CHINESE BBQ PORK BUNS (Cha Siu Bao)

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Ah, childhood. When choices were easy (Nickelodeon or Cartoon Network?) and one’s biggest concerns were in the vein of running home fast enough from the elementary school to catch the ice cream truck and the 3:30 PM escapades of Arthur the aardvark on PBS. When your parents seemed to know everything there was to know about everything, and you saw the entire world from a foot or two lower to the ground.

My particular version of childhood involved a lot of sinking Titanic reenactments in my friend Reema’s above ground pool (we were very melodramatic children), reading at recess, strong lobbying for a family puppy acquisition, the collected cinematic works of John Hughes, my see-through purple Gameboy Color, and a gradual familiarization with anything having to do with horses. It also involved a lot of Saturday morning car rides into Queens and Chinatown, when we would visit my grandparents or cousins, grab dim sum, and inevitably stop by a Chinese bakery for some warm bread.

There were always the usual suspects…the pillowy soft butter buns, the sweet, crumbly pineapple buns, the vastly-appealing-to-Chinese-American-kids “hot dog” buns (my enchantment with this particular pastry has…ebbed over the years), and of course, the “cha siu bao,” or BBQ pork bun, which is filled with a savory, slightly sweet filling of Cantonese roast pork. This dim sum and Chinese bakery favorite is of course, the subject of today’s post.

Out of all the bakeries in and around Beijing–the Paris Baguette‘s, Bread Talk‘s, Holliland’s, and Wei Duo Mei‘s packing the city, no one seems to have this “quintessentially Chinatown” pastry. Until now!

You know, because we do.

These take some time, but are pretty easy to put together, especially if you can get the roast pork ready made from your local Chinese grocery store’s hot bar. If not, you can also easily make your own roast pork, with this fantasmagorical Chinese BBQ Pork (cha siu) recipe we posted a few days ago. In any case, the bread dough is fairly straightforward as well. It involves one crucial, dead simple step at the beginning, which involves making a quick five-minute roux/paste with flour, water, and milk. The paste, called a “tangzhong,” is then mixed with the rest of the dough ingredients, and you knead the heck out of it until it’s smooth. Easy.

Let’s get started.

For the buns:

  • 5 cups bread flour or all purpose flour, plus 1/3 cup
  • 2/3 cup water
  • 1 1/3 cup milk, divided
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 4 teaspoons instant yeast
  • 2 eggs
  • 4 tablespoons melted butter
  • eggwash (1 egg, beaten with a tablespoon of milk)
  • 1 tablespoon sesame seeds (optional)

For the filling:

  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped shallots or red onion
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 ½ tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons oyster sauce
  • 1 ½ tablespoon sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
  • ¾ cup chicken stock
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 2 cups diced Chinese roast pork (cha siu)

 

In a medium saucepan, mix 1/3 cup flour with 2/3 cup water and 1/3 cup milk until the flour is dissolved. Put the pan over medium heat and stir constantly until the mixture resembles a thick paste, about 3-5 minutes. If it looks like vanilla pudding, it’s too thin. If it looks kind of like really thick toothpaste, it’s just right. You can also measure the temperature with a thermometer, if you’re the Alton Brown type. It’s about right when it’s reached 149 degrees F/65 degrees C. Set aside.

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In a large mixing bowl, combine 5 cups of flour, sugar, salt, and yeast. Mix it all together with your hands.

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Add the flour paste (aka the tangzhong), 1 cup milk, 2 eggs, and the melted butter. Stir together to form a soft dough, and knead (by hand or with the dough hook attachment of your mixer) for 15-20 minutes. Because our KitchenAid didn’t make the journey from NJ to China, I did this all by hand–in front of the TV, so I wouldn’t get bored. It wasn’t really that bad.

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Form the dough into a ball and place into a lightly greased bowl. Cover with a damp cloth, and let rise for 1 hour.

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While that’s happening, make the filling. Chop up some onion, dice the pork into small cubes, and take out some chicken broth (or in our case, some Organic Better than Bullion mixed with some water).

