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. [update] – THAT IS, UNTIL I MADE THEM MYSELF! Here’s the recipe.), 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.

If you would rather have a steamed bun, then peruse our recipe for Steamed BBQ pork buns. It’s most definitely the real deal and you won’t be disappointed!

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:

UPDATE: You can still use this recipe for the bread dough, but you also have the option to use our new Milk Bread recipe, which is considerably easier (and, truth be told, softer). Find the recipe here. As is the case with both dough recipes, you can fill the dough with filling after it’s proofed once, and then let them rise a second time after they’ve been filled.

  • 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.

Try one of our other favorite recipes that you can have steamed or pan fried – Carrot Ginger Pork Buns, Two Ways (Bao Zi, 胡萝卜肉包子)!

 

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. nicole says

    Hi there,

    Glad to have found your site. Thank you for the wonderful recipes esp. The veganised version. Since starting the diet in April this year, I haven’t stopped craving for home comfort foods.
    I supposed there isn’t anyway to omit yeast? essential for dough to rise? Is there a sub eg.baking powder & vinegar (or in my case lemon juice?)

    Can this dough be used for steaming too?

    Sorry for the endless inane questions!

  2. Geri Narvaez says

    I love to cook and bake… but I have a bad shoulder and unfortunately I can’t knead my dough as well as I could before… can this dough be made using a bread machine? I wouldnt wantto take away from the integrity of the dough…

  3. says

    When I lived in Jamaica, I used to go to the chinese restaurant everyday after school to get a couple of these one with chicken and one with pork. So good but when I moved to the US. I vould not find them and chinese food here is not authentic. So thanks for this recipe.

    • says

      You’re welcome Natali! I don’t get to say this very often here on the woks of life, but it’s so cool that we could bring you a little taste of Jamaica in the US!

  4. Rachelle says

    This is a great recipe! I have one question. I’ve never seen thaws baked ones refrigerated before. I would like to take some for our travels, were looking at eating 8-12 hours after they have come out of the oven. Do you think they would still be good with meat in them? TIA for a reply.

    • says

      Hey Rachelle, I think that would be ok, as long as you’re in somewhat of a cool environment. They might be a little dry though…they taste best when they’re reheated in the microwave for a few seconds.

  5. Miranda says

    I just want to say Thank you so much!!! I just moved back to Sweden after 11 years in Asia (BK and HK) and i had difficulty finding good Chinese food, but this motivated me to make my own!!! My beloved char siu bao <3 Love this website! Will be sharing and bookmarking so many recipes :)

  6. says

    I made these over the weekend but instead of using pork i used BBQ pulled chicken! It was amazing and was such a hit in my house! I must say that this is the best dough recipe I have found! I would love to share this recipe on my blog as a feature!

    – Megan

  7. Jo says

    Hmmm- just posted, but it doesn’t seem to have taken – apologies if this becomes a double post.
    I wanted to let you know that despite the frustrations I had with the liquid above (it got very messy!), plus some with the dough, these were *amazing*. I had to take them straight out of the oven and to a party, and they were a definite hit (still warm a couple of hours later). They are definitely going onto my make again list :-)

      • Jo says

        I made them again today – have just eaten one still warm :-) It was definitely easier the second time round – now that I knew what I was doing! And, even better, there was enough of the pork mixture left to go into the freezer for next time. Thank you for sharing!

  8. Jo says

    Could I check some measures with you? (I’m in NZ, so not sure if measures are the same amounts in the US!) My pork mixture came out a lot more runny than yours looks in the picture, and even with trying to make sure that hardly any liquid went into the bun (and using less than 1 dessert spoon of filling, rather than 2 tablespoons), it ended up squeezing out as I tried to seal the top. We have 1 tsp = 5 ml; 1 tbsp = 15 ml (which makes measuring 1 1/2 tbsp very difficult, as I don’t have a 7.5 ml measure and had to do it by eye…); 3/4 cup = 180 ml.
    Thanks!

    • Jo says

      Quick update (the buns were still cooking when I posted the last question, and I then had to dash off to take them to a party) – I wanted to let you know that these were amazing! I’d had some frustrations with the bread dough, and, as above, with the liquid coming out of the top of the buns when I was sealing them – it got very messy, but it was all worth it! These are definitely going onto my make again list :-)

  9. Stephanie says

    Thanks for the recipe!! My hubby loves it. However, after cool down, the dough was dense and harder. Is this normal?

  10. Amanda says

    Hey, this is great. I LOVE pork buns!
    I made these buns and mine came out slightly crispy and more dense. Not light and fluffy.
    Any thoughts?

    Thanks so much!

  11. Naomi Vaive says

    these were TREMENDOUS!!! We LOVED them!! Definitely a keeper! Thanks so much for putting this together for us! AAAAAND for such simple directions to follow. Yay for you guys!

  12. Callie says

    My daughter and I made these last night came out great. We let the dough sit 2 hours as it was really sticky. We used floured hands to form each bun and they came out great! Thanks for the recipe.

    • says

      Awesome, thanks for sharing Callie! Some of my best childhood memories involve standing on a chair in the kitchen, with my hands in something sticky, cooking with my parents and grandparents. So glad you enjoyed the recipe.

  13. Lily says

    Great Recipe, we just tried it right now! The dough was perfect, but unfortunately the cha siu mix was way to spicy to our taste (and I cut down on the soya sauce). Next time,we’ll try to make it without soya sauce and cutting down the salt in the dough.

    Great Recipe though, thanks for sharing!

  14. Manna says

    Hey!
    I’ woke up in the morning wanting a meal akin to this so bad so I made them and added a little twist to the seasoning of the beef (not pork) itself. It was my first time making those ‘edible envelopes’ I call them and they did not exactly fold up as nicely as yours. Any tips?

    Thank you for your website and share. :D

    • says

      Awesome! Thank you for sharing! To prepare/roll out the skin to wrap the buns: the center should be thicker than the edges. I know the dough is very elastic, try pressing the edges thin with your fingers. It’s not hard, but it does take a little practice.

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