Catching up: Chinese Flower Steam Buns (BBB September 2009)

go directly to the recipe

BBB: Let's Get Baking summary: recipe for Steamed Flower Rolls based on the recipes for Xiang Cong Hya Juan Bao (Chinese flower steam buns) in “Global Baker” by Dean Brettschneider and Flower Rolls (huajuan) in “Mrs. Chiang’s Szechwan Cookbook” by Ellen Schrecker; information about Bread Baking Babes and Lynn’s High5; submission for YeastSpotting; (click on images to see larger views and more photos)

Bread Baking Babes (BBB): Chinese Flower Steam Buns

At last!!

flower rolls My promise to bake all the previous BBBabe breads continues to haunt me….

I have been thinking for quite a while that I really should try the steamed flower rolls. Every time we go to China Town, I see someone preparing stuffed rolls for steaming (I love that so many of the restaurants have people preparing food in front of those big picture windows facing onto the street!) and remember that we’ve GOT to try them.

And then when we got to the Flower Roll section in Mrs. Chiang’s Cookbook, I was even more resolved to get cracking. The two recipes are not unsimilar so I decided to almalgamate.

I got steamed up!! Finally…

I know. I’m only a couple of years late. I hope the BBBabes will forgive me (again) for my tardiness (and flagrant disregard of some of the instructions).

Steamed Flower Rolls Diary:

Monday 6 February, 16:13: Oh oh. I was so hoping that we would be having flower rolls with tonight’s dinner! I mixed and kneaded the dough around noon today, placed it in its mixing bowl (even though the instructions said to oil the rising bowl, I was once again disobedient and left the bowl untouched), covered it with a plate and put it to rise in the oven with only the light turned on.

The dough hasn’t budged.

I don’t THINK it’s because I didn’t follow the recipe exactly…. The only thing I didn’t add was the butter. Why? Because while I was putting together the BBB recipe, I noted that Mrs.Chiang doesn’t add butter to the dough but slathers the risen dough with lard instead. (I haven’t yet decided if I will do that or not. It all depends on how things go with the rising.)

The other change I made was to use lukewarm water rather than cold. The BBB recipe doesn’t appear to expect the dough to rise. But Mrs.Chiang’s recipe clearly states that it should rise to double. Not once, but twice. Oh dear…

In spite of the fact that something has gone awry and caused the dough to sit in a little lump refusing to rise, I will just pretend that everything will be fine and proceed with preparing the bamboo steamers.

I can’t even remember when we got our bamboo steamers. (Was it 10 years ago? 15? 20? :lalala:) They were a gift from my sister and I’m a bit horrified to confess that we’ve never used them. Luckily, there are instructions galore on the internet for what to do with brand new bamboo steamers. Isn’t the internet great?!

Before using for the first time, scrub the bamboo thoroughly with mild soap and water. While it is still wet, steam it for 30 minutes. […] [I]f you are making steamed bread, lightly grease the bamboo slats and then place the dough directly in the steamer. When finished, remember to take off the lid and let the steam disperse before reaching in for food. […] Another helpful hint is not to allow the food to come in contact with the steamer and you won’t have sticking, or rancidity. Use a bed of lettuce or other fresh leaves, or parchment paper.
-Arlene Wright-Correll: Tips for cooking with bamboo steamers (

19:02: After washing and steaming the steamers, I put them into the oven with the bowl holding the still small lump of dough and hoped that the steam would encourage a little action. I also put little plate with a blob of butter into the oven – to soften it so I could spread it.. I decided to use it instead of lard.

Lo and behold, the steam worked! When I went to make the flower rolls 15 minutes ago, the dough lump was larger. I proceeded with the next step.

Using a rolling pin, roll out each piece to a 25cm square. […] Brush the dough surface lightly with oil and sprinkle the chopped chives and chillies evenly over the dough. Season with salt. Fold the dough in half and then cut into 2.5cm strips so that you end up with 10 folded strips. Stretch each strip and, starting at the folding edge, twist the two pieces of each strip over each other to form a rope. Take the twisted rope and tie into a double knot, tucking the loose ends underneath.
-BBB flower steam bun recipe

Even though I read this section over and over and looked at the other BBBabes’ completed steamed buns, I just couldn’t wrap my mind around how to do this. I decided to follow Mrs.Chiang’s method instead. She says to roll out the dough into a large rectangle and sprinkle it with salt, slather with lard and scatter green onions overtop before rolling it up like a jelly roll. Her next instruction is to:

Then take a chopstick and press it down across the middle of each piece so the inside layers flare out, sort of like a fan.
-Ellen Schrecker, Flower Rolls (huajuan), Mrs. Chiang’s Szechwan Cookbook, p. 486

My pea brain could manage this. It’s sort of like making cinnamon buns. Not to mention that I had watched a YouTube video showing exactly how to use the chopsticks.

flower rolls So that’s what I did. Except I slathered the beautifully smooth and elastic dough with soft butter instead of lard as Mrs. Chiang suggests. Then I drizzled a little smoked sesame oil overtop and used a pastry brush to spread it around evenly before scattering the chopped green onions and red chillies over-top. Turning each piece into fans was child’s play and they looked stunning. I turned a bowl upside down over them to keep them moist and left them to sit and maybe by a miracle rise.