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Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a wok over medium high heat. Add the onion and stir-fry for 2 minutes.

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Add the sugar, soy sauce, oyster sauce, sesame oil, and dark soy.

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Stir and cook until it starts to bubble up.

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Add the chicken stock and flour. Reduce the heat to medium low and cook, stirring, for a couple minutes until thickened. Remove from the heat and stir in the roast pork. Set aside to cool.

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After it’s risen, separate the dough into 16 equal pieces.

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Shape each piece into a small circle, where the center is slightly thicker than the edges. This prevents the top of the bun from being too thin and bursting open mid-bake. That would be bad.

Put a couple tablespoons of filling into each!

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Crimp them closed, making sure they’re tightly sealed. It’s a similar technique to making Shanghai soup dumplings. But no need to unnecessarily complicate things. Just make sure it’s closed, and closed tightly.

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Lay them out seam side down on baking sheets lined with parchment paper, and let rise for another hour. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

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Brush with egg wash…

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And sprinkle with sesame seeds (if using). The sesame seeds add a little aesthetic somethin’ extra, I think.

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Beeeeyoooteeeful!

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Put them in the oven and immediately turn the oven down from 400 degrees (about 200 degrees C) to 350 degrees (about 175 degrees). Bake for about 25 minutes, or until golden brown.

And then don’t immediately grab one, bite into it, burn your tongue, and then almost drop it on the floor whilst nursing a second degree mouth burn. I, uh…let them cool off for a few minutes before not doing that.

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These are a joy to make and to eat. Whether they bring you back to your childhood, or are an entirely new experience, we hope you enjoy them. Post any questions or comments down below, where you’re guaranteed a pleasant and/or witty answer from one of us.

 

CHINESE BBQ PORK BUNS (Cha Siu Bao)

Prep Time: 2 hours, 35 minutes

Cook Time: 25 minutes

Total Time: 3 hours

Yield: 16

CHINESE BBQ PORK BUNS (Cha Siu Bao)

Ingredients

FOR THE BUNS:
5 cups bread flour or all purpose flour, plus 1/3 cup
2/3 cup water
1 1/3 cup milk, divided
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
4 teaspoons instant yeast
2 eggs
4 tablespoons melted butter
eggwash (1 egg, beaten with a tablespoon of milk)
1 tablespoon sesame seeds (optional)
FOR THE FILLING:
2 tablespoons oil
1/2 cup finely chopped shallots or red onion
2 tablespoons sugar
1 ½ tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
1 ½ tablespoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
¾ cup chicken stock
3 tablespoons flour
2 cups diced Chinese roast pork (cha siu)

In a medium saucepan, mix 1/3 cup flour with 2/3 cup water and 1/3 cup milk until the flour is dissolved. Put the pan over medium heat and stir constantly until the mixture resembles a thick paste, about 3-5 minutes. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, combine 5 cups of flour, sugar, salt, and yeast. Add the flour paste (tangzhong), 1 cup milk, 2 eggs, and melted butter. Stir together to form a soft dough, and knead (by hand or with the dough hook attachment of your mixer) for 15-20 minutes. Form the dough into a ball and place into a lightly greased bowl. Cover with a damp cloth, and let rise for 1 hour.

While that’s happening, make the meat filling. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a wok over medium high heat. Add the onion and stir-fry for 2 minutes. Add the sugar, soy sauce, oyster sauce, sesame oil, and dark soy. Stir and cook until it starts to bubble up. Add the chicken stock and flour. Reduce the heat to medium low and cook, stirring, for a couple minutes until thickened. Remove from the heat and stir in the roast pork. Set aside to cool.

After it has risen, separate the dough into 16 equal pieces. Shape each piece into a small circle, where the center is slightly thicker than the edges. Fill each with meat filling, and crimp them closed, making sure they’re tightly sealed. Lay them out seam side down on baking sheets lined with parchment paper, and let rise for another hour. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees (200 degrees C)

Brush with egg wash, sprinkle with sesame seeds (if using). Put them in the oven and immediately turn the oven down from 400 degrees (about 200 degrees C) to 350 degrees (about 175 degrees). Bake for about 25 minutes, or until golden brown.

http://thewoksoflife.com/2014/02/chinese-bbq-pork-buns-cha-siu-bao/

 

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Comments

  1. says

    hi! awesome, clear recipe.

