October 22, 2020

Chinese Cha Siu Bao Roasted Pork Buns 叉燒包

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 A hot Chinese bun is a wonderful thing.  Hot, steaming and fragrant, each soft pillowy bun encases a delicious filling, sometimes just a bite of savoury meat, sometimes a yummy mix of meat and vegetables and sometimes just a sweet bit of something.  When I was little my dearest grannie 奶奶 would make buns for us girls all the time.  We were skinny chinese girls in the growing stage and boyo could we eat alot!  I loved the meat and veggie buns she made (I could eat 3 buns in one go!) but my favorites were the buns stuffed with red bean paste.  To my young taste buds red bean paste tasted as good as chocolate! 

This particular type of Chinese bun, the Cha Siu Bao Roasted Pork Bun 叉燒包, is not something my grannie ever made herself but, since living in HK, it's become one of my favorites.  Chinese roasted pork Cha Siu 叉燒 by itself is already soooo good.  But luscious roasted pork cha siu, diced into a deliciously sweet and savory filling as the secret heart of a warm and incredibly soft and hot Chinese bun?  Ammmaazing!

Cha Siu hanging in a Sui Mei Shop window (Photo by Simon Shek)

The magic in this bun is the fabulous roast of meat know as cha siu 叉燒, or Chinese BBQ pork, or Chinese roast pork.  But most folks know it as cha siu and have seen it in the Chinese BBQ sui mei 燒味 shops,  hanging up against the windows in all its sticky red hued caramelized glory...yum!

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chinese,recipe,Cha Siu Bao,char siu bao,Roasted Pork Buns,Bread,bun,叉燒包,

For  those who have never tried it, Cha Siu is nice bit of marbled pork marinated with all the good stuff like soy sauce, hoisin sauce, sugar, etc. and then roasted to just slightly charred perfection.  While roasting the pork is glazed generously and often with maltose until gleaming and sticky sweet.  A seriously good roast!

The bun filling itself is simple.  Just diced cha siu and a bit of chopped ginger, shallot and onion to complement the sweet and savory pork.  

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The thick sauce holds the everything together.  It reflects and extends the flavors of the cha siu: light and dark soy sauce, sugar, oyster sauce, etc.  But the addition of starch and a cooking down makes the filling thick and lusciously clingy, just like it should be. The fillings used in restaurant buns have red food coloring added to them.  The filling for these homemade ones are naturally a dark gleaming red brown.

The dough used for this recipe is same as the basic dough recipe used for Chinese Steamed Bun Mantou 饅頭 but with the one difference of the addition of baking powder.  The baking powder is to aid the bun to have the cracked tops that restaurant Cha Siu Buns usually have.  My homemade buns did crack but not that much.  I think that to get the beautiful full cracking that restaurant cha siu buns have you also need to add a bit of ammonia powder 臭粉, also known as ammonium carbonate.  Which I am still looking for... and can hopefully try out when I find some. 

A note about the flour and the color that it brings to the dough.  Chinese buns are a white color because the dough they use is bleached very white.  White flour equals white buns.  Once I unthinkingly used a italian flour and was startled at the yellow buns it produced.  The color of the flour doesn't affect the taste at all, mind you, just the appearance.  If you want the white buns, look for HK made flour and use your eye to judge the whiteness.

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It's time to wrap the buns!  It's useful to use a food scale to measure out your dough and filling so that you can have buns that come out the same size.  I never used to use scales but once I started I found I could not do without it, it's that handy!

Using the scale first measure out a round of dough, roll out a circle, then measure and add the filling.  See how the sauce clings to the pork after cooking down.  If you want to eye ball it all, that's okay too.

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Easy peasy so far.  This next part, the pleating, is a wee bit tricky until you get the hang of it.  In my very first attempts with this kind of pleating I attempted to follow instructions whereby the thumb is used to gently push down the filling while turning and pleating.  I think this method of wrapping is called "Closing the Tiger's Mouth" 虎口環住.  Personally I have not had any much success with this method.  My thumb becomes wet with the filling, which then wets the dough which then makes the dough pleats not stick together.  Ugh...bad bun.

