Dim Sum Recipe #8: Steamed BBQ Pork Buns (Char Siu Bao)

The number 8 is a lucky one in Chinese culture.  It’s used to indicate fortune, prosperity, and success.  This is a good thing for me, because after much trial and error, I’m happy to bring you lucky Dim Sum Recipe #8 in my series on the highly coveted Chinese tea lunch…Steamed BBQ Pork Buns!  For the longest time I wasn’t successful at making Chinese steamed buns.  My steamed buns would often end up speckled, dimpled, or lopsided…just not right.  With success finally comes the recognizable dim sum treat we know as Char Siu Bao–fluffy buns stuffed with a slightly salty, slightly sweet pork filling that’s always a crowd favorite.

What I aimed to create in a recipe for Steamed BBQ Pork Buns was a supple bun dough where I could easily make baos in 2 ways–one with a perfectly smooth top and the other the traditional way, pleated and pinched with an open top for venting.  This bun dough, based on my recipe for Chinese Fold-Over Buns, easily adapts to either shape and is extremely versatile. You can use it as a base for both sweet and savory fillings, and even enjoy the buns made with it plain.  I have many more ideas and riffs on using this bun dough, so trust me, you definitely haven’t heard the last of it!

The filling I use here is the same filling I use for my Baked BBQ Pork Buns, the buns with a golden, honey-lacquered top that’s sticky to the touch.  One thing I prefer to do for the steamed version of these buns is processing the BBQ pork through a food processor instead of dicing it into cubes.  While high-gluten bread flour is used to make baked buns heartier and chewier, low-gluten Hong Kong flour is used to make steamed buns delicate and airy.  Since the texture of steamed bread is more tender than that of the baked variety, loosening up the texture of the meat to match the bread’s tenderness makes each bite lighter and more harmonious.

I could really use some help with my pleating.  I’ve mentioned in my Ha Gao post that pleating really isn’t my forte.  Luckily, with these Char Siu Bao, poor pleating doesn’t matter. If you want a neater look to your buns, just flip the baos over to reveal a smooth top. Anyhow, steamed pork buns really should be eaten while they are still warm and fresh out of the steamer.  If you are like me and can’t get into a good pleating groove, no worries!  You and your friends will be munching on the steamy pockets before anyone will even notice any of those perfect imperfections.

At Chinese restaurants you will commonly find steamed buns with a square of parchment attached underneath to prevent each bun from sticking to the steamer.  I like to steam my buns in a bamboo steamer lined with one large round of parchment, perforated and cut to the dimensions of the steamer.  Place the baos in colorful cupcake liners immediately after steaming for a pretty and modern look.  The liners will still adhere to the buns but won’t warp as they would if they were cooked with the buns in the bamboo steamer.

If you are looking for a delicious tea to enjoy with these buns, please check out my post on Steven Smith Teamaker’s Spring Harvest blend.  It’s a Chinese Mao Feng green tea that’s fresh and slightly sweet, just like these Steamed Char Siu Bao are!  The two make a delicious pairing, and are perfect served as a light springtime afternoon snack.

Dim Sum Recipe #8:  Steamed BBQ Pork Buns (Char Siu Bao)

Makes 16 small buns. 

Ingredients:

1 batch of Chinese Steamed Bun Dough

1 full recipe of Char Siu Bao Filling

Equipment:

stand mixer with mixing bowl and hook attachment

large whisk

large proofing bowl

plastic wrap

work surface

bamboo steamer

wok with slightly larger diameter than steamer OR a stockpot with exactly the same diameter as the steamer

rolling-pin or scale

parchment, to line steamer

food processor (optional)

large frying pan or wok (for making char siu filling)

large plate

Directions:

1.)  Make 1 batch of Chinese Bun Dough (aka dough for Chinese Fold-Over Buns).  While dough is going through first proofing, make the Char Siu Bao Filling.

2.)  Make 1 full recipe of Char Siu Bao Filling.  If you prefer, process the store-bought/prepared BBQ pork in a food processor until you get a shredded-like texture to the meat, then proceed with Char Siu Bao Filling recipe.  If not, just dice the pork into 1/4 inch cubes and proceed with the filling recipe.  I’ve omitted the chives here as a like a completely reddish looking filling.  You can add chives into the filling if you prefer.  After cooking, place the filling on a large plate and cover with plastic wrap.  Set it aside to cool to room temperature.

3.)  When the first proofing is complete, cut the dough into 16 equal pieces.  You can just eyeball this or use a scale for extra accuracy.

4.)  Form each of the 16 portions of dough into balls, then roll each ball into a 3.5″ flat round. Place 1 Tbsp of the cooled char siu filling in the center of each round, then pleat the edges of the dough round and pinch to seal the top of the bun (see below).  Set finished buns into a parchment lined bamboo steamer (or large plate) about 2″ apart, then cover with plastic wrap and allow the buns about 15 minutes to proof again.  Preferably, proof the buns in a warm, draft free place.

5.)  Meanwhile, fill wok or stockpot with 3-4″ of water.  Set water on high heat and let it come to a full boil.  After the 15 minutes of proofing have elapsed, place the steamers in/on top of the wok/stockpot and cook on high heat for 8 minutes, or until the buns are puffy, fluffy, and risen.

Dim Sum Recipe #2: Honeyed Pork Buns (Baked Char Siu Bao)

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.

Rising to the occasion…

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!

Honey-shellacked for extra softness.

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.

Ingredients:

{Bun Dough}

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

{Water Roux}

1/2 cup water

2 Tbsp bread flour

{Filling}

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

{Garnishes}

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)

Equipment:

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

cupcake cases/liners

pastry brush

Directions:

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.

Step-By-Step:

Key ingredients for soft, sweet buns: water roux (a.k.a. tangzhong) and Bird’s Custard Powder

Chop, chop, chop.  Chives, char siu pork, and onion.

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.

First proofing: wait for dough to double in bulk.  It was cold on this day so I put another bowl of warm water underneath the bowl with the dough…worked like a charm!

After the 1st proof, section the dough into 16 equal pieces.

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.

Mix in chopped chives after the filling has cooled

Start at bottom of this picture and work up.  Flip “pinched” & sealed” bottoms over to reveal a smooth bun top and place finished bun in a cupcake liner.

Egg wash and sesame seeds after 2nd proofing.

Warm out of the oven, with some Chinese jasmine tea for sipping.

Warm out of the oven, with some Chinese jasmine tea for sipping.

Dim Sum Recipe #1:  Siu Mai Dumplings

Dim Sum Recipe #3:  Ha Gao Dumplings

Dim Sum Recipe #4:  Egg Custard Tarts (Dan Tat)

Dim Sum Recipe #5:  Pork & Chive Potstickers