    I’m struggling b/c my dough didn’t rise (currently doing it now in Bucaramanga, Colombia). tropical humid temperatures, used the (roughly) correct amounts, and dough rose perhaps 15%? in an hour, and it’s quite sticky. what did i do wrong?

    Any help would be greatly appreciated.

    Jon T.

    • Sarah says

      Hi Jon. Oh no! Sorry we didn’t get to this comment earlier. I think we were all asleep, if you’re in Colombia. Did you use the instant yeast? It’s SUPER dry here in Beijing, but if you’re in a very humid climate, the dough might have required a bit more flour and a little less liquid. Did you end up trying to shape them and bake them despite the extra stickiness?

    • Sarah says

      Hey Annie, we posted our own recipe for the roast pork, which is something that we already knew how to make. We looked around for ideas on the filling, and created a recipe based on our own taste preferences. As for the dough, I did some research and developed a recipe for that as well!

  2. jess says

    Just about to make these but just wondering how long they will keep for, I’d love to take some into work for a college

    • Sarah says

      They’ll keep in the fridge for a couple days, but it’s best to eat them warm. What you can do is prepare them the night before, and bake them in the morning! What a great idea. : )

  3. helene says

    If I would want to make them into steamed bun, would this dough work it should I use your recipe that you posted earlier as the basic pan dough?
    If that is what you recommend, is bread flour better?
    How long should I steam a meat filled bun for?
    Thanks.
    HY.

      • helene says

        I made these but used baked char sui chicken thighs that was marinated in pre-packaged char sui mix for the filling. The filling need more ‘char sui flavor so I added more seasoning mix with a little water, 1 heaping T of hoisin sauce and a little salt. For the bun, I used your Man Tou recipe and part of the baked char sui bun recipe. Added warmed milk, sugar, baking powder, and vegetable oil.
        I baked a few but it only needed 10 minutes. I steamed some for 20 minutes. They looked fine, but the filling could have used a little more sauce. Otherwise, both tasted great.
        This is a great recipe! Thanks for sharing.

        • says

          Hey Helene, cool to hear you’re taking these recipes and making ‘em your own! Thanks for sharing your experience with us. : )

  4. says

    This sounds SO GOOD and will try soon. Maybe with chicken instead of pork…love making bread though of any kind. Thanks.

  5. Jeanette says

    Hi there, Love your site. I will be making these buns tonight. I am lactose intolerant and wonder if you have any suggestions for replacing the milk in the recipe. I am thinking about yogurt mixed with water, or chicken broth??? Thanks for any help.

    • says

      Hey Jeanette, hmmm that’s difficult because this bread is specifically an Asian style “milk bread,” where milk is added to increase softness. I’m not sure chicken broth would work. Maybe experiment with the yogurt thing? Another suggestion would be to find a different bread recipe that fits your dietary restriction and looks somewhat soft and suitable for filling. Then you could just make our filling recipe and follow the steps to fill your version of the dough!

      • Jeanette says

        I didn’t get your response in time, and ended up plowing ahead with chicken broth. It turned out great. I am not sure it was as good as yours, but the dough was soft, fluffy, and very flavorful. Loved it!

        As an aside, I always wondered why you don’t have more comments. I mean, your recipes are unbelievably good! I attempted to leave two compliments previously on a different recipe, but they never posted. This last time, I indicated that I wanted to hear back if there was a response, and the comment finally posted.

        Thanks for all the recipes! I love getting compliments on my cooking.

        • says

          Hi Jeanette, Excellent to hear that using Chicken broth worked for you! Thank you very much for your feedback about the comments. I will need to check out this issue with the comments but please let us know if this happens again. We may have some technical glitch going on.

  6. says

    Hi! I made the dough and I love it. I am making this again to post in my blog. I will change the filling recipe and use the dough. I love it. This is the most successful filled bun I made.

