Steamed Red Bean Buns

Northerners call these traditional Steamed Red Bean Buns dòu bāo, whereas Southerners call them dòushā bāo.

Mántou, or steamed buns, are a common side dish at all times of day and across all meals in Northern China. Although the dough is easy to create, achieving the desired consistency every time might be challenging.

There was little trial and error in perfecting these Steamed Red Bean Buns, but I’ve been practicing mantou recipes for years.

Mantou is commonly associated with a silky, white dough. I’ve learned that it’s not only the dough that makes a difference throughout the years.

The steamed buns need to rest in the steamer with the heat turned off before you remove them. They can lose their shape and volume if removed from a hot steamer too quickly, just like a cake or souffle.

The importance of the dough-to-filling ratio was also discovered. The filling can be reduced, but it should be kept from the amount called for in the recipe.

Too much filling in the middle will compromise the buns’ structure and ruin their light, airy texture.

Now, onto the actual recipe!


  • 7 ounces of red bean paste
  • 1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour (plus more for dusting)
  • 1/3 cup of lukewarm milk
  • 1/4 cup of lukewarm water
  • 3 tablespoons of powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of active dry yeast
  • 1/4 teaspoon of salt


  1. Make the red bean paste first. You can make your own sweet red bean paste using our method, or buy some already made. Our original recipe makes a lot, but you can always use the extras in other dishes, or save them for later by freezing them. This dish calls for a total of four servings, thus reducing the serving size on the recipe card from the suggested 21. You can make the filling a few days ahead of time, but it needs to cool entirely before use.
  2. Dissolve the yeast in warm water by combining 1 teaspoon of sugar with 1/4 cup of water in a wide mixing basin. Tend to for 15 minutes or until yeast becomes foamy.
  3. Then, add the milk and mix the dry ingredients (flour, powdered sugar, and salt). Make sure the mixer is fitted with the dough hook and set at the lowest speed. Run the machine for 5 minutes or knead by hand for 8 minutes, whichever takes longer, until the dough is smooth and soft. A good dough recipe won’t cause your hands or the bowl to stick.
  4. Let the dough rise under a plate for an hour in a warm place or until it has doubled in size. I use the proofing function on my microwave by placing a large mug of freshly boiled water next to the dough as it rises.
  5. Roll 8 balls of red bean filling between your palms to pass the time as the dough rises. Aim for a weight of roughly 25g per item. You can keep them from drying out if you put a damp cloth over them. Don’t bother with it right now.
  6. Remove eight 3×3-inch squares of parchment paper to use as bun holders in the steamer.
  7. When the dough has finished rising, put it back in the mixer and knead it for another 2 to 3 minutes to eliminate any remaining air pockets (or knead by hand). Put onto a fresh, lightly floured work surface. Divide the dough into 8 pieces using a kitchen scale (mine were 50g apiece). While you’re putting together the buns, cover them with a clean dish towel.
  8. Form a 4-inch disc from a ball of dough, with the borders thinner than the center. Position a single red bean-filling ball within the dough. Bring the dough together around the filling and pinch the seam shut.
  9. Transfer the dough to the steaming rack, seam side down, on a parchment square. There should be no less than an inch of room between each bun. To finish making the buns, simply repeat the previous step with the leftover dough.
  10. Get your steamer ready with around 5 cups of hot water. Cover the steamer and place the buns inside. Ensure the steamer’s water is lukewarm to facilitate the proofing process, but leave the heat off for now. Proof for 30 minutes.
  11. The temperature should be increased to medium-high now. If you give the water 15 minutes to come to a boil on low heat and steam the buns, they will be ready to eat when you take them off the heat. Though it may take a while to cook up, you shouldn’t take the lid off or disturb the buns while waiting for it to finish.
  12. Remove the buns from the heat after 15 minutes and let them rest in the steamer for an additional 5 minutes with the lid tightly closed. Both during and immediately after steaming should the lid be removed. To prevent them from collapsing and being wrinkled, give the buns 5 minutes to set. If you want to keep them a secret, you’ll have to wait until the five-minute mark. Enjoy.
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