Sheng jian bao

The first time I had homemade sheng jian bao was circa 1999, when my aunts from Beijing visited and stayed with us for almost a month. That month, they made carb concoction after carb concoction for us. Sheng Jian Bao (or Shui Jian Bao) was one of such carby eats they made (One of the yummy foods they also made was hu bing, a cornmeal ‘pizza’ with garlic chives).

Welp, I had a bunch of sentences about how I believe the origin of sheng jian bao to be in Shanghai and all this stuff…but now I’m all confused after seeing a blog called  TaiwanXifu. She writes, “Earlier today I asked a foodie friend, a chef who formerly worked at the Shanghai Shangrila Hotel, about the origin of Shui Jian Bao. He said that Shui Jian Bao are from Jiangsu/Shanghai. The dough is, as this recipe is, half yeast and half oil based. But Sheng Jian Bao are from Beijing. They are a totally yeasted dough, i.e. bigger and fluffier.”

Ack! Let’s just say I’ll be making what I know as sheng jian bao, also called shui jian bao. If an expert can shed light on the situation and confirm/deny TaiwanXifu’s friend’s words, please leave a comment!

For those who haven’t had the pleasure of eating sheng jian bao before, think of the crispy crunchiness of the potsticker, crossed with the fluffiness of a steamed bun or baozi. If you haven’t had both of those before, think of a meat or vegetable (or both)-filled piece of fluffy yeasted dough, with a crispy and crunchy on the bottom where it meets the pan. Hungry yet?

This pita bread and blog it came from got me thinking about using sourdough starter for EVERYTHING! It also helps that I gave away my quart container of yeast when we moved, and keep forgetting to get some from my sister who lives less than a mile away. Hah.

Not only did I want to use sourdough starter for everything, but I also wanted to use my white whole wheat or red whole wheat  berries (by the way, milling your own flour makes the most sweet and fragrant flour!), so it was a double challenge.

I hesitate to take the time to post recipes that use sourdough starter AND whole wheat AND feature Chinese food, because how many people are in that Venn diagram intersection of interest groups?! Very few, I think. But, maybe there are more of us out there than I appreciate. (By the way, if you are in that intersection, please leave a comment!)  Also, I wonder what came first- sheng jian bao or white, processed, all-purpose flour? Maybe whole wheat was how it’s always been made. Who knows..

Anyway, the first experiment of using sourdough starter in man tou (want to make a post on that someday, too!) was a big flop that resulted in a heavy rock of a dough. I learned from that experience, so here we are.  If you are not in the sourdough or whole wheat club, I’ll also post the recipe I used for ‘regular’ dough.

As for the filling, there are several options- I don’t think there’s any rule, and something that would work in a baozi or dumpling would probably also work in sheng jian bao. On my first trip (of 4) to Taiwan, I ordered a sheng jian bao that looked scrumptious, then bit into it, only to find that it was ONLY CABBAGE and shrimp skin. WHAT! So really, it can be anything, though just seasoned pork seems to be a pretty popular option. I prefer meat (pork) + some vegetable in mine. Hm, maybe napa cabbage wouldn’t be right- I don’t think I’ve ever encountered napa in sheng jian bao. So, maybe no napa. I’ll ask my mom and get back to you ;D

sheng jian bao

More oil and slightly more flour in the steaming water


Pan-Fried Steamed Buns

sheng jian bao / shui jian bao

生煎包 / 水煎包

Servings: Your mileage may vary depending on how big or small you make them, but this made around 32 smallish sheng jian bao for me.



