Char Siu Bao Recipe

un-steamed buns waiting for the wok

There’s one thing the Mike absolutely has to have when we go to dim sum: char siu bao. The bamboo steamers usually come with three fluffy, slightly sweet, steamed buns filled with savoury chunks of char siu hidden inside. It’s a irresistible combination of carbs and protein and it’s hand held; what more could you want?

There are two types of char siu bao: steamed and baked. I prefer steamed, they’re more savoury and I like the one to one meat to bread ratio. The fluffiness of steamed buns is caused by yeast and baking powder. There are a lot of steamed bun recipes out there and I ended up using two because my first attempt didn’t come out the way I wanted.

ugly steamed buns

Char siu bao, when you get them at dim sum, usually are so fluffy that they split open when they’re steamed. I wanted to replicate that at home, but of course, it was a lot harder than it looked.

The first recipe I used is one I’ve used in the past, and it’s pretty much right on in the taste department. In the photo, Hoang’s buns are fluffy, white, and they’ve burst open while steaming.

My buns tasted right, but they didn’t look right. There was no fluff to be found. I didn’t use enough dough for each bun (thinking that the dough would rise a lot in the steamer) so the bun was too thin in some places. Basically, the buns were ugly, but tasty. Mike’s not so picky about presentation, so he inhaled 6 ugly buns immediately, pronouncing them good.

ugly buns

After the ugly bun incident, I knew I had to make another better looking batch so I looked around and found the LA Times’ bao dough recipe. I figured, they gave me the Crack Pie recipe and that turned out great, so they must have some good recipe testers.

The LA Times’ dough is very different from Hoang’s. Hoang’s dough is light, fluffy and slightly sticky to work with and the Times’ dough is heavy, stiff and dense feeling. Strangely enough, the Times’ dough is easy to work with despite it’s stiffness. The Times’ dough also goes through two rises, which is probably why it yielded a fluffier bun.

The buns were a lot fluffier and some even burst open a tiny bit. The trick is to pull up a lot of dough to the top of the bun when shaping. If you’ve ever had char siu bao you’ll notice they’re dough heavy on top.

flour, shortening, starter dough, sugar, baking powder, water

I had to stop at two bao recipes just because I didn’t have any filling left over. If I did, I probably would have went on and on until I found the perfect fluffy, white, cracked open bao recipe.

Char Siu Bao Recipe

Bao Recipe

Ingredients
1 1/2 teaspoons instant dry yeast
3/4 cup lukewarm water
2 tablespoons canola oil
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
Scant 3 cups (12 1/2 ounces) flour

Directions

1. Put the yeast in a small bowl, add the water and set aside for 1 minute. Whisk in the oil to blend and dissolve the yeast. Set aside.

2. Make the dough by hand: Combine the sugar, baking powder and flour in a large bowl. Make a well in the center and pour in the yeast mixture. Slowly stir with a wooden spoon, moving from the center toward the rim, to work in all the flour. (Add lukewarm water by the teaspoon if this doesn’t happen with relative ease.) Keep stirring as a ragged, soft mass forms. Then use your fingers to gather and pat the dough together into a ball. Transfer to a work surface and knead for about 5 minutes, until smooth, fingertip-soft and slightly elastic. (You shouldn’t need any additional flour on the work surface if the dough was properly made. Keep kneading, and after the first minute or two, the dough shouldn’t stick to your fingers. If it does, work in a sprinkling of flour.) Press your finger into the dough; the dough should spring back, with a faint indentation remaining.

4. Lightly oil a clean bowl and add the dough. Cover with plastic wrap and put in a warm, draft-free place to rise until nearly doubled, 30 to 45 minutes. The dough is now ready to use.

Filling

Ingredients
1 1/2 cups chopped char siu (char siu recipe here)
1 tablespoon hoisin sauce
1 tablespoon dark soy sacue
1/2 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon sesame oil

Directions
1. Mix together the sauce ingredients until well blended.
2. Drizzle sauce over char siu. You don’t want your meat drowning in sauce, just a light coating.

Making the buns

1. Divide the dough into 10 equal pieces.
2. Take a piece of dough and flatten it a bit with your hands, leaving the edges thicker than the middle. (This is contrary to how a lot of people form dumplings, or buns, but this is how you get your buns to burst open on top)
3. Spoon 2 tablespoons of char siu filling into the middle of the piece of dough being careful not to get sauce on the edges of the dough. If oil or sauce touches the edges, it decreases the chance that your dough will burst open.
4. Bring the edges of the dough up and pleat the dough to seal it. Place the bun on a small square of parchment paper.
5. Repeat until all buns are made. Cover buns and let rise for 30 minutes.
6. Preheat a steamer and arrange buns on steamer or plate, leaving an inch between each bun.
7. When the steamer is hot, steam the buns for 15 minutes. Do not open the lid to check.
8. When 15 minutes is up, remove and enjoy!