19:42: I just peeked in at the steaming buns and…

flower rolls They popped!! They popped!!! They’re easily twice as large and they look beautiful!

And they tasted pretty wonderful as well. I don’t know if they were correct or not. But we don’t care. They were a little chewy and really delicious!

We served them with pork and peanuts, stir-fried broccoli and rice. Dinner was, once again, wonderful.

Here is the BBB recipe and here is what I did to it:

Flower Rolls
based on the recipes for Xiang Cong Hya Juan Bao (Chinese flower steam buns) in “Global Baker” by Dean Brettschneider and Flower Rolls (huajuan) in “Mrs. Chiang’s Szechwan Cookbook” by Ellen Schrecker

makes 6-8 rolls


  • 10 gm whole-wheat flour
  • 140 gm unbleached all-purpose flour ¹
  • 7.5 gm sugar
  • good pinch of salt
  • 1/8 tsp baking powder
  • 1/8 tsp active dry yeast
  • 75 gm lukewarm water ²


  • Kosher salt
  • 1 Tbsp (or so) butter ³
  • sesame oil 4
  • 20 gm green onions, chopped
  • 12 gm red chillies, chopped
  1. mixing After whisking the yeast into the water, put all the dough ingredients into a largish bowl and stir together with a wooden spoon. The dough will be quite stiff so if there is still flour in the bowl, use your hands to mix it in. Karen says: “Don’t be tempted to add any water or the steam buns will be flat after steaming.“.
  2. kneading Place the lump of dough onto an UNfloured board. Wash and dry the mixing bowl. Then knead the dough well for about 5 minutes until it is quite smooth. The BBB recipe suggests using a rolling pin to roll/fold/roll the dough as you would for making fresh pasta.
  3. Put the kneaded dough into the clean bowl (no need to oil the bowl), cover with a plate and leave it in a non-drafty area of the kitchen (or in the oven with only the light turned on if your kitchen is cold) to allow it ferment until it has doubled. (The BBB recipe suggests leaving it for only 15 minutes…)
  4. Filling and Shaping When the dough has doubled, turn it out onto an UNfloured board and using a rolling pin, roll it out into a rectangle that is about 1/8 inch deep.
  5. Sprinkle salt evenly and lightly over the surface. Slather with butter then drizzle a small amount of toasted sesame oil overtop. Use a pastry brush to spread the sesame oil evenly. Scatter the chopped chives and chillies over. Starting at the narrow end, roll the rectangle up like a jelly roll. Put it seam side down on the board and cut into pieces about an inch long. Use a chopstick to push the center of each piece to make the spirals curl upwards.
  6. Cover the shaped buns with an upside-down bowl and allow to rest for about 15 minutes. Use that time to get the steamer ready.
  7. Pour water into the bottom of a large pot that will fit the bamboo steamer. Remove the bamboo steamer lid and place the buns on a parchment paper in the steamer. Make sure they are 3-4 cm apart. They will expand. Replace the steamer lid and steam for 20 minutes or the buns are firm to the touch.

Serve immediately. Mrs. Chiang suggests serving them with ham; we had them with pork and peanuts.


1. Flour: Mrs. Chiang simply calls for all-purpose flour. Brettschneider calls for Chinese flour (and BBB Karen suggests using a low gluten flour like cake flour). I decided to add just a touch of whole wheat. I just can’t help myself….

2. Water: Brettschneider calls for chilled water, placed in the refrigerator overnight but Mrs. Chiang calls for lukewarm water. Because our kitchen is so ridiculously cool in winter, I elected to use warm water. (Good thing I did; imagine how long it would have taken for the dough to rise if I’d used cold water!) Tap water is fine to use – just make sure that it has stood for at least 12 hours so that the chlorine has dissipated. Under no circumstances should you use water from the hot water tap. Heat the water in a kettle or microwave and add cold water until it is the correct temperature, (use the baby bottle test on the back of your wrist – your fingers have no idea of temperature!) Or you can use a thermometer. The temperature should be BELOW 120F because yeast begins to die when the temperature is higher than 120F.

3. Butter: The BBB recipe calls for 7.5gm butter to be put into the dough itself (I think). I elected to slather the butter onto the dough after rolling it out.

4. Sesame oil: Brettschneider calls for rice bran oil to brush onto the dough; Mrs. Chiang suggests slathering the dough with lard. Other flower roll recipes call for toasted sesame oil. We didn’t have any rice bran oil but we always have sesame oil on hand.

We each had two flower rolls and after the initial surprise that they were rather similar to firm pasta, we both decided we loved them. We think they’d be brilliant as part of a vegetarian dinner – they have such a lovely firm texture.

