature (450°F) oven to bake a loaf. At the time, I was making steamed buns with a sourdough starter. It had not occurred to me to use the no-knead dough for buns. Buns are shaped. No-knead bread dough is too wet to be shaped. The loaf is baked free-form in a dutch oven. An internet search back then didn’t turn up any recipes for no-knead rolls either, baked or steamed.

After I moved to a new apartment, I never got round to reconstituting the sourdough starter. I had resolved to make steamed buns the convenient way, with packets of commercial yeast. Before I could tear open a packet, the idea popped into my head: make the buns by steaming the no-knead dough in muffin molds. The shape would not be traditional, but I would have the great flavor from long fermentation. (This idea will work for baked buns or rolls too.) The steamed no-knead buns turned out so well that I now make them at least twice a week.

In Lahey’s original recipe, the proportion of water to flour by weight was almost 1 to 1 (98% hydration). My recipe stays close to that formula, perhaps a little less at 93% hydration. Hydration is important. If the dough is too dry, the buns will be dry. If the dough is too wet, the buns will need more cooking time and excessive exposure to moisture could affect the texture (coarser bread).

The yeast must be fresh. I make a batch of buns at least twice a week and a single packet of active dry or rapid rise yeast can last over a year, sealed and stored in the freezer. However, once the yeast packet (or jar) is opened and exposed to air (especially if the air is humid), the granules will lose potency over time. Buns leavened with weakened yeast may rise very slowly (more than a day) or not rise at all.

The “pinch” of yeast in the ingredients list is just that; no need to measure out any of the granules. For those who want precise measurements, I have had great success with 1/16 teaspoon of yeast granules. Both active dry yeast and rapid rise yeast will work in this recipe. Rapid rise yeast is faster, but active dry yeast is more flavorful (more sour). The first rise for doughs with rapid rise yeast should be from 12 to 18 hours and active dry yeast doughs can go for a full 24 hours. The minimum rise time for either type of dough should be 12 hours to develop the gluten and flavor. I do not recommend longer first rises than specifed, because the dough can take on a yeasty smell and could collapse. Collapsed doughs do poorly in the second rise.

Although the dough contains yeast, it also contains baking powder or baking soda. The purpose of the baking powder or soda is to neutralize acidity (Chinese steamed buns are typically not sour) and give a chewier texture to the finished bun that is characteristic of Chinese steamed buns. They can also boost the second rise, if the reaction hasn’t been exhausted in the first rise. I recommend adding baking powder to doughs with rapid rise yeast and baking soda to doughs with active dry yeast. Active dry yeast doughs tend to be more acidic, and baking soda is excellent at neutralizing the acid.

In some steamed bun recipes, the baking powder or baking soda is kneaded into the dough after the first rise, but I have found that doing so can cause dark streaks in the cooked buns. My experience has been that mixing them into the dry ingredients at the beginning works just as well. If desired, the baking powder or baking soda can be omitted at the expense of a little coarsening in the texture.

Chinese steamed buns can have a variety of fillings from savory to sweet. They can be prepared in any way (steamed, fried, baked, microwaved), so long as they are fully cooked and solid, and can be divided into 6 portions. I give the recipe for my favorite egg filling. It is very simple to make from scratch, especially in the microwave. Although the pictures show a stir-fry vegetable mix (broccoli, snow peas, green beans, peppers, water chestnuts), any chopped vegetable mix should work fine, so long as the egg mixture solidifies when cooked.

The plum-bean paste filling is the same one in my mooncake recipe and must be doubled to make 6 buns.
The mini sausages in the pictures are Vienna sausages from a can. They measured just under 2 inches and fit perfectly in the muffin molds. Any other COOKED sausage of similar size should be a good substitute. Other tasty fillings include: small meatballs, vegetarian protein nuggets and sweet pastes (like peanut butter or red bean paste).

The muffin molds in the pictures were part of a silicone muffin pan. The original pan was too large to fit in my steamer, so I cut the cups out individually with scissors. Each muffin cup can has a 1/2 cup capacity. Small teacups should work too, if they will fit in the steamer. For larger buns, try putting the dough in 3/4-cup-capacity mini loaf pans.