A) Dough leavened from sourdough starter:

3 cups (360 grams) whole wheat flour (red or white) or all-purpose flour

Around 1 cup (236 grams) water

9 Tbsp (Sorry, didn’t weigh this out) active or freshly fed sourdough starter

B)  Dough leavened from commercial yeast 

3 1/4 cup all-purpose flour

Around 1 1/3 cup water  (start with a little less)

1 1/2 tsp active dry yeast


A) 豬肉冬菜

Zhu Rou Dong Cai – Pork and dong cai

12 oz ground pork

1 cup dong cai (冬菜), soaked and rinsed

1/4 cup winter bamboo shoots, finely chopped

2 tsp sesame oil

1/2 tsp white pepper

2 tsp soy sauce

B) 豬肉高麗菜

Zhu rou gao li cai – Pork and cabbage

7 ounces pork

1 tsp minced ginger

1/4 tsp white pepper

13 ounces cabbage, finely chopped (~3 1/2 cups)

3/4 tsp salt (to taste)

1 Tbsp + 2 tsp sesame oil

2 tsp shaoxing wine

2 tsp dried shrimp or shrimp skins (optional)

1 Tbsp soy sauce


Oil for cooking

2-3 tsp flour (optional)



1) Mix the sourdough starter and flour together, then add water while stirring the dough with chopsticks or a rolling pin. There should be no dry bits of flour left in the bowl after you briefly mix the dough. The dough should come together and feel very soft, and only a few grains of whole wheat dough should stick to your hands (see note at the bottom).

2) Let the dough rise for approximately 4-5 hours, or until the dough has approximately doubled.


1) Add a few teaspoons of water, then the yeast, then mix together. Add flour. Add the remaining water minus a few tablespoons, and add water until you get a shaggy dough with no dry bits.

2) Knead until smooth, and let it rise in a bowl, covered, until the dough approximately doubles in volume or doesn’t spring back immediately when you touch it; about 1 hour.

After the dough has risen….

3) Knead rested dough slightly, to ensure that it is homogeneous and smooth. On a lightly floured surface, take a small workable portion of dough, leaving the unused portion covered.

4) Shape the dough into a circle, then poke a hole in the middle of the dough, as if you were to make a bagel. Pinch around the ring, rotating to make the ring larger and larger. Cut the donut to break it into a circular rope; roll into a log about 2 inches in diameter (whatever you choose, just try to make all the logs going forward the same diameter.

5) Use a bench scraper or knife to cut the dough into roughly 1 inch wide chunks of dough, making sure to rotate the dough a quarter turn each time a cut is made. Coat the chunks generously in flour.

6) Turn the chunks of dough so that one of the cut sides is down. Turn the dough around and around to make a Rolo-shaped piece of dough. Do the same to the other side, then flatten into a puck slightly larger than a quarter.

7) Use a rolling pin to roll into skins, and try to make the edges of the circle thinner than the center. It helps to keep your thumb (non-dominant hand) on the center as a guide.

8) Add a small spoonful of filling to the middle of the skin, then wrap all your sheng jian bao as directed in the video. As you finish wrapping each one, line them on a sheet tray.

sheng jian bao

sheng jian bao

I still need practice, obviously; a consistent diameter of the dough log is the first step to uniformity!

9) Oil a cast iron pan or non-stick pan; you only need a little bit, but the more you add, the more fried-like the bottoms will be. Add the baos to the cold pan, and heat up the pan. Don’t worry if they baos are slightly crowded!

10) Pan fry the baos until the bottoms are nice and golden, then add enough water (If you want that cool web-like crust, whisk flour into this addition of water; you’ll need to watch it more closely so that the flour doesn’t burn) to come up about 1/3 way up the sides of the baos. Cover with a lid, and cook on low until all the water is evaporated.

sheng jian bao

11) When the water is evaporated, look at the baos- do they look risen and puffy? You can also poke one of them gently- cooked dough will be airy and easy to poke; uncooked dough will be gluey/gummy and move lazily when prodded. If necessary, add a little more water, cover and cook for longer.

12) Once the baos are cooked through, uncover and let all residual water evaporate to produce a nice crispy crust!

13) Take the baos out of the pan (golden side UP), and enjoy.


-You’ll definitely need to adjust for the amount of water here, depending on whether you use freshly ground wheat flour, commercially-ground wheat flour, or all-purpose flour.

