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I have finally mastered a TikTok recipe for bao buns – but they take almost five hours

<span>Bao buns are like clouds … if it all comes together.</span><span>Photograph: LauriPatterson/Getty Images/iStockphoto</span>
Bao buns are like clouds … if it all comes together.Photograph: LauriPatterson/Getty Images/iStockphoto

I have been following the rise of the bao bun very keenly – the pallid little puffballs are enjoying a boom in Britain’s snack sector – on account of the fact that I learned to make them myself. It took me a long time and made me question a lot of things, including my soundness of mind. For anyone without teenagers in their house, there is a new frontier in knowledge exchange, which is the TikTok recipe. It’s like a regular recipe, except with a twist: it’s also like the world’s hardest IQ test.

The posters are mainly American and the dishes are mainly Korean (or air-fryer-based). The TikTokkers will tell you in broad terms what the ingredients are, but incredibly fast and often with swearing. Think of the craft segments on Blue Peter – painstakingly described, with one they made earlier – then make it 150 times faster and much bluer.

TikTok recipes always contain gochujang, the Korean chilli paste (unless they are bao buns, duh) and you never know how much. It must be possible to pause a TikTok, but I’ve never managed it, possibly because my hands are covered in gochujang. Instead, I have to move at the same speed as the TikTokker, but that isn’t as easy as it sounds, because they are 12 and they already know what they intend to do.


There is a perfectly serviceable bao recipe on BBC Good Food. In fact, the whole internet knows how to make them, but the TikTok ones are somehow more awesome – puffier, springier. I guess they are using a filter. I nearly gave up so many times, but the surrender felt too momentous, like: what next? Do I have to retire?

For ages, nothing looked quite right: the yeast wouldn’t fizz like theirs; the buns were much more chewy than described (“clouds” is the texture they are all going for). I developed a bao-related swearing syndrome from listening to the same guy cursing for no reason at a bowl of flour for the 29th time. Then, one day, it all came together. Now, I can knock up 18 of them for a quid, in only four and a half hours. It’s a stunningly good use of my one wild and precious life.

• Zoe Williams is a Guardian columnist