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I have therefore figured out my own way to wrap the darn things.  It's easy once you understand it. The first pleat that you make is where your thumb and forefinger will be for the rest of the wrapping.  Additional pleats are made with the other hand and then added on top of that first pleat held by your thumb and forefinger.  If you follow this rule you will find that the bun will pleat/turn and shape itself.  Don't dip any of your fingers into the filling, well, as much as you can.  And if you end up with a bit too much of a neck of dough at the end of wrapping just twist and pinch it off.

Once you got the hang of it the wrapping goes quite quickly.  Then it's off to the steamer and before you know it you've got steaming hot and fluffy Chinese Cha Siu Bao Roasted Pork Buns 叉燒包 to gobble your way through.  I love me a sweet and savory treat and these buns, softly sweet and fluffy on the outside, richly sweet and savory porky lusciousness on the inside, satisfies that itch to perfection!

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Chinese BBQ Roast Pork Cha Siu Bao Buns
makes 24 buns  Prep time: 20 mins  Rise time:  2 hrs  Cook time: 7 mins

Dough
6 cups all purpose flour, 720g
1/4 cup sugar, 52g
1 3/4 cups warm water
1 tbsp instant yeast
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
2 tbsp lard (or sub in equal amount of oil, coconut oil or shortening)

Filling
1 lb Chinese roasted pork, 450g
1-2 tbsp oil
2 shallots, diced
2 tbsp ginger, finely minced
1/2 onion, diced
1 1/2 cup water
1/2 cups sugar, 100g
2 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tbsp dark soy sauce
1 1/2 tbsp oyster sauce
1/4 tsp white pepper
3 tbsp potato starch (or corn starch)
1 tbsp sesame oil

Dissolve sugar in warm water in small bowl, add the yeast and mix to incorporate.  Let stand undisturbed for 10 mins or until foam head forms over the the water.  In large mixing bowl sift flour, add lard and use fingertips to rub it in until flour resembles crumbs.  Add in the yeast water and mix until dough comes together.  If the dough does not come together, add in extra water, 1 tbsp at a time.

Knead the dough.  The dough should end up soft, smooth and elastic.  To achieve soft as baby bottom softness add additional water a careful tbsp at a time, incorporating thoroughly each time until the consistency is correct.  Check if kneaded enough with the window pane test*.

*Window Pane test:  Carefully stretch the dough between your hands.  If you can get the dough to stretch far enough that the dough becomes thin enough to allow light through without breaking, then the dough is kneaded enough.

Put kneaded dough in a deep bowl and cover.  Let rise in a warm spot for 2-3 hours or until the dough almost triples in size.  


While the dough is rising make the filling.  First dice roast pork to pieces the size of a thumbnail.  Heat wok over medium heat.  When hot add oil, then shallots, ginger and onions.  Stir fry until golden brown.  Add in 1 cup water, sugar, light and dark soy sauce, oyster sauce and white pepper.  When this reaches a boil bring heat down to a simmer.  In a bowl thoroughly mix remaining half cup of water and starch.  Pour starch slowly into the wok, stirring constantly until the sauce become quite thick. Turn off heat, add in roast pork and sesame oil, stir to combine.  When cooled to room temp the mixture should become stiff enough to spoon out in scoops.

Punch the risen dough down.  Knead for 5 mins until smooth and elastic.  If the dough is too sticky add a tbsp of flour at a time, same for water if too dry.  Cover and let rest for 10 mins.

Sprinkle working surface lightly with flour and cut the dough into 24 equal sized pieces.  (Use a food scale to measure weight to ensure equal sized buns).  Roll each piece to a ball and set aside.  Take one ball and roll out to 3 1/2 inch diameter.  Measure out a heaping tbsp or approx 20g of filling and place in the middle of rolled out dough.

To wrap the bun take the edge of the dough and make one pleat.  Hold this pleat between fore finger and thumb and then use other hand to pleat and add to the first pleat, all the while not moving your fore finger and thumb from their original position.  Repeat until the top is completely pleated and closed in.  Repeat for all the buns.

Line steaming basket with parchment paper.  Place the buns with 1 inch spacing between buns.  Steam 7 mins over high heat.  Eat hot and enjoy!

Tip:  When buns are cooled freeze in zip lock bags.  To reheat steam over high heat for 10 mins.


More Bodalicious Buns at The Hong Kong Cookery:

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