“Baozi” and “mantou” are steamed buns, a popular brunch bite-size food in China (dim sum). They are cooked in a bamboo steamer basket and served together with tea. The Baozi is typically stuffed with meat, vegetables or a sweet filling like custard, chocolate or jam. Mantou is the plain bun, with no filling added.
Pop culture and the emergence of Kawaii trends, with cute anime characters and colorful plush toys, influenced Asian bakers and made its way into home kitchens. Moms came up with creative food designs to attract their picky children and posted their designs on Instagram. But, one doesn’t need to reinvent the wheel to please their customers, they need only to transform round steamed buns into surprisingly cute characters.
The incredible bakers and talented chefs Xue Ren, Wang Meiji and Shirley Tan used the versatile medium of dough steaming and came up with awe-inspiring designs that were modeled from the fantasy world of pastel magical unicorns, happy rabbits and smiling cloud buns.
The gorgeous Mantoulicius book by Xue Ren @mantoulicius via Amazon
After hours of testing dough compositions at different temperatures and crafting new designs, Xue Ren, baker from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, felt confident to teach workshops in all Asia on how to model 3D Chinese steamed buns with a cute and playful outlook. Xue Ren, founder of Mantoulicious shares her mouth-watering and whimsical recipes in her book on Amazon.
Like the cooking instructors Wang Meiji and Shirley Tan, Xue Ren teaches her students how to make bright-colored and healthy steamed buns using 100% natural food coloring made from natural powders, fruit juice or vegetable puree. The ingredients of the dough are the ones used for making bread: milk or water, yeast, sugar, flour and oil. The secret to the fluffy steam buns is the dough, fermented for increased tenderness and flavor.
Colorful steamed buns in a bamboo steamer by Xue Ren @mantoulicius via Instagram
In Xue Ren’s book you will find about the art of modeling cute steamed buns, step by step instructions about portioning, kneading and steaming techniques and dough fermentation time. She included expert tips on how to improve your success rate and to avoid dry, cracked buns, or soggy and wrinkly buns. With some determination and dough modelling techniques you will be able to create steamed buns that become the centerpiece at every party table and impress your family and friends.
“But why Chinese steamed buns, you may ask. Firstly, the ingredients are readily available and inexpensive. Secondly, the malleable dough provided me with the perfect blank canvas to try out my ideas and express my creativity. As I spent time working with the dough, I also realized that it helped soothe me, making me more patient and focused.” says Xue Ren in “Mantoulicious: Creative & Yummy Chinese Steamed Buns“.
Fluffy mantou clouds by meijimantou via Instagram
Wang Meiji from Taiwan, also Known as the Queen of 3D Styling Steamed Buns makes exquisite pastries with cute characters that were born out of Chinese legends and children’s dreams. After seeing Wong Meiji refined steamed buns on her Instagram one can feel that everyday food looks ordinary. Besides looking beautiful, with silky skins and appetizing colors, her steamed buns are incredibly delicious, packed with fillings made with natural ingredients for a flavorful bite.
Wang Meiji’s models her steamed buns into cute fruits and animals, with fluffy pandas, rabbits, hedgehogs and cats. Her designs includes doll-like figures of Chinese immortals and mermaids. She adds fine details of clothing and miniature objects. Wang Meiji’s steamed buns come with clever surprises: the bananas and oranges can be peeled, and after slicing a green melon you find a piggy pattern inside.
Wang Meiji is a renowned teacher and food consultant that instructs 3D steamed buns workshops in Asia to pastry chefs that want to add kawaii steamed buns in their baking business, and challenges them to come up with their own creative colorful dough styling. Follow her on Instagram (in Chinese) to get inspiration from her mantou and baozi designs.
Sleepy bunny girl with carrots, photo by meijimantou via Instagram
Cute rolled mantou by meijimantou via Instagram
Puffy ginger steamed buns by meijimantout via Instagram
Bear pastry with filling by meijimantou via Instagram
Smiling sloth mantou by meijimantou via Instagram
Sporty shiba inu dog pastry by meijimantou via Instagram
Melon with a surprise piggy pattern by meijimantou via Instagram
Doll-like steamed buns by meijimantou via Instagram
Intricately modeled characters on cake by meijimantout via Instagram
Cute ice cream steamed buns by meijimantou via Instagram
Shirley Tan, Malaysian food artist and baker at Knead to Inspire in Singapore makes adorable steamed buns that are almost too good to eat. She bakes creative pastries with happy sea lions, koalas, penguins, elephants and friendly penguins. Her steam buns are influenced by modern storytelling: from Sanrio’s characters Hello Kitty and Pompompurin to cartoons and books like Alice in Wonderland, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Tom and Jerry. Shirley Tan’s teaches modeling skills for shaping silky, smooth steamed buns to children and adults alike. Her delicious pastries include Valentine’s Day steamed buns with Cupid and Love bear& penguin, a great inspiration for couples with a baking flair. (Scroll down at the end of the article for her cute bear steam buns Youtube tutorial).
Orange sea lion by Shirley Tan @KneadtoInspire via Instagram
Pastel unicorn by Shirley Tan @KneadtoInspire via Instagram
Colorful penguins with miniature design by Shirley Tan @KneadtoInspire via Instagram
Cute doggy with a bow, mantou by Shirley Tan @KneadtoInspire via Instagram
Penguin and bear in love, mantous by Shirley Tan @KneadtoInspire via Instagram
Do you want to learn how to make cute Chinese steamed buns by yourself? Watch Shirley Tan’s cute mantou bears tutorial (in English):
Chef Amanda shows how she colors fruit and animals. Her mantou tutorial is in Chinese with English subtitles:
For coloring with natural ingredients you can get organic powders online on Amazon Suncore Foods Supercolor Powders , or choose a palette of colors from the fruit and vegetables in your kitchen:
Red: strawberries, raspberries, cherries, red beets, grenade, tomato,
Orange: carrots, sweet potato, paprika,
Yellow: saffron, turmeric,
Green: spinach, kale, matcha,
Purple: blueberries, purple sweet potato, red cabbage,
Brown: coffee, tea, cocoa,
Black: activated charcoal.
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