Peanut Butter & Jelly Baos
Ah, baos. Despite the hype-driven capriciousness of food in the modern era, baos have never quite gone out of fashion. Sure, their fillings have gotten more adventurous throughout the generations - starting from their classic roots like red bean, yam paste, char siu, moving on to more recent inventions like liu sha baos (salted egg yolk baos) and those massive tang baos (soup-filled baos) in China that you eat (drink?) with a straw. Some have even taken it one step further, fusing Italian and Chinese bread culture to create baozzas - baos filled with pizza topping like tomato sauce, pepperoni, and cheese – which might just be the next generation in bao filling!
But no matter the flavour, the pillowy, airy texture of baos themselves have remained steadfast throughout the decades, which is only a testament to how versatile of a vessel they are to any and all flavours trapped within! So today, just like the crazy people behind baozzas, we’re testing the limits of baos with an equally weird filling – PB&J!
I gotta be honest though, growing up in Malaysia, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches were never in vogue. I guess our version of PB&J – kaya and butter toast – kept us all beyond satisfied. But from what I hear about the classic American flavour combination, it’s equal parts salty, sweet, nutty, and fruity – all adjectives I like to hear about my food.
So it’s almost a no-brainer then, that peanut butter and jelly (or jam if you’re in the UK) would be a worthy filling to be encased within the folds of a classic Chinese bao. And it so is!
I mean, sure, my terrible bao wrapping skills probably didn’t do the filling any justice in the photos. Just look at that uneven wrapping and thick, doughy bottom! If I was Rachel Chu, I’d be disowned by Nick Young’s grandma before we even got to Araminta’s wedding. Luckily for me, I have an infinitely patient mother, and though she does laugh at my poor attempts at wrapping baos sometimes, it’s thanks to her teachings that I’m even able to make non-leaky baos!
Despite my amateur bao skills, the PB&J filling more than made up for any misgivings I had about it. That salty, chunky peanut butter that lingers on your tongue, sticking to the roof of your mouth, coupled with that sweet tang of the jellied jam, is every kid’s dream flavour combination, American or not. To borrow from a YouTube comment I read once (for what video I don’t remember) - “This brought back memories (of an American childhood) I’ve never even had.” So take that, baozza people, PB&J is the true next-gen bao filling. 😋
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Peanut Butter & Jam Baos
Makes one dozen
250g low-protein flour, plus more for dusting
2g baking powder
4g active dry yeast
5g vegetable shortening or lard, softened at room temperature
250g peanut butter, I like the chunky type but smooth works too
100g raspberry jelly or jam
Pour half of the water in a bowl, add in a tablespoon of sugar and stir until the sugar dissolves. Sprinkle in the active dry yeast, and let it hydrate for 5-10 minutes until it starts to bubble.
Meanwhile, add the flour, baking powder, and the rest of the sugar into the bowl of a mixer. Then, add in the yeast mixture and the rest of the water, and knead with the dough hook on low speed for 5-7 minutes, until a smooth dough forms. Add in the vegetable shortening and knead for a further 1-2 minutes, until the dough turns glossy all throughout! If you find that the dough sticks excessively to the sides of the bowl, add in a tablespoon or two of flour and knead it a little more. When the dough is done mixing, cover the bowl with a kitchen towel, and leave it at room temperature to proof for 30-45 minutes, until it doubles in size.
Once the dough is done proofing, knock it down, and weigh out the dough into 40g balls. Then, knead the dough a little and press it down to make sure there are no large air bubbles trapped within the dough. Then, on a well-floured surface, roll out the dough with a small rolling pin until it becomes a circle measuring 4-inches across. Fill the dough with roughly ¾ tablespoon of peanut butter, and 1 teaspoon of jelly or jam. Then fold up the edges of the dough so the filling is tightly enclosed inside. (Here’s a useful demo for wrapping baos.)
When the bao is filled, place it on a 3.5-inch square piece of baking sheet, cover it lightly with a kitchen towel, and let it proof for a further 45-60 minutes. It won’t quite double in size this time round, but it’ll be slightly pudgier and springier to touch.
While the baos are proofing, ready a steamer set-up. Make sure the water is boiling vigorously as the more steam there is, the fluffier your baos will be! Once the baos are done with the final proof, place them in the steamer basket to steam for 8 minutes. Most household steamers can’t fit 12 baos at once, so steam them in a 2-3 batches, starting with the ones that you filled first.
When the baos are done steaming, let it cool on a wire rack for a few minutes, before biting into these PB&J-filled pillows!