27 Comments add yours

  1. Wow – these look delicious. Can almost taste them…

    Thanks Jennifer

    steph on March 8th, 2010 at 12:47 am
  2. Nice effort! My search for char siu bao is limited to finding the perfect frozen ready-made one… :)

    Bel,
    I’ll admit, sometimes I’m tempted to buy some of the frozen variety!

    steph on March 8th, 2010 at 12:48 am
  3. always wanted to know how to make char siu bao! this looks like a great recipe easy to follow. Thankx!

    Billy,
    If you make any, I know they’ll turn out fantastic!

    steph on March 8th, 2010 at 12:48 am
  4. Fantastic buns! Very neat and nice pleats.

    Ellie,
    Thanks! I think my pleats could use a little work…still trying to get those “smiling” buns.

    steph on March 8th, 2010 at 12:49 am
  5. I remember my father used to make all sorts of bao.
    I wasn’t a fan of red bean back then, but we would also have coconut, a peanut butter and sugar filling, cranberry and chocolate.

    Yeah, there are some rises involved. It isn’t quick, but they are so good freshly steamed.

    I should try this with some other savory fillings.

    Andy,
    I love red bean buns! My mom used to make a variation of red bean buns by filling up white rolls with red bean paste. They were the best fresh out of the oven!

    steph on March 8th, 2010 at 12:51 am
  6. YUM! This is the one thing we always get at dim sum too. I can’t wait to try making this at home – your pictures look soo good.

    Thanks Stephanie!
    Send some photos of your buns when you make them!

    steph on March 8th, 2010 at 1:46 pm
  7. I have to walk past a place on my way to classes here in Taipei that sells char siu bao For 20 NT or about 75 American cents. Or I get to walk past it, depending on the day.

    I too can’t get dim sum without getting these.

    I really like the way that you frame your shots.

    Max,
    If I had to walk by a place that sold fresh char siu bao everyday, I’d probably be late to class!

    steph on March 8th, 2010 at 1:47 pm
  8. that looks amazing. terrific post! I want to try these out soon.

    Thanks Sasha!

    steph on March 8th, 2010 at 1:48 pm
  9. Wow… we just made these for dinner stuffed with some homemade red bean paste [with a lb. of kale on the side to help ease the guilt]. At first I too was skeptical about the thickness of the dough, but they puffed up beautifully and were the perfect texture after steaming. I will even go so far as to say that these were the best buns I’ve ever had. Thanks so much!!!

    Sasha,
    I’m so glad the buns worked out for you! I love red bean paste buns and I’m going to have to make some at home sometime soon. Care to share your red bean paste recipe?

    steph on March 8th, 2010 at 4:28 pm
  10. I don’t really have a set recipe since it all depends on the type of beans and how you like it.

    We actually start with canned beans (cooking beans is a test of my patience); 1 can makes enough to stuff the recipe above. Drain/rinse them well before bringing to a full boil for around 20 minutes to get them as soft as possible. Drain VERY well, then pulse in a food processor to break the skins. Using a flexible spatula, push the bean mix through a metal sieve, separating out the skins.

    What you’ll have will resemble pink mashed potatoes at this point. Put them in a small, heavy-bottomed pot, and turn the heat on low. Add just enough veg. shortening* to create a stir-able consistency (about 2-6 tbsp) then add sugar to taste (1/2 – 1 cup) but it all depends on the sweetness of beans used and personal preference. [*You can use veg. oil instead, but I find it tends to seep a bit at room temperature.] Now the fun part: stir it consistently over low heat, making sure you get the corners. It will start to thicken and darken to the characteristic purplish color. The second the paste pulls away from the sides into a sort of delicious paste-ball, it’s ready. Let it cool, stuff and eat! Mmmm

    Sasha,
    Thanks for the recipe! I can’t wait to try it. I might even have to cook my own beans!

    steph on March 9th, 2010 at 1:48 am
  11. yum yum. I’ve never tried steaming bread before although I bake bread all the time.

    Tia,
    Surprisingly, steaming bread is pretty easy. It’s quick too.

    steph on March 22nd, 2010 at 11:54 pm
  12. The dough is all wrong, it should fluffy, like biting a cloud. This dough makes chewy Bao Tze and Manto. Should be like fresh bread not like pizza dough. This recipe needs milk and shortening.

  13. I made some of these last night !

    Not the same recipe but it was this page that made me want to make them and on my first try i pretty much nailed it. The colour of the dough is not bone white like the ones i get frozen from the store but they are just as fluffy and tasty.

    I too made ugly bun haha but really for me home made and flavour trumps presentation every time. I made some fresh and froze the rest and i could not help myself and tried one for lunch this afternoon and it was just as good.

    I can’t wait to try this again with a different filling :D

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