Cheater’s Baos

Would you scoff if I told you those fluffy, steamed Asian buns above were made with Pillsbury refrigerated buttermilk biscuit dough?

Yup, the stuff in the tube.

Believe it.

When my buddy, Andrea Nguyen wrote her first cookbook, “Into the Vietnamese Kitchen” (Ten Speed Press) in 2006, there was many a recipe that caught my eye. But none made my jaw drop like this one for “Shortcut Plain Steamed Buns.”

Years ago, Andrea learned this trick from her Chinese-American friend, Victor Fong, who, of course, learned it from his mother.

Crack open a tube of biscuit dough, then separate the rounds of dough. Pat each one into a flattened circle.  Then, fold each circle in half  to create half-moon shapes.

Place them in your steamer and after about 10 minutes — voila! In practically no time, you have puffy, steamed buns to fill with green onions, cucumbers, hoisin sauce and purchased barbecued pork or roast duck or anything else you so desire.

How cool is that?

Andrea suggests you use regular refrigerated biscuit dough, not the jumbo size. Since I only found the “Grands Jr.” at my grocery store, that’s what I used. The result is one tall, poofy bun, with noticeable layers and a buttery taste. If you use the regular biscuit dough, the resulting buns will be a bit more compact.

Imagine having fresh steamed buns at the drop of a chopstick, anytime you crave them, without having to run to an Asian market for ready-made ones or to spend hours making your own dough from scratch.

It may be cheating. But heck, I won’t tell, if you don’t.

Shortcut Plain Steamed Buns

(Makes ten 3-inch buns)

1 package (7 1/2 ounces) refrigerated buttermilk biscuit dough (use regular, not jumbo size)

Fill the steamer pan halfway with water and bring to a rolling boil over high heat. Line steamer tray with parchment paper, leaving a few holes uncovered for heat circulation.

Unwrap package of biscuit dough. Take one round of dough and use your fingers to stretch it gently until the center is about half of its original thickness. Fold dough in half and place in steamer tray. It will look like giant smiling lips. Repeat with remaining dough rounds, spacing them a generous 1 1/2-inch apart and 1 inch away from the edge of the tray where condensation collects.

Place tray in the steamer, cover, and steam buns for 10 minutes, or until they have nearly doubled in size and look dry. Turn off heat and wait for steam to subside before lifting the lid, and then lift it away from you carefully to avoid condensation dripping onto the buns. Remove tray and use a metal spatula to transfer buns to a wire rack. If the buns are left to cool completely, transfer them to a plate and cover with plastic wrap to prevent them from drying out. (The buns may be steamed up to four hours in advance of serving and kept at room temperature. To serve warm, reheat in the steamer or microwave oven.)

Serve buns warm or at room temperature. They are not served hot because the meats that they accompany are not served hot.

From “Into the Vietnamese Kitchen”

More: Another Astounding Recipe — Making Potato Chips in the Microwave

More: Andrea Nguyen’s Baked Pork Buns

More: Momofuku’s Pork Belly Buns

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  • OMG, I’ll be making these next week. You’re my new hero. Thanks so much for posting this!!

  • Love shortcuts! The buns look soooo good!

  • They look almost the same as the steamed buns I once savored in Taiwan. They call it cut buns (割屯). I don’t mind to be cheated.

  • A great idea! They look really good



  • These look delicious. Who is to say you cant cheat a little. Cooking is supposed to be adventurous and this is a great short cut. Looks divine. Love it!

  • That’s so cool! Does it taste like the asian steamed bun though? Or does it taste more like a buttermilk biscuit?

  • Oh that is so wrong! White trash bao! Why is there a need to cheat the steam bao are available frozen for dirt cheap. Not saying I wouldn’t or could eat it. Just looks like a bao but it sure is NOT a bao.

  • Oh, I am SO going to try this “trick” the next time my Vietnamese-American daughter-in-law is going to be here for sports and snacks!

    Can you or a creative reader suggest something I could possibly substitute for a bamboo steamer (which I do not have)? Would a rice cooker (which I think has a perforated metal steamer insert) work OK? Probably couldn’t fit as many in at one time, and I’m sure they should not be crowded, but…??

    Now, if I could only master some char siu black cod to go inside these… 🙂

  • I’m so pleased you shared this dirty little secret–I am totally going to make these! Who would have thought this would result in anything edible, let alone a deadringer for a “real” bao!

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  • Jay: White trash bao! I LOVE that. Too funny! Well, it’s kind of, sort of a bao. Still, you have to admit it’s pretty amazing you can even create one out of biscuit dough like this. That’s why I just had to try it.

    Kirbie: It does come out fluffy like a regular bao, though perhaps more buttery tasting, and with more layers.

