Char siu bao are to the Chinese tea lunch what egg and watercress sandwiches are to an English afternoon tea. These barbecued pork buns are the quintessential Cantonese tea snack, and no excursion to yum cha is complete without them. The most traditional char siu bao are steamed, but for my second blog post on dim sum I’m going to share with you the slightly westernized, baked version of this delicious treat.
Making these buns is a two-step process. First, you make the filling and then you make the bun dough. To make things simpler, you might want to prepare the meat filling a day before you plan on baking the buns. The second part of the recipe is making the bun dough, where a water roux (also called a tangzhong) is used to add extra moisture and softness to the lightly sweetened dough. Soft and supple is considered to be the ideal texture for Asian breads, very different from the ideal for French breads like baguettes, and the tangzhong is how we achieve this. This dough recipe works equally well in both a stand mixer with a dough hook or a bread machine. If you are using a stand mixer, be careful not to over mix, which would result in a lumpy, non-elastic dough that won’t allow you to get those smooth, shiny bun tops!
With the use of some brown cupcake liners (that remind me of Sprinkles Cupcakes) and a tart/cupcake pan, I was able to make a rounder, taller bun, almost brioche-like in appearance. You can certainly use a standard cookie sheet or pan, but you will get slightly shorter bun that is a bit more spread out. For special parties, try using different patterned or colored cupcake liners for a modern and fresh look for your char siu baos. The buns I’ve made here are topped off with some black sesame seeds and chopped chives, which are also mixed into the filling for a fresh pop of green color and fanciness.
Honey BBQ Char Siu Pork Buns
Makes 16- 3″ buns.
3 cups bread flour
3 Tbsp Bird’s Custard Powder
1 Tbsp nonfat dry milk
1 Tbsp instant yeast (I use SAF instant)
1/4 cup white sugar
2 Tbsp butter at room temp
3 Tbsp vegetable or canola oil
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/4 cup water
bench flour and oil for proofing bowl
1/2 cup water
2 Tbsp bread flour
2 Tbsp vegetable or canola oil
1 small yellow or brown onion, finely chopped
2 Tbsp rice wine or sherry
3/4 pound roasted Chinese barbecued pork, diced into 1/4″ cubes
6 Tbsp water
4 tsp oyster sauce
4 tsp low sodium soy sauce
1 Tbsp hoisin sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
2 Tbsp sugar
5 tsp cornstarch
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1- 3/4 oz. package of fresh chives, chopped
1 egg, mixed with 1 tsp water
1 Tbsp honey, mixed with 1 tsp hot water
2 Tbsp black sesame seeds
2 Tbsp chopped chives (reserved)
Stand mixer with dough hook attachment or bread machine
rolling pin or scale
2- 12 hole muffin or tart pans, or 1 muffin/tart pan and 1 regular baking sheet
1.) Make the Pork Filling. Put a large skillet on medium-high heat. Add the oil to the pan and then add chopped white onions. Cook onions until softened and lightly carmelized, about 5-7 minutes. Pour in the sherry or rice wine and let it cook out. Lower the heat to medium and add in the diced pork. Cook this mixture for an extra 2 minutes. Meanwhile, mix all the rest of the ingredients (except chives) in a small bowl to create a slurry. Add the slurry to the pork and onion mixture, wait for it to come to a boil, and cook the filling until it becomes dark brown and translucent. Turn off the heat and transfer the filling to a medium bowl. Cover the filling and set it aside to cool to room temperature. When filling has completely cooled, mix in all but 2 Tbsp of the chopped chives. The remaining 2 Tbsp of chives are used later to garnish the buns.
2.) Make the Water Roux. Place a 1/2 cup of cold water into a small saucepan and add the 2 Tbsp of bread flour. Mix well until the mixture resembles homogenized milk, then turn on stove top to medium heat. Cook the roux until it thickens up and has the consistency of a thick yogurt, making sure to keep the mixture a pure white color by not overcooking. The mixture should not exceed 150 degrees F. Place the mixture into a small bowl and cover with plastic wrap, making contact with the top surface of the roux (to prevent a skin from forming). You should end up with about 1/3 cup of roux, ready to use when it has cooled back down to room temperature.
3.) Make the Dough. Using the bowl of a stand mixer, place all the wet dough ingredients (including the roux) into the mixing bowl. Place the bowl in the stand mixer with a dough hook attachment and start to mix on low speed. Add the yeast, sugar, milk powder, and custard powder first. Then add the bread flour gradually, a cup at a time, scraping down the insides of the mixing bowl periodically. Increase the speed to low-medium and continue to mix until the shaggy mass becomes a soft and supple ball of dough. If necessary, gradually add a teaspoon of water at a time until the dough comes together. Knead the dough for 10 minutes. Transfer the ball of dough to an oiled bowl to proof, lightly coating all sides of the dough with some of the same oil. Cover the bowl lightly with plastic wrap. Let the dough proof in a warm, draft free place for 30-40 minutes or until the mass has doubled in volume.
4.) Portion Out the Dough. After the dough has doubled in volume, punch it down and transfer it to a work surface lightly dusted with bench flour. Give the dough a few light kneadings, then portion dough out into 16 equal pieces (see below).
5.) Make the Buns. Roll out each of the 16 dough pieces into a roughly 4″ round or square, making sure to keep the thickness of the dough even throughout in each piece. Fill each flattened piece with 1 1/2 Tbsp of meat filling. Gather the edges to pinch and seal, then flip the bun over so that the smooth side faces up. Place buns into cupcake cases and transfer to a 12 hole muffin or tart pan, then cover loosely with plastic wrap. Let the buns rise for 30-40 minutes, or long enough for them to have doubled in puffiness. Meanwhile, pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees F.
6.) Finish and Bake. After the second rising, brush the tops of the buns with egg wash, then sprinkle with sesame seeds. Bake in oven for about 15 minutes, or until buns turn a light golden brown. Remove from oven, transfer to a cooling rack to sit for a few minutes, then give the buns a generous brushing of thinned honey. Sprinkle with fresh chives and serve!
*** Tip: Store leftover buns in fridge for up to 5 days. When you are ready to eat them, reheat the buns in microwave for 15-20 seconds or until warm and soft again.
For my char siu, I took the healthier and easier way out by using a store-bought brand of char siu sauce (Lee Kum Kee brand) to marinade a very lean pork tenderloin and then baked it off. The char siu you find in a Chinese restaurant will most certainly be a fattier cut of pork.
I sectioned out my dough by rolling it out into a 16″ x 6″ rectangle and then cut it into 16 equal pieces with a knife. Another option is to roll the dough into a long log and cut. You can also use a kitchen scale to weigh, which would be the most exact way to get equal peices.