Sourdough Basic Steamed Buns (Mantou)

The sourdough version of your basic mantou. For the yeasted version, check out this post: Basic Mantou (Steamed Buns)

When you think sourdough you probably think tangy but it doesn’t always have to be. Naturally leavened bread can be very mild in taste if the leavening agent is relatively young. When I first started making sourdough mantou I was using discard that was about 5 days old. It worked fine and even complements flavored versions like Sourdough Espresso Mantou (Steamed Bun) but for the traditional basic version, the tang stood out and is very much unwanted.

The sweet spot for me was using discard that is 3 days old or less. Of course, you can always opt for using active starter or sweet starter. I use my discard straight from the fridge and I mix it in with warm milk to jump start the yeast activity. The longer the rise time, the more sour the dough will become, so this activation with a warm liquid is super important. When mixed with warm milk, my dough is usually ready for me to shape around the 3 hour mark. If I use cold milk with my cold discard, the first rise ends up taking 4 hours or longer. Of course, everyone’s starter is different so you may need to make some tweaks to suit your needs. This is just meant to give you a baseline of the method. Let me know how this recipe works for you!

Here is a timelapse of my discard dough proofing at a room temp of about 72-75F

sourdough discard mantou

Tips & Recommendations

  1. Use bleached flour. This is probably one of the few times I would recommend using bleached flour over unbleached. It really helps to give the mantou its classic white color.
  2. Use active sourdough starter or fresh discard or discard that is no more than 3 days old. The older the discard the more noticeable the tang.
  3. Combine the sourdough with warm milk. This help jump start the yeast activity and reduce the rise time. The longer the rise time, the more sour the bread will be.
  4. Make sure to properly knead the dough until it is smooth and elastic. This gives you fluffy bread that tears into strips.
  5. Be patient and allow your dough to properly rise. If you don’t, the bread will be dense. Sourdough does take a while to leavened and the process cannot be rushed. If you are adamant of using sourdough but you do not want to wait, try spiking the dough with 1/4 tsp of active dry yeast. It should cut about an hour from the rise time.

Looking for more bao & mantou recipes? Check these out!

Sourdough Basic Mantou

A sourdough version of the basic mantou (steamed bread)! Use as a foundation to build all your customizations.
Prep Time20 minutes
Cook Time25 minutes
Rise time5 hours
Course: Appetizer, Dessert, Side Dish, Snack
Cuisine: Chinese
Keyword: sourdough, sourdough discard
Servings: 8 mantou



  • 120 g sourdough starter, active discard*, or sweet levain**
  • 80 g milk or milk of choice or water
  • 25 g granulated sugar
  • 15 g vegetable oil
  • 180 g all purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder


  • Heat up milk in a microwave for 30s. Mix in sugar and oil. Test the temperature– it should be warm. Mix in sourdough starter or discard. I usually use discard straight from the fridge.
  • Combine together flour and baking powder. Mix flour mixture into the sourdough mixture and knead until a smooth and elastic dough forms. The dough is sticky at first but keep working with it ~10 minutes by hand.
    basic steamed mantou
  • Cover and let rise for 2-4 hours depending on how active your starter is and the environment. Using discard from the fridge, with a room temp of around 75F, mine is typically ready to go in about 3.5 hours.
    sourdough discard mantou
  • Prepare your steamer with parchment paper or steaming cloth/liner.
  • Make mantous: Using your hand, flatten the dough onto your work surface. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough out into a rectangle. Take one side and tightly roll into a log. Slice into 8 and place it seam side down on parchment in the steamer. See the notes for more shape options. If you are filling the buns, divide into 10 pieces.
  • Cover the steam basket and let the dough prove for ~2 hours.
  • Add water to a pot and turn your stove on high. Place the steam basket on top and steam for about 10-12 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the buns sit for about 5 minutes before serving.
  • Storage: You can freeze the buns once they have cooled. To reheat, just pop it back into the steam basket and repeat the steaming step.


*Active discard:
Discard from an active sourdough starter that has been in the fridge for no more than 5 days.
**Sweet levain:
To ensure that your buns have no traces of tang, you can use sweet levain instead of starter or discard. Make the levain 8-12 hours before making the mantou. 
15g sourdough starter
45g water
45g flour
45g sugar

Some shapes options: 

Log: Flatten the dough and using a rolling pin, roll out into a long rectangle. Take the shorter side and tightly roll into a log, like making cinnamon rolls or rolling up a poster. Slice into even pieces and place it seam side down on parchment in the steamer


Twists: Divide the dough into golf ball size pieces. Flatten and cut strips in the dough, leaving the top and bottom connected. Brush with oil. Holding the top and bottom edges, stretch and twist the dough into a rope. Hold one end between your thumb and pointer finger and twist the rope around your pointer finger, creating a gap in the middle. Tuck the end into the gap.

Gua bao bun: Divide the dough into golf ball size pieces or larger if desired larger buns. Flatten with the palm of your hand and roll out into a circle. Brush with oil and fold over

Baos: Divide the dough into golf ball balls. Flatten and roll out into circles having the edges being thinner than the middle. Roll out filling into even balls and place the filling in the center of the dough. Wrap the dough around the filling and seal the ends. 

Other Notes

  • adding some white vinegar to the steaming water helps prevent any greying in the dough

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