- The best way to store bao buns
- How to freeze bao buns
- Can you refrigerate bao?
- How to reheat bao
- Do you need to thaw bao buns?
- In the microwave
- In the oven
- In a rice cooker or instant pot
- How do you know when bao buns are done?
- How long does bao last?
- Can I make bao in advance?
- How to keep bao buns warm?
- Can you eat bao buns cold?
Making bao can be seriously addictive. If you’ve just made a huge batch of steamed buns and are a bit stumped on how to best to keep them, help is at hand.
Bao are surprisingly easy to keep fresh. You just have to follow a few simple steps to ensure that they don’t stick together or become too soggy.
Reading: how to store siopao after steaming
In this article, I cover everything you need to know about freezing, refrigerating, reheating, and keeping your bao buns fresh. (use these links to jump to the relevant section if you’re in a hurry).
Ready? Let’s jump right in.
How do you store bao? The best way to store bao is in the freezer. Let the bao cool completely and place them on a parchment-lined baking tray. Freeze for 2 hours. Transfer the bao to a freezer bag and remove as much air as possible. Bao will keep for up to 6 weeks in the freezer.
A note on specifics
When I say bao, I’m referring to the yeasty bread that’s usually filled (but can also be folded over and used in the same way as a taco). BBQ pork is the traditional filling, but it can be anything.
All bao, filled and unfilled, should be treated and stored in the same way.
So whatever you’ve been steamed bun/bao concoction you’ve been cooking up, you should find your storage answer here.
The best way to store bao buns
The delicate nature of a bao bun might trick you into thinking they’re impossible to store, but they’re actually really forgiving.
The best way to store leftover bao is in the freezer. Freezing bao buns helps retain their freshness. Once you reheat the bao, it’ll be just as soft as before.
You’d be hard-pushed to tell the difference between fresh and frozen bao buns once they’re steaming hot.
How to freeze bao buns
You can freeze filled and unfilled, steamed, and baked bao in the same way.
It’s best to freeze bao after cooking because freezing them before cooking complicates the cooking process and means it’s easy to overcook them.
- Leave the steamed buns to cool down to room temperature.
- Place the buns on a parchment-paper-lined baking tray. Spread them out to make sure they’re not touching.
- Place the baking tray in the freezer for 1-2 hours.
- After 2 hours, place the buns in an airtight container or heavy-duty freezer bag.
- Label the container and return to the freezer.
Bao can last up to 4-6 weeks in the freezer before the quality will start to deteriorate. However, they’ll remain safe to eat long after this time (as long as the freezer is kept below 0 degrees Fahrenheit).
It’s very important that you let the bao cool before you freeze them. Otherwise the excess water will ruin their texture in the freezer.
The first freeze is what I call a flash freeze. It hardens the buns and makes them less sticky. This means they won’t stick together when you transfer them to a bigger container.
Try to find an airtight container without too much room left over.
You want to avoid exposing the buns to too much air or they may develop freezer burn.
If you can’t find an appropriately sized container, either wrap the buns in plastic wrap before putting them in the container or use a freezer bag. With a freezer bag, you can squeeze any excess air out (or use a straw).
To reheat the frozen bao buns, steam them for 7-8 minutes or wrap them in a damp paper towel and put them in the microwave for 30-40 seconds. Add an additional 5-10 seconds for every extra bun.
You can freeze bao before steaming them, but I don’t recommend it. It could be fine, but there’s also a risk that something will go wrong with the rise and the bao will end up flat and chewy.
The dough needs to have risen at least once before you freeze it.
If you do choose to freeze the bao uncooked, flash freeze them for an hour before putting them in the airtight container. The flash-freezing ensures that they don’t stick together.
I would completely assemble the bao before you freeze them, so all that’s left to do is cook them.
You can steam them straight from frozen.
Can you refrigerate bao?
If you only need to keep your bao for a day or two then you can refrigerate them instead of freezing them.
It’s best to refrigerate bao and steamed buns after you’ve cooked them.
Leave the buns to cool to room temperature before putting them in an airtight container and storing them in the refrigerator.
Cooked buns will keep for 3-4 days in the refrigerator.
It’s really important to let the bao cool. If you don’t, condensation can build up and make the bao soggy. If you’re worried about moisture, put a sheet of kitchen towel in with the bao to absorb any excess moisture.
I’d always advise cooking the bao before storing them. But, you can refrigerate uncooked bao as long as you’ve used yeast as the leavening agent and not baking soda or baking powder.
If you’ve used either of the latter, they’ll spend themselves in the refrigerator and the dough will become tough.
Yeast lasts a lot longer and can survive a few days in the refrigerator.
The dough will continue to rise in the fridge, albeit a lot more slowly. To account for this, some people choose to use less yeast in their dough if they know it’s going to be refrigerated.
To refrigerate the bao buns, place them well spread apart on a non-stick baking tray, then cover them with plastic wrap. The plastic wrap will stop them from drying out. The yeasted dough can last up to three days in the fridge, but it’s better if you use it within two.
The reason I don’t advise storing the bao uncooked is that it can mess with the rising of the bun. In turn, this can affect the final product’s fluffiness.
How to reheat bao
There are several ways to reheat bao, with the most popular methods being steaming or microwaving.
Steaming is very reliable and always results in a fluffy texture. Microwaving is more unpredictable but can give good results quickly.
You can also fry or bake the buns, but this can change the texture.
Once you’ve reheated them, eat the bao straight away and don’t freeze or refrigerate them again.
Do you need to thaw bao buns?
No, there’s no need to defrost frozen bao buns before reheating (or cooking) them. You can put them in the microwave, steamer, or oven straight from frozen.
If you decide to thaw them, they will defrost in the refrigerator in a few hours. Or in an hour at room temperature
If you’re heating the bao from frozen, allow an extra few minutes cooking time.