-Because your sourdough starter hydration level is likely different than mine, and I actually wouldn’t be able to tell you the exact hydration level of’s ‘medium’. But don’t worry, it will work!

-Whole wheat flour can be a little tricky, because I find that it actually can absorb more water than you think it can, but you just need to give it time. You may think you added enough water when you mix the dough, but when you come back 30 minutes later, it is drier than you remember it! On the other hand, once mixed with flour, all-purpose flour immediately absorbs all the water it can, and the resting period only makes the dough softer. Because of this, if you are using whole wheat flour, I’d suggest making the dough softer or more wet than you think it should be.

-If you are using all-purpose flour, the dough should definitely not stick to your hands or the bowl in the mixing phase.

-“What a boring and tasteless dough!” you say. Yes. That’s how I like it- just flour, water, and leavening. If you really want, you can add some salt, but for Chinese stuff-wrapped-in-dough items, my tastebuds have always tasted a filling is more than sufficiently seasoned, to go with a purposely blank-slate dough.

-Some dough recipes may call for milk or oil to make the dough more tender, or baking powder (as a shortcut to waiting for the yeast to fully do its thing?), but I’ll probably never add those, as I don’t believe those additional ingredients are critical to success. Cow’s milk has had no place in Chinese food until more recently, anyway..

-Turkey works, but pork tastes a lot more right to me. I used turkey instead of pork in the dong cai filling, and it was good, but would have been much better with pork.

-Dong cai is dried and salted cabbage that has whiffs of garlic- YUMMYY!

-You can find bamboo shoots (winter bamboo) in the freezer section of any Asian grocery store.

-You can also try the garlic chive-pork-shrimp filling from these dumplings, but I’ll leave it to you to adjust the amounts accordingly.

sheng jian bao

Very little oil and only a little bit of flour

sheng jian bao


  1. peggy

    This is a great video!!

  2. Mary

    Found this website from googling dou jiang recipes and boy am I glad! Thanks so much for all your awesome recipes!! P.s. Totally had that same reaction when I went to Taiwan earlier this month and found out I (accidentally) bought four cabbage filled shui jian bao!

    • Megan

      Thanks for writing! Hope you continue to enjoy the recipes..let me know if you try any of them out!!
      P.s. hehehe..

  3. MLee

    I am smack dab in the middle of your Venn diagram…so please, more recipes with sourdough starter.

    I just made a batch of these tonight. Used white whole wheat flour and sourdough starter, and two kinds of already-cooked filling (leftovers from dinner). I reduced the portion to about 1/3 your measurements, though probably used a bit more starter than called for, and added additional water given your note about WWF. I let the dough rise for about 6 hours. The baos turned out good–a little on the dense side and definitely with a tang which I don’t mind. But very good and better than I could have hoped for on the first try.

    I reserved a small amount of dough and made sweet green bean paste buns in the steamer. Not bad either, with the same density and tang as the fried ones.

    Huge thank you for posting this. Believe me, I searched high and low to find a bao recipe for sourdough starter and WWF, that did not require commercial yeast or baking soda. And yours is a true gem. Keep them coming!

    • Megan

      Aw, wow! What an honor to find another Venn diagram middle camper. Yes, I definitely agree that the result is on the dense side (and could be improved to be lighter)- I was also hoping for more light/airy. I hope to give it another go and make the texture taste as if it were all purpose flour! Have you checked out the pita bread post? Also sourdough starter and whole wheat flour, though the recipe is not mine. Thanks so much for writing- hope you enjoy the site!!

  4. Nicole

    Quick question about it: if i were to bring this to school for my daughters class, will they get soggy?

    • Megan

      Unfortunately, I think they will get not necessarily get soggy like mushy, but the condensation from all the heat and steam will make them somewhat shrively, due to all the moisture from the filling! (I assume you’d need to transport them in some sort of closed container) And the pan-fried crunchiness will not be crunchy anymore. Sorry to bring you bad news! I recommend these made and eaten fresh.

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