וַיֹּאמֶר מֹשֶׁה אֲלֵהֶם הוּא הַלֶּחֶם אֲשֶׁר נָתַן ה’ לָכֶם לְאָכְלָה… אֵת אֲשֶׁר תֹּאפוּ אֵפוּ וְאֵת אֲשֶׁר תְּבַשְּׁלוּ בַּשֵּׁלוּ:
What is the brakhah on Bao Buns? They are prepared similarly to bread dough, but are steamed, not baked.
The brakhah is mezonot, even if you eat enough of them to be making a meal of it (koveya se’udah). According to halakha, only baking makes something bread. There are some poskim who make an exception to this rule, and state that if something was cooked and has the appearance of bread, then in some cases, the proper brakhah might be HaMotzi, but that is not relevant here, as Bao Buns do not have the appearance of bread.
There is a category known as pat haba’ah bekisnim, “bread with pockets, or filling,” which may apply to certain filled pastries or the like. One would recite a HaMotzi over things that fall into this category if she were to be koveya se’udah, make them into a meal. That is not relevant here, however, since those items are genuine pat, that is, bread that is baked. In our case, there is no pat or lechem at all, so making a meal of them does not change the brakhah. See Mishna Berurah 168:72 who writes: “For something is not called lechem, bread, unless it is baked. And since this item has not been baked in an oven or on a pan without liquid, the name lechem, bread, does not apply to it.”
FOLLOW UP QUESTION
Fancier baking ovens actually have the capacity to steam as they bake. What’s the threshold that makes something “steamed” vs “baked” in this case?
The brakhah for bread baked in such ovens would definitely beHaMotzi, since we rule that the brakhah for bread that is first baked and then cooked, or first cooked and then baked is HaMotzi. Doing both cooking and braking simultaneously would be the same halakah, and this is certainly true when it comes to steaming which is less significant halakhically than cooking (see Shulkhan Arukh, Orach Chayim 168:10 and 14).