Steaming is the best and most reliable way of reheating bao.
- Set up your steamer (bamboo or metal) and boil some water.
- If the buns are refrigerated, take them out of the fridge and let them come to room temperature. Frozen buns can be put in the steamer straight from the freezer.
- Once the water is boiling, lower the heat to medium-high and place the buns in the steamer.
- Cover the steamer with a dishcloth before putting the lid on.
- Steam the buns for 7-8 minutes for frozen buns, or 2-3 minutes for refrigerated buns. These times are for filled buns, you can reduce them by a minute or so for unfilled buns.
The exact times will vary depending on the size of your bao and how many you’re reheating.
If you have big, filled buns you’re planning to reheat from frozen, you might want to defrost them a little before you steam them. This will ensure that the filling heats up evenly.
The dishcloth helps to catch condensation before it drips on the buns. If any condensations drips on your buns, they’ll become wet and soggy.
The texture of the bao comes from steaming, so it makes sense that reheating them this way results in the softest texture. The buns also stay hot for much longer than microwave reheating.
This a good thing because the buns usually go hard as they cool down.
If you’re reheating steamed buns for a party or an event, you want them to stay hot and soft as long as possible.
In the microwave
Microwaving is the quickest way to reheat bao.
Wrap your buns in a damp paper towel and microwave them in 10-second intervals until you have steaming hot buns, one bun should take around 20 seconds. Frozen buns will take 30-40 seconds.
The damp paper towel will create the steam needed to re-fluff the buns.
Other ways to create steam in the microwave include:
- Sprinkle the buns with a few drops of water and then wrap them loosely in plastic wrap.
- Microwave the buns with a cup of water in the microwave.
- Microwave the buns sitting ON TOP of a cup of water (life hack!). The water steams up and heats the bun from underneath just like in a real steamer. An alternative to this is to buy a microwave steamer.
Microwaving times will vary depending on the power of your microwave, the size of your buns, and how many buns you’re reheating. This is why I suggest using 10 seconds intervals.
It’s very easy to over-nuke bao and the results are disastrous – a rubbery, chewy brick.
Checking on your bao regularly is the best way to avoid this.
If you have baked buns, you can still use the microwave to reheat them. But for the best texture, placing the buns in a toaster oven for 2-3 minutes will get them dry on the outside.
You’ll want to eat the bao as soon as they come out of the microwave. They’ll cool down very quickly and can become hard if you leave them for too long.
In the oven
If you have baked bao buns, the best way to reheat them is in the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and lay the bao out on a non-stick baking tray.
Cover the bao with foil and bake them for 10-15 mins. Add a couple of extra minutes on for frozen buns.
The foil stops the bao from over-browning on the top.
Pan-frying is great if you’re a little bit bored of soft steamed buns and want some crisp. Heat some oil in a pan before putting the buns in and frying them. After 2 minutes, flip the bao over to fry the other side. After about 5 minutes they should be heated through.
Note: times will vary based on the size of the bao. This method will only work well for smaller-sized buns.
For this method, you’ll want to thaw frozen buns before frying them. This will ensure they cook evenly and quickly enough to avoid burning the outside. Frozen buns may go soggy due to all the water melting in the pan.
In a rice cooker or instant pot
If you don’t have a steamer, you can create a steamer out of a rice cooker or instant pot. Some of them even come with steamer attachments.
Put 1-2 inches of water in the rice cooker and add the steamer attachment. Or use a bowl and rest a plate on top of the bowl. Turn on the rice cooker/instant pot and wait for the water to boil. When the water’s boiling add the buns and close the lid.
I always put a dishcloth underneath the lid to catch any condensation.
Check on the bao buns after 7-8 minutes if they’re frozen, or 2-3 minutes if they’re thawed. They should be soft and heated through.
How do you know when bao buns are done?
The bao buns are done when they’re soft to the touch and heated all the way through. If you’re not sure, stick a knife in the bao bun and pull it out. If the knife feels hot to the touch then the bao buns are done.
How long does bao last?
Cooked bao will last 3-4 days in the refrigerator and 4-6 weeks in the freezer. After 6 weeks in the freezer the bao will start to deteriorate in quality. Bao should be stored in an airtight container in both the refrigerator and the freezer.
Uncooked bao (made with yeast) will last 2-3 days in the refrigerator. If the bao are made using baking soda or baking powder they shouldn’t be refrigerated. Uncooked bao made with yeast, baking soda or baking powder can frozen where they’ll stay at best quality for 4-6 weeks.
Can I make bao in advance?
Yes, bao are great candidates for making in advance. You can make them up to a month in advance if you freeze them. Freeze them after you’ve cooked them for best results. You can reheat the bao buns when you want to use them in just a few minutes.
You can also make the filling up to one day ahead and store it in the refrigerator. Don’t freeze the filling as this can turn it watery.
I don’t recommend making the dough ahead of time unless you’re going to cook it, mainly because storing it can mess with the rising.
How to keep bao buns warm?
Bao buns are a popular party snack, but this raises the question of how to keep them warm for your guests.
You don’t want to bao becoming cold because this will turn them hard. (Yuk).
To keep bao warm, you can keep them in the steamer with the lid closed. This will keep them warm for about 10-15 minutes. Not the longest, I know.
If that isn’t long enough, the best thing to do is let the bao cool down and then reheat them when you need them. Reheating will take 30 seconds in the microwave or 2-3 minutes in a steamer.
Can you eat bao buns cold?
As bao buns cool down, their soft fluffy texture changes to tough and chewy. I wouldn’t advise eating cold bao. It doesn’t take long to reheat bao, you can stick them in the microwave for 30 seconds or steam them for 2-3 minutes. Bao buns reheat really well.