You don’t have to make your own steamed buns for Momofuku Pork Buns. As Chang says, “how many sandwich shops bake their own bread?”
Momofuku still sources their steamed buns from elsewhere, so if you want to take Chang’s advice, you can easily buy plain steamed buns at most Asian grocery stores in the freezer section. The most common plain steamed bun is the mantou, which doesn’t have the sock-puppet mouth shape that Chang uses, but you can substitute it easily, just slice them open and fill.
The problem is, when you do find steamed buns that are the right sock-puppet shape they are mostly too big compared to the Momofuku steamed buns. I highly recommend taking the time to make your own steamed buns. You can always freeze them. I froze a bunch of steamed buns and am looking forward to instant pork buns whenever my little heart desires! (Well, I guess I need to have roast pork belly on hand too, but who doesn’t have slabs of roast belly in their fridge waiting to be consumed?)
Really though, this is a fantastically easy snack to put together when you have everything at hand, so even though the recipe yields 50 buns, trust me, you’ll eat them all. I know we did!
The steamed buns are a basic bread recipe but steamed, instead of baked. Yeast, water, bread flour, sugar, non-fat milk powder, salt, baking powder, baking soda and pork fat are all kneaded together into a sticky ball and left to rise. After the dough has doubled, it’s punched down, divided into 50 balls, and left to rise again.
The balls are then flattened into an oval and folded over to form the floppy sock puppet mouth shape. One more rise and then they are ready to steam! (That’s three rises, just in case you were counting.)
I steamed my buns in a wok because I don’t have a bamboo steamer. Apparently bamboo steamers are ideal because steam condensation doesn’t drip down on the buns, which causes wrinkly bun skin. That was exactly what happened to me: wrinkly bun skin. Nobody wants wrinkly bun skin! My inventive solution was to stretch a tea towel over the rim of the wok so that the drops of water from the lid would catch on the towel instead of falling on to the skin. The towel trick worked, the buns were less wrinkly as the steaming progressed.
I was also worried about the colour of the buns. They weren’t pure white, more of a very pale yellow. The buns tasted good, they just didn’t look super white, which is what I wanted, because I’m a bit of a prefectionist like that. I looked up “why are my steamed buns yellow” on google and found a little trick where you put some white vinegar in the steaming water. I tried it and (surprise surprise) it didn’t work.
Even though they were wrinkly and not pure white, they were fluffy and tasty. At least I have that! As one friend said, “I could eat the [bun] just on it’s own.” (Actually he said “sponge,” but I know he meant bun.)