Using a stand mixer with the dough hook attachment, mix the flour, cornstarch and salt together for 30 seconds.
Pour the milk into a bowl and microwave on high for about 45 seconds. Add the sugar to the bowl. Test the temperature of the milk and see if it is somewhere between 110ºF and 120ºF. If it is hotter, wait a few minutes for the milk to cool.
Add the yeast and swirl it into the milk. Let the milk and yeast sit for 10 minutes. The yeast should foam up.
Pour the milk, sugar, yeast, and oil into the bowl with the dry ingredients. Mix the dough on low speed for 5 to 6 minutes. Take the dough out of the bowl and knead it on a dry surface for another minute. The dough shouldn’t stick to the board. If it does, lightly dust your work surface with flour. Shape the dough into a ball. The ball should be very smooth.
Place the dough into a bowl and cover it with a damp towel or silicone lid. Let the dough rest for an hour.
Shape the Dough
Cut out 12 pieces of parchment paper (about 3.5 inches by 2 inches) or cut out 3 circular sheets of parchment that will line the bamboo steamer basket perfectly.
Fill a small bowl with 1.5 tablespoons of safflower oil.
Punch down to the dough and turn it over a lightly floured surface.
Divide the dough into 12 pieces, about 43g to 44g each. I like steaming 4 buns at a time, so I set aside 4 pieces dough. Then, I cover and refrigerate the remaining dough in a bowl.
Lightly dust your work surface with flour.
Take a piece of dough and shape it into a ball. Lightly roll the ball in flour. Use a rolling pin to roll out the dough into an oval that is about 4.5 inches long and 3 inches wide.
Lightly brush the surface of the rolled out dough with oil. Fold the dough in half. Set the folded bao in a parchment-lined steamer basket or place a small piece of parchment paper underneath the bao. Cover the steamer basket with the lid as you roll out the remaining 3 pieces of dough.
Once you have shaped 4 buns, let the buns rest for 20 minutes.
Steam the Buns
Fill your wok (or large sauté) pan with water. You want just enough water in there so that when you set the steamer basket down, the water grazes the bottom of the steamer basket. Don’t place the buns in the wok just yet.
Bring the water to boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low. Set the covered bamboo steamer basket with the buns inside the wok. Steam the buns for 8 minutes. Turn off the heat. Let the buns stay in the wok, covered for another 10 minutes. Don’t open the lid too quickly or the buns can deflate, causing the surface to wrinkle.
While the first batch of buns are cooling, I usually prepare the next batch of buns.
Transfer the steamed buns to a plate and cover it with a dry towel so that they stay warm. Continue shaping and steaming the buns.
Make the Quick Pickled Vegetables
Add the rice vinegar, sugar, and salt to a bowl and stir until the sugar and salt dissolve. Then, add the sesame oil.
Add the sliced cucumber and carrots to the bowl. Let the vegetables sit in the bowl until the tofu is cooked and all the buns are steamed.
Cook the Tofu
Slice the tofu into strips that are about 3 inches long and 1 inch thick. You don’t have to be too precise with the shape of the tofu.
Heat 2 tablespoons of oil on a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the tofu and pan fry them for about 8 to 10 minutes, flipping them around so that you get several sides golden brown.
Reduce the heat to low. The teriyaki sauce has a considerable amount of sugar in it, so you don’t want it to burn when you add the sauce to the pan. Add the teriyaki sauce to the pan. Flip the tofu pieces so that the tofu is coated in the sauce. Turn off the heat and transfer the tofu to a plate.
Assemble the Vegetarian Gua Bao
Take one of the steamed buns and add 1 or 2 strips of teriyaki tofu in the center. Add some of the pickled vegetables, sliced scallions, and peanuts. Drizzle with a little more teriyaki sauce, if you like.
NUTRITION INFORMATION: Amount gua bao: Calories: 198, Total Fat 6.6g, Saturated Fat: 1.2g, Cholesterol: 1.5mg, Sodium: 340mg, Total Carbohydrate: 25.5g, Dietary Fiber: 2g, Sugar: 4.1g, Protein 8.7g
I like adding a tiny bit of cornstarch to the dough because I thought the buns without the cornstarch was too airy. You can substitute with tapioca starch or wheat starch.
You can also use canola oil or vegetable oil. Any oil with neutral flavor will work for the buns.
I used super firm tofu because I don’t need to press it before cooking.
Freezing Directions: You can steam the buns ahead and place them in a freezer bag. Try to arrange the buns in a single layer so that they don’t stick together too much. When you are ready to eat them, steam the frozen buns for about 6 to 8 minutes, until heated through.