Makes 6 buns

– 150 calories per bun with egg filling
– Oven Temperature: steaming

Bun Dough:

  • 1-1/2 cups all purpose flour (7.5 oz)
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 pinch active dry yeast or rapid rise yeast
  • 3/4 to 1 cup warm water (see text)
  • 1/2 teaspoon double acting baking powder or 1/8 teaspoon baking soda (optional, see text)
  • 1 recipe egg filling (below) or 2 recipes plum-bean paste or 6 mini sausages (see text)

Egg Filling:

  • 6 potato nuggets (such as Ore-Ida Tater Tots) or cooked bite-size potatoes
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/8 cup water
  • 1/4 cup chopped stir-fry vegetables (see text)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon chili powder

Egg Filling Method:

1. Evenly arrange potato nuggets or cooked potatoes in a small bowl. The potatoes will later serve as markers for dividing the filling.

2. In a measuring cup, whisk egg, salt, chili powder and water until frothy. Add chopped vegetables to reach the 1/2 cup mark and mix.

3. Pour egg mixture over potatoes.

4. Microwave, bake or steam the filling until cooked. Cool. Slice the filling into 6 wedges.

Buns Method:

1. In a bowl, whisk flour, salt, yeast and the optional baking powder (for rapid rise yeast) or baking soda (for active dry yeast) until well combined. Although the recipe lists the weight of the flour, the actual amount of flour is less important than the hydration (see text above and steps 3 and 4 below). I used a 2-quart plastic bowl with a lid. This bowl has straight, almost perpendicular sides, which can be marked to measure the rising height of the dough.

2. Mix 3/4 cup of warm water into flour to form a sticky dough.

3. Then add rest of water, 1 tablespoon at a time, to form a wet dough that can be easily spread out with the back of a spoon. For 7.5 oz of flour, I mixed in a total of 7/8 cup water (3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons). Dough that is too dry will produce dry buns. Dough that is too wet will have a coarse texture. If the dough is adequately hydrated, it should have a slightly wet sheen.

In the picture above, I spread the dough out to cover the bottom of the bowl, so that it will be easier to determine when the dough has risen double height.

4. Cover the bowl and set in a warm place to rise until at least double height. With rapid rise yeast, I recommend a rise time between 12 and 18 hours. With active dry yeast, I recommend a rise time of 12 to 24 hours.

As I said in step 3, the hydration level of the dough is important to get moist, fluffy buns. The dough’s moistness can be judged from the bubbles in the risen dough. In the picture above, the top bowl contains dough that is too dry. The bubbles are bigger and more concentrated in the lower half of the dough. The dough in the bottom bowl is correctly hydrated and the bubbles are smaller and evenly distributed throughout the dough.

5. When the first rise is done, deflate the dough by gently stirring it with a spoon a few times.

6. Grease 6 muffin cups or molds. The muffin cups should be 1/2 cup capacity.

7. Half of the dough will line the bottom of the muffin cups. Dip a spoon in warm water and scoop a rounded tablespoon of dough into each cup to start and add more dough until all cups have about a 1/4 inch layer. The warm water stops the dough from sticking to the spoon.

8. Press or spoon a portion of the filling into center of each mold. The picture above shows 3 types of filling: egg, plum-bean paste and mini sausages. For the plum-bean paste, I deposited 1 tablespoon of paste per bun.

9. Cover the fillings with the remaining dough. Holding a spoon in each hand (or fork or butter knife), press and pull the dough in each mold until the top layer completely covers the filling and is merged with the bottom layer (it doesn’t have to be perfect; some filling can show through).

12. Put the molds in a deep pan or bowl and cover. Place in a warm area and let rise until higher than top of mold (no more than 2 hours if the filling is perishable). I do the second rising in the steamer over WARM water with the heat turned OFF. The water vapor helps the dough stay moist.

13. Bring steamer water to a rolling boil, reduce to a medium boil and steam the buns for 15 minutes. If the buns were risen in the steamer (as I like to do), remove them before boiling the water and put them back in when the water is boiling. When ready the buns should spring back when lightly pressed.

14. Cool the buns in the molds for 10 minutes. Unmold and continue cooling on a rack. If they are not eaten within a few hours, put buns in a plastic bag and refrigerate or freeze.

Below are pictures of the buns with the different fillings: egg, plum-bean paste and sausage.