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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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!