Rhubarb Bao


You’ve never had this before, and neither have I! At least, I don’t believe you’ve had this before… The closest I’ve ever seen is this yummy-looking Strawberry Rhubarb Streusel Bun recipe, but nothing like this before.

I’m challenging myself during the month of May to only cook Asian-style foods at home in honor of AAPI Awareness month. This is difficult for me, as my education in this matter is decidedly limited. I did not spend 100% of my childhood with the Asian side of my family, and when I did I was the one that did the cooking because I was the eldest daughter and it made me happy to feel like I was contributing. But what is purely Asian-style cuisine? 

NPR can tell us…

 NPR did a piece on what a global flavor map would look like. Asian-style cuisines, in short, paired flavors that had opposing compounds whereas Western-style foods had pairings with shared compounds. You can read all about it here! In this sense, I felt as long as I had that same basic principle, as well as a ton of rice, I’d be golden and I could make whatever I wanted. And what did I want, when I came to see my friends at the farm for my weekly CSA box?

I love bao, I love sweet steamed buns, and I love rhubarb. Why not combine it all in a healthy, nearly fat-free alternative to a hand-pie? Oh, sure, hand pies are great for crunch, but why not try something new this year? Even better, it won’t get flaky if you put it in your pocket or wrap it for a lunch. It’s great at room-temperature but even better slightly chilled. I don’t know if this is for everyone – especially as I am learning that rhubarb is, apparently a divisive flavor – but if this is a texture-lover reading…keep going!

Rhubarb Bao Buns

Bao Dough

  • 300 g flour
  • 150 g warm water
  • 45 g sugar
  • 1 Tbsp oil
  • 3 g yeast

Rhubarb Filling

  • 1 c chopped rhubarb
  • 1/2 c sugar
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 1/2 c powdered sugar
  • 1 Tbsp corn starch
  • A fat pinch of kosher salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Bonus – Rhubarb Shrub

  • The rhubarb liquid, measured by weight
  • An equal measure of apple cider vinegar, ideally with the “Mother”
  • A clean, sterilized bottle or glass jar

Begin with the rhubarb filling by mixing the sugar and rhubarb together in a bowl and letting sit overnight, but ideally for 24 hours. The idea is you want to leech out as much moisture as possible. Strain off the liquid and add an equal measure of apple cider vinegar to create a delicious rhubarb shrub that you can store in the fridge for up to a year! Use it in cocktails, mocktails, add it to lemonade, and more! 

Please note that while you can drink a shrub straight off, I’d recommend waiting for at least a week because the flavors will change and develop tremendously, the longer you wait. As rhubarb season continues, you can continue to leech out liquid, add to your shrub, adding more vinegar, and keeping it going all the way throughout the spring. 

Roast the now-drained rhubarb in the oven until soft, which should take about 25 minutes at 300. I know, it seems quick for such a tough and fibrous vegetable… But remember it’s been sitting and processing in sugar, breaking down!

Allow the rhubarb to cool entirely and break up the fibers with a fork, a pair of chopsticks, or a wooden spoon. I use chopsticks in a lot of mixing applications at home because it often prevents over-mixing. I’m not sure why, but I don’t care as long as it works. When it’s all mixed together, add your powdered sugar, cornstarch, egg yolks, salt, and vanilla and stir well. Pop in a shallow dish and pop that into a freezer. You do want this at least par-frozen, so it can be solid enough to hold a shape.

While that’s cooling, simply add your sugar, oil, and flour for the bao dough to a bowl and stir in your yeast. Make sure everything is well mixed before you add your hot water. When I say hot, it should be not too hot to touch with your bare fingers, but certainly warm. Stir it in by hand until a dough comes together, then leave it – covered – for five minutes. 

Knead it for another five minutes more before popping your dough into an oil-lined container, covering it with plastic, and putting it in the fridge to rest and slow the rising process. You’re only going to let it rest for 15 minutes.

When the rhubarb filling is frozen, you can scoop out tablespoon-sized or cherry-sized balls to portion. You’ll possibly have some left over but that’s okay. Divide the bao dough into 8 portions and prepare a steamer along with the basket. I’ve got a bamboo steamer so I use a wok and my steamer lined with either cabbage leaves or well-oiled. You can also stick each dumpling on a square of parchment paper, as you likely have seen something like that throughout your long and colored life. 

There are lots of ways to fold dumplings and I’m frankly not very good at the traditional bao folding technique. As long as you can roll the balls of dough into balls and then discs and then wrap a frozen bit of rhubarb stuff with it and seal it well then just feel free to go nuts. Confused? Here’s a much-more comprehensive person showing you how.

There! Now that you’ve got your shapes, allow the dumplings to rise, covered, while the steamer is warming. You’re going to want to let them double their original size and then steam on medium heat for fifteen minutes. DO NOT OPEN THE LID FOR ANYTHING. Once it’s ready, turn off the heat and let the entire apparatus sit for 1 minute. By letting it sit, your dumpling dough should not collapse. 

Remove your steamer from the water and open it up to allow them to cool. You can have this warm, with caramel or strawberry sauce, or enjoy it cold. I’d say let it cool for at least 15 minutes before biting into it, but I won’t blame you if you can’t wait! I love this rhubarb bao and I think it’s a very creative way to utilize the yum of the season. The way I eat it at home is I have it warm, but cut it in half so I can put a small scoop of strawberry or vanilla ice cream inside each half so I can eat it like a dessert taco. Yummy!

If this is too much rhubarb for you, simply substitute half of the rhubarb for chopped strawberries and make a strawberry-rhubarb bao. If you are missing the crunch, simply roll your bao in chopped peanuts or almonds for a little textural fun. 

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading, and I hope I’ve inspired you to give bao – and rhubarb – a chance. 

Happy cooking and happy eating!

#Rhubarb #Bao

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