    • says

      Awesome to hear Shobee, let us know what filling you use! I just checked out your latest post on pancakes and they look pretty fantastic :-)

  7. says

    I stumbled across this blog on Google+ and I’m so glad I found it! I’ve been cooking Chinese food for many years now, but lately, I’ve been wanting to step up my game. I love this cha siu boa recipe–definitely trying it soon. One thing I definitely miss is 煎饼. Hope you can make some here soon!

  8. Karen says

    Would this work to make the filled sweet bean/mung bean buns? I wanted to make sesame balls but I made the dough this afternoon but I don’t have enough pork filling. :))

  9. Natalie Kehr says

    I have often wondered if it would be possible to develop a kosher version, perhaps using a savoury lamb filling, for my Jewish friends. It looks like it is not possible because the milk and butter cannot be used with meat.
    You may be interested to know that today in my favourite Chinese bakery in London England, there was actually someone serving who could speak English (My Cantonese is non-existent). He told be that they import their bun flour from Malaysia, but he didn’t know any more technical details about the gluten content of the flour.

    Someone asked about keeping the buns. I freeze them in individual bags. 2 minutes in the microwave oven is sufficient for defrosting and bringing to nice eating temperature.

    • says

      ooooh lamb filling? Awesome. But yes, these are milk buns…but you might be able to find another dairy-less bread recipe and just kind of apply the same concept to it. And thanks for the awesome storage ideas!

  10. says

    Sarah, I found you on the Retro Pinterest Party…pinned and then came right over to see this post. Yummmmmy! Would you please come by my Wonderful Wednesday Blog Hop today to share this and any other posts you’d like to share with us? My readers will LOVE it. Now, I am going to follow you on all the social media etc so that I don’t lose track of your blog. Love it!
    Sinea from Ducks ‘n a Row

  11. Kelly says

    I have 2 questions for you – first, is there a substitution for dark soy? I can’t seem to find any locally (we live in a pretty remote area). When I made it this afternoon, I just used regular soy for the dark. My second question is (I think) a direct result from the first: my finished filling is much lighter in color and quite thicker than yours appears to be in the pictures above. Is this a result of the soy substitution and maybe a little too much flour?

    My son is a walking, talking pb&j kid and he said the filling was so void, could he please eat a bowl of it now?

    Thanks for giving me some kid-approved variety in the menu!

    • says

      Hi Kelly, there isn’t really a substitution for dark soy sauce. You could just leave it out, but the filling won’t be quite as dark and rich. Dark soy is also quite a bit less salty than regular soy.

      So yes, the fact that the filling is lighter in color is a result of not having dark soy sauce. If the filling is a bit thicker, just gradually add a bit of water and stir until it’s well-combined and at the consistency you’re looking for. We’re so happy that your son enjoyed this! We loved it when we were kids too…and still do today. Thanks Kelly!

  12. :D says

    You gave a choice of using bread flour or all-purpose flour. Which is better?

    Also, when you cover the dough with a damp cloth and let rise for 1 hour, does the room temperature have to be warm or place in an oven?

    • says

      Hi, :D, for this recipe, I used All-purpose and it worked beautifully. For proofing, I usually just lock the dough inside the microwave (without turning it on) and leave it for the suggested time (That’s what I do with all my dough proofing) It’s my own quirky method. Hope I answered your questions and we would love to hear how the buns turn out after you make it :-)

      • :D says

        Thank you for your response. I certainly will let you know how they turned out. One last question, how about proofing the buns on the baking sheet. Do I cover them or let them rise uncover and does the room need to be warm as well? Our house is always cold.

        • says

          Hi, :D, yes, cover the buns with a thin damp cloth. As to the room temperature issue, you can put the buns in a sunny spot for higher temperature or in a warm oven (preheat the oven to 150 degree, shot it off the heat, then put the buns inside and close the door). Cheers!

  13. Jerry says

    My buns are on their last rise before being baked. I can’t wait for my family to sit down for dinner tonight! This is my first time making these and I imagine it won’t be my last time either. Thanks for posting all your recipes! There is nothing like fresh cooked Chinese food.

