One of J’s favorite dim sum items is char siu bao – baked or steamed, he loves both the same. Only the other day, we were in Uwajimaya and he felt hungry for something warm. He opted for steamed BBQ pork buns. He offered me a bite, but I refused – the dough looked rubbery, the interior was scarily red, and the meat was non-existent. Ugh!
I’ve only ever made baked char siu bao once. It was not that they weren’t super-tasty, they were. They just took a lot of effort to make. However, one evening whilst surfing for food porn, I stumbled across Christine’s recipes. She has numerous recipes that involve making fluffy white Asian bread using the tangzhong (water roux) method. This method involves making a thick paste by heating one part of bread flour to five parts of water and incorporating it into the bread dough. It is the base of many Asian white breads that stays soft for days.
I’ve never made bread this way – so I decide to try it. The results are fantastic – the bread is soft, fluffy and slightly chewy. It will be the base of many Chinese-style baked bread items that I can now introduce to our stomachs… I’m particularly looking forward to buns filled with coconut, red bean paste, curried beef, ham and spring onions (scallions) and more.
The buns do take a little while to make from start to finish, and I spread it over the course of two days. The tangzhong (water roux) is allowed to chill for a couple of hours, whilst I make the filling. Both the bread/bao dough and filling are then left to chill overnight. In the morning, I simply form the bao and prove for 1 hour before baking them.
These Chinese BBQ pork buns can be made with chicken. I tried it with chicken char siu… I know it sounds like an abomination, but the results were fantastic – it’s a great alternative if you don’t eat pork. The flavor and texture is just as good. I used whole, skinless, boneless chicken thighs and followed my recipe for char siu (Chinese roast pork). To make things EVEN easier, after marinating the chicken thighs, I pan-fried them in a non-stick pan (with no oil) until cooked through, then proceeded with this recipe.
BAKED CHAR SIU BAO (CHINESE BBQ PORK BUNS) - TANGZHONG (WATER-ROUX) METHOD
Makes 16 x 7.5 cm (3 inch) buns, approximately 165 calories each
For the tangzhong (water roux)
- 25 g (2 ⅔ tablespoons) bread flour*
- 125 ml (½ c and 1 teaspoon) water
For the bread/bao dough
- 125 ml (½ c and 1 teaspoon) milk
- 1 ½ teaspoons dried active yeast
- 50 g (¼ c) sugar
- 350 g (2 ⅓ c) bread flour*
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 large egg, beaten
- 1 tablespoon dried milk powder
- all of the tangzhong (water roux)
- 30 g (2 tablespoons) melted butter, cooled
For the filling
- 1 teaspoon groundnut (peanut) oil
- 2-3 shallots, diced
- 4 teaspoons oyster sauce
- 1 ½ teaspoons dark soy sauce
- 2 teaspoons tomato puree
- 1 ½ tablespoon sugar
- 1 pinch pepper
- 6 tablespoons ready-made chicken stock
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 2 teaspoon shaoxing wine
- 1 teaspoon potato starch^
- 200 g (1 c) chopped char siu** to about 5 mm (1/5 inch)
- 1 egg yolk, beaten
* I had trouble finding organic bread flour. If you’re in this predicament, simply make your own by mixing 150 g (1 c) plain (all-purpose) flour with 1 tablespoon vital wheat gluten.
** Store/restaurant-bought or homemade.
^ This can be substituted for corn flour (corn starch) or tapioca starch.
1. To make the tangzhong (water roux), place bread flour into a small non-stick pan, then gradually stir in water until smooth.
2. Heat over medium-low heat, stirring constantly until the mixture thickens. Continue to heat and stir until the spoon leaves trail marks in the “roux”.
3. Transfer “roux” into a bowl, and place a sheet of cling film (plastic wrap) directly onto the surface of the “roux”. Chill for a few hours until cold.
4. Meanwhile, make the filling. In a small bowl, mix together the oyster sauce, dark soy sauce, tomato puree, sugar, pepper, chicken stock, sesame oil, shaoxing wine and potato starch until smooth.
5. Heat groundnut (peanut) oil in a frying pan until hot, and then sauté shallots until translucent, about 3-5 minutes. Add the char siu and sauce mix, stir constantly until thickened and then transfer to a bowl. Let cool, then cover and chill until cold, preferably overnight.
6. To make the bread/bao dough, stir yeast and milk together in the bowl of a stand mixer. Let stand for 5-10 minutes or until frothy.
7. Add the remaining ingredients, and using the dough hook attachment, mix the dough until it comes together, about 5 minutes. Continue to knead on medium-low speed for a further 10-15 minutes, or until the dough is elastic. To check that the gluten has developed well enough, take a small portion of dough and stretch it slowly between your fingers. If it stretches easily to a thin membrane and you can see light through it when held up (the window-pane test), then it’s ready.
8. Lightly oil the dough ball, then place back into the stand mixer bowl. Cover with cling film (plastic wrap) and place in the refrigerator for an overnight prove. Alternatively, let the dough prove in a warm spot for about 1 hour, or until double in size.
9. The following day, take the dough out from the fridge and allow to sit for 30 minutes (omit this step if you’ve done a warm prove). Punch down the dough and roll into a long sausage shape. Cut into 16 equal size pieces (mine were 46 g (1.6 oz) each).
10. Roll each dough ball into a circle (round) just over 10 cm (4 inches) in diameter, making the edges thinner than the center.
11. Place 1 heaped tablespoon of the filling into the center of each dough circle (round).
12. Carefully pinch up the edges and press together, ensuring the filling is well sealed.
13. Place seam side down onto parchment/silicone lined baking trays (sheets/pans). Cover with a damp tea (kitchen) towel and let prove for 1 hour.
14. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 180°C (350°F).
15. Brush beaten egg yolk over the top of the buns and bake in middle of the oven for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown, turning after halfway to ensure even browning. Enjoy!