    Carroll: You might be able to use a rice cooker, but you’d probably only be able to make four at a time. Be careful when you open the lid, too, as the condensation may drip onto the buns. The other thing you might be able to do is to use a deep frying pan. Take a big wad of aluminum foil, and twist it into a tight roll. Then form it into a circle or donut-shape. Place some water in the bottom of your frying pan, then place tin foil ring to the center of the pan. Then place a glass or ceramic pie plate on top of the foil ring. And line your pie pan with parchment paper.Place your biscuit buns on the parchment paper, put the top on the frying pan, and steam away. You want to make sure your frying pan is large enough to hold the pie pan with at least an inch leeway between it and the edge of the frying pan. Since you don’t have “holes” in your pie plate, you need to have some space inside the frying pan to allow for steam to circulate. Again, when you lift the lid, take care to lift it at an angle away from the baos so that excess condensation doesn’t drip onto them.

  • I’ll have to try these next time my daughter is home, as eating them all by myself sounds like a bad idea. I’ve used the biscuit dough to fry as doughnut, which isn’t a bad shortcut.
    Lynn Sulackow

  • What a short cut! I have not seen that dough here. Now I’m drooling!

  • I love this short cut! Last week I was dying for some steamed baos and didn’t want to make them from scratch so I didn’t give in to the craving. This could be dangerous :o)

  • I used to cheat like that all the time, using the mini biscuits to make little bao. My Chinese friend from China told me about it. By the way, have you tried deep-frying them and then glazed with sugar? Better than donut!

  • I bow down to you and kiss your feet for this post!!

  • This is so cheating. I love it. Now all I need is instant roast duck. Quack’n Fresh duck pops up from the can!


    > Can you or a creative reader suggest something
    > I could possibly substitute for a bamboo
    > steamer (which I do not have)?

    Just use a vegetable steamer insert, such as the ones that fold up…. like this:

    Use it with an inch of water in the widest pan you have that will hold it and still allow you put a lid on. For large steaming jobs, I use a 6-quart pot but these inserts will fit a wide range.

  • What a fantastic shortcut! Thanks for posting it Carolyn!

  • are you kidding me???m so hungy right now. these are jumping off the page asking me to eat them

  • Folks — so delighted that Carolyn cheated. Ha! They’re kinda funny while steaming, well, they smell funny. But ignore it and you’ll have a nifty quickie bun.

  • I don’t believe you initially. Thought it was an April Fool’s joke! HA! But look at that! I’m amazed.

    I used to get store-bought bao from Asian supermarket when I made braised pork belly to go with the bao…but with this neat trick, every part of it can be homemade!

    Maybe can stain a tiny pinkish-red dot on the bao using beetroot and make it more “Chinese”, more unbelievable that it is Pillsbury buttermilk biscuit dough! LOL!

  • What a great idea! I bao, never make it ’cause it looks like work. I can do this!

  • Oooh, tigerfish — I like the way you think. When I make these for my daughter in law, I will definitely try adding a little dab of beet juice for authenticity 🙂

    And, Carolyn — since your original post about this indicates that you made a whopping 50 of the suckers by hand from scratch the first time, I can’t imagine anyone would fault you for trying to find a faster/easier approach. These may not be your grandmother’s authentic original bao buns, but bring ’em home to my kitchen in a manageable quantity and I thank you!

    Your suggested McGuiver-style fix for creating a steamer using a foil roll sounds very do-able. I have a deep bottomed wok-type pan which should work perfectly and leave plenty of room around the edges. I will heed your warning about not tipping the condensation back onto the buns and will let you know how it goes.

    Thanks so much!

  • they are so deliciously done! amazed my eyes!

  • Carolyn, I roasted the bananas for my banana bread recipe. The bread really has more banana flavor. Usually, I just use overly ripe bananas that I have stashed in my freezer. I recommend roasting the bananas for your favorite. Lynn Sulackow

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  • Great shortcut these look great.

  • oh wow. That’s a BRILLIANT idea! I never even thought of thinking of thinking of this! haha. I wish I had a steamer now. I do love baos!

  • awesome. i won’t lie–i take the easy way out quite often and i’m a huge fan of pillsbury products. those layered biscuits are a favorite–they’re something i just can’t quite recreate myself. great post, carolyn!

  • My mom and I made these when I was a kid, and our Chinese friends laughed at us but they ate them up anyway. The texture is not quite traditional, but they are delicious. I also loved them with slender chunks of lop chung steamed inside. Thanks for this fun article.

  • Those look soooo good!

  • The Momofuku cook book has a recipe to make bao. He uses lard to make them extra special. His pork roast and Korean lettuce wraps are incredible and easy! These biscuits can be used to make apple dumplings that are so yummy.

  • OK now my wife wants to try this. So I need to pick up a roast duck and some green onions. LOL

  • Yes! My mom taught me the same thing! I do find that the Pillsbury ones turn out a bit saltier than I prefer, so I counter it by adding some sugar. Works great in a pinch though!

  • Knowing that you, Andrea and Bee vouch for this, I am ready to buy up all of the refrigerated biscuit dough I can find! I can’t wait to try . . . !

  • Oh my, cannot believe this – what an interesting idea, it never occurred to me. Love to give it a try. Just cannot imagine my husband’s reaction to find the tin in the fridge – what is THIS?

  • hehe, i love cheater recipes. the less work, the better. yum!

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  • Been doing it for years...

    This is something my family’s been doing since as far back as I can remember. I used to make them with my mother when I was a kid and now my daughter and I make them. It is definitely worth the try. YUMMY!!!

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