  14. Tripti says

    Thank you so much for the recipe; I want to try this as soon as possible!
    My question is; one of my friends is allergic to soy sauce so I wouldn’t be able to use it in the buns for her. Would the buns be alright without both soy sauces, or is there another alternative sauce I could use?

    • says

      Hey Tripti, we had a dinner table discussion about this one. Soy is just such a crucial ingredient to these pork buns. But then we thought…BBQ pork buns…BBQ SAUCE!

      Instead of using the sugar, soy sauces, sesame oil, and oyster sauce, you could replace all that with your favorite bbq sauce and follow the instructions the same way. They wouldn’t exactly be Chinese roast pork buns, but they’ll still be BBQ pork buns, and, as long as your chosen bbq sauce is worthy…they’ll probably be pretty freakin’ awesome.

  15. Kiara says

    I made these last night for a dinner party to go along with my signature homemade Chinese dishes. They were amazing! Everyone was blown away by them :D Thank you so much for sharing this recipe, this is a little gem of a website and is now bookmarked on my computer. I have already spotted more yummy recipes I plan to make.

    Kiara x

  16. Tiffany says

    Hi! This recipe is amazing! But I got a quick question, I feel as though I have made too much bun and filling to eat at one goal…can I put it in the fridge so that I have fresh Char Siu Bao tomorrow morning? Or do I freeze it? Thanks so much for the help!

    • says

      Hey Tiffany, I think you could probably put the dough and filling in the fridge to make them in the morning. Just let the dough rise at room temperature again for an hour or so before working with it. Let us know how it goes!

  17. Jake says

    Mmm this recipe sounds amazing I am extremely happy you posted it. I thank you for that. Ive always wanted to try pork buns ever since I watched the anime “Kanon” and one of the characters had one. The idea of sweet pork in a delicious bun fascinated me but me being an american living in america I had no hope of trying an authentic one. At least I can replicate it or at the very least try to. I hope to one day travel through Asia and get to know the culture and cuisine along with the people. Again I thank you for bringing me one step closer to that dream.

  18. Amanda says

    I came across your blog from Tasty Kitchen and I’m totally hooked! It’s truly inspiring for amateurs like myself, and your recipes have rekindled my passion for baking and cooking. How adjustable is this recipe? I’d love to use this bao recipe to create other types of buns – such as the classic sausage bun – will this work? Also, will halving this recipe yield similar results? Thanks again for all of your help; looking forward to trying your other recipes and more great posts.

    • says

      Hi Amanda, Thank you so much for your comment. You can absolutely fill the buns with different fillings. I think that as long as you halve the recipe exactly and follow the instructions the same way, it should work. : )

  19. Derek says

    I decided to try out this recipe (which i found searching google) after having some pork buns the other week but I did hot have the time to make some pulled pork (which I make in a pressure cooker and feel would be perfect for this) so I decided to improvise. Instead I made breakfast buns and filled them with bacon, egg, and cheese. In the end I would call it a success. so you can definitely fill this recipe with anything you choose.

    Thank you for the great recipe I will definitely use this recipe again for different fillings (including the suggested pork filling ^-^)

  20. Frances says

    Hi Sarah,

    I’ve been looking for a recipe that is the yellowish bun then the white one! I’m so excited to try this recipe! I was wondering though, has anyone tried freezing the buns after baking them? If not, what are your suggestions?

  21. Candy says

    This recipe looks great! I’ve already got my pork butt marinating for the filling but before I make the dough tomorrow I was wondering if the milk needed to be warm to help proof the yeast? Or is the roux is warm enough to activate the yeast?

  22. Vinny says

    Hi,
    Great recipe! My only issue is that i can never get though to come out like what you find in a China town bakery. My dough always ends up being dinner roll-ish. Any help would be appreciated.

    Thanks!

  23. says

    I usually buy these buns in Chinatown in The Hague the Netherlands. There is a small Chinese bakery who bake it every day fresh. Thnx for posting this, I will give it a try. :-)

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