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.
1 batch of Chinese Steamed Bun Dough
1 full recipe of Char Siu Bao Filling
stand mixer with mixing bowl and hook attachment
large proofing bowl
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)
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.