Mrs. Chiang says that flower rolls can be made in advance and reheated by steaming again for a few minutes. Alternatively:

Leftover huajuan are particularly good if they are fried in deep fat until they turn golden. Many restaurants in Taipei served them this way, and they were magnificent – crisp on the outside and soft on the inside.

-Ellen Schrecker, Flower Rolls (huajuan), “Mrs. Chiang’s Szechwan Cookbook”, p.334

flower rolls Well. We had to try this!! This morning, we cut the three leftover rolls in half and deep-fried them in vegetable oil in the wok. We served them hot and golden and crisp with tart plum jam from two summers ago. Not exactly plum sauce – better than plum sauce!

They. Were. Brilliant!

So brilliant that I’m going to make flower rolls again for tomorrow night.

Thank you BBBabes for this wonderful new (for us) bread! And a very belated many many thanks again to my sister for the bamboo steaming baskets that made this adventure entirely possible!

Bread Baking Babes
Bread Baking Babes: Chinese Steamed Flower Buns

Karen (Bake My Day!) was the host of the September 2009’s Bread Baking Babes’ task. She wrote:

September 24, 2009

Dear readers, from this Kitchen of the Month we interrupt our regular programming to bring you this important announcement:

The Bread Baking Babes haven’t been baking this month.

You read that right, we’re not baking we’re steaming! (Obvious huh, we’re Babes!) So what’s keeping you, get out that steam pan, upend the plant to get to its bamboo container, relieve your son from his make-shift helmet (aka your colander) and steam along.

I confess that one of the reasons (the first reason was laziness) I didn’t make these earlier was that I was afraid they’d be disgusting and slimy. I was WRONG!! Not disgusting. Not slimy at all. They were firm but soft. And what a wonderful flavour!

And if you didn’t already see them, or if it has been a while since you looked, please take a look at the other BBBabes’ Chinese Flower Steamed Buns:

For complete details about the BBB, please read:


Lynn’s High Five

High5: I did it! High 5! I did it!! I have now completed another part of my own private challenge to bake more of the BBBabe’s recipes.

You select the challenge – you know best what intimidates you, what you’ve been putting off trying. When you put up your post, just slap up this logo to let the world know you’ve taken on something new and given it a good kicking! – Lynn (Cookie baker Lynn), I Did It (and you can, too)


Yeastspotting - every Friday ( image)

Each week, Susan (Wild Yeast) compiles a list of many bread-specific recipes from across the web. For complete details on how to be included in the YeastSpotting round up, please read the following:


Steamed Flower Rolls (BBB)Fried Steamed Flower Rolls



This entry was posted in baking, BBBabes, bread - yeasted & unyeasted, bread recipe, cookbooks, etc., food & drink, posts with recipes, side, vegetarian on by . BBB steamed flower rolls - ejm

* Thank you for visiting. Even though I may not get a chance to reply to you directly, I love seeing your responses and/or questions and read each and every one of them. Please note that your e-mail address will never be displayed on this site, nor will it ever be shared.

"Moderation" is in use. It may take a little time before your response appears. Responses containing unsolicited advertising will be deleted as spam (which means any subsequent attempts will be automatically relegated to the spam section and unlikely to be retrieved). For further information, please read the Discussion Policy.

3 responses to “Catching up: Chinese Flower Steam Buns (BBB September 2009)

  1. MyKitchenInHalfCups

    In spite of the fact that something has gone awry and caused the dough to sit in a little lump refusing to rise, I will just pretend that everything will be fine and proceed with preparing the bamboo steamers. Oh eh gad Elizabeth, just pretend everything will be fine … that is how I tend to operate with a great frequency and when it works like here it is such a grand thing isn’t it.
    You steamed very nicely and fried equally well. Like those both. There were really lovely things. I should make them again.

  2. Baking Soda

    Here’s another Babe thinking that she should make them again! (Not in the least because she wants to know how they are when deep fried… oh no).

    Great dedication Elizabeth and a lovely result.

  3. ejm Post author

    Yes, indeed, flower rolls are really good! I made them again last night – but used about 4 times the amount of yeast and the dough rose really nicely.

    Then we deep-fried half of them. T prefers the deep-fried version (he LOVES them) and I prefer the steamed ones. Yes, we’re Mr. and Mrs. Spratt….

    We’ll definitely be making these again and again. What’s really cool is that I’d never have had the nerve to try them if it weren’t for the fact that they were a BBB project. Thanks, once again, BBBabes for the push to try something new!!



Leave a Reply to Baking Soda Cancel reply

You must fill in the "response", "name", and "email" fields. Please rest assured that your email address will never be posted or shared. This site uses Akismet to reduce spam; learn how your discussion data is processed. Please note that the optional fields that point to your website URL and website name may be removed without notice. For more information about what can (or cannot) be included, please read the Discussion Policy.