Gluten-free sheng jian bao (pan-fried steamed buns)

I must admit that making gluten-free bao is definitely a challenge! After quite a few attempts, and multiple failures, I have found the best results for a quite easy and pliable dough to work with.

Feel free to double the recipe, but since this gluten-free version is best eaten fresh, and it’s not easy to handle after being exposed to the air for too long, I suggest you only make 4 buns at a time.

When frying, I start the pan on medium low, with a tablespoon of oil. As soon as I have formed the second bun, I transfer the first bun into the preheated pan, then add the second bun about a minute after that. While the first two buns are pan frying, I go back to continue with the third and fourth buns.

These baos are best eaten freshly cooked, or you can reheat them either on low heat on a frying pan, partly covered, or microwave them for 20 to 30 seconds on high heat. Serve with my favourite Asian chili oil (find recipe HERE) or your favourite condiments.

Makes 4 buns


  • 45g corn starch
  • 22g potato starch
  • 27g glutenous rice flour
  • 25g tapioca flour
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • 15g caster sugar
  • Pinch of fine sea salt
  • 15ml vegetable oil (such as sunflower or canola)
  • 1/3 cup water for steaming
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil for searing

For yeast liquid:

  • 80ml warm full-fat milk or high-fat non-dairy milk
  • ¾ tsp instant yeast
  • 1 tsp caster sugar

For filling (char siu bao flavor):

  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil for cooking
  • 1/2 small yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 2 scallions, trimmed and finely chopped
  • ¼ cup firm tofu, crumbled
  • 1 tbsp gluten-free oyster sauce
  • 1-2 tsp tamari
  • 1 tsp gluten-free dark soy sauce (optional for colouring)
  • 1 tbsp fermented red bean curd (optional, this will increase the saltiness of the result; adjust to your liking)
  • 2-3 tbsp caster sugar, or more to taste
  • 1 tsp toasted sesame oil
  • A few shakes of ground white pepper


  • 1 tsp corn starch
  • 2 tbsp water

Recipe Preparation

Activate yeast

Mix milk, instant yeast, and sugar in a small cup and stir to combine. Let sit 5 minutes. It should foam or at least get creamy. If it doesn’t, your yeast is dead and you should buy fresh yeast and start again.

Make the buns (Step 1)

Whisk together all flours, baking powder, caster sugar, and sea salt in a medium bowl. Add oil and mix everything together until well combined. Since there is no gluten in the dough, do not expect any stretch. It should feel like playdoh. Roughly form a ball inside the bowl with a scraper. Cover and let it proof until it has doubled in size, about 60 minutes. If there are small cracks on the surface after rising, that’s absolutely fine.

The fillings

In a small bowl, mix together oyster sauce, tamari, dark soy sauce, sesame oil, white pepper, sugar, and fermented red bean curd (if using).

Heat vegetable oil in a frying pan on medium high. Sauté onion until soft, about 3 minutes. Add sauce and tofu and toss to combine. Finally, add slurry and mix to combine. Remove from heat. Set aside to cool.

Fill the buns (Step 2)

Remove the dough from the bowl with a dough scraper. If it’s a little crumbly, that’s normal. Use your hands to form it into a ball. If it feels a little dry, wet your fingers to slightly rehydrate the dough. Keep in mind that it won’t be stretchy but should be pliable enough to work on.

Lightly dust your work counter with corn starch and use a dough cutter to divide the dough into 4 equal pieces. Work with one portion at a time, rolling it into a ball and using your thumb to create an indentation. Draw up the sides of the indent slightly and place the tofu filling in the middle. Keep drawing up the sides and eventually pinch the top shut. Gently roll to shape a smooth, round ball again. Place the finished baos on your corn starch-dusted countertop to avoid sticking. Repeat for the remaining 3 portions.

Cook the buns

Heat a tablespoon of vegetable oil in a frying pan on medium. Use a dough scraper to remove the baos from the countertop and gently slide each one into the pan, keeping 2cm space between them. Sear the bottom of the baos until golden, about 2-3 minutes. Sprinkle sesame seeds over baos, add 1/3 cup water, and cover with a lid. Cook for 5 minutes further. By the end of cooking, all the water should be steamed off and the baos should now be puffed up and not look doughy. If there is still water remaining in the pan, continue to cook on medium until it is evaporated. This extra step should take no longer than 2 minutes. Keep an eye on the bottoms of the baos to make sure they don’t burn.

Gluten-free sheng jian bao are best eaten fresh and warm. If you wish to eat them later, keep them in a food box, sealed, and reheat in the microwave for 30 seconds on high. Enjoy!

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