Baked Char Siu Bao (Chinese BBQ Pork Buns) – Tangzhong (Water-Roux) Method


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.



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)

To brush

  • 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!

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28 thoughts on “Baked Char Siu Bao (Chinese BBQ Pork Buns) – Tangzhong (Water-Roux) Method

  1. Would it be possible to freeze them after the folding step so that a day or two later, you could thaw out the buns and throw them directly into the oven?

    • Hi Christine, If you’re going to freeze them, my suggestion would be to thaw in the refrigerator and then let sit at room temperature whilst preheating the oven, and then throw them in. Although I’ve not tried this. Let me know how they turn out :).

      • I finally tried freezing the buns. While they tasted okay, they didn’t look as nice… the thawing step created some cracks in the outer surface – just didn’t look as pretty as the fresh ones. Can’t beat them fresh!

      • Hi Christine, thanks for telling me about your “freezing” experiment. It’s a shame that they weren’t as good as fresh. You’re right, you can’t beat them fresh, but I guess this is true with most foods.

  2. does the dough need to be made using a mixer? As I have no mixer so tried to make the dough using my hands using the measurements here and it turned out very wet and soggy, so in the end I ended up putting 750g of flour into the mixture, and when the dough came out of the oven it wasn’t soft like in your picture but rather hard :(

    • Hello Samantha, I’m sorry that your buns didn’t turn out as expected. To answer your question, no, the dough doesn’t need to be kneaded in a mixer, but I think it helps. Why? Mainly because the mixture is pretty messy at the beginning, and because it’s so icky on your hands, most people give into the temptation of adding more flour. The dough needs to be worked at really hard to develop the gluten, which turns the wet and soggy dough into a smooth and elastic one. Adding more flour does nothing to the gluten development, but will dry out the resulting product. Did the dough reach the ‘window-pane’ test? PS: the time noted for kneading is only for machines, if you are kneading by hand, I’m pretty sure you’d need to knead a lot longer.

    • Hello Erica, Thank you for spotting that. I’ve been meaning to change all the t to teaspoons and T to tablespoons, but obviously I missed a few in this recipe. The recipe has now been changed. Yeast is 1 1/2 teaspoons and soy sauce is 1 1/2 teaspoons too.

    • Hi Jenny, I can’t imagine why it wouldn’t work. The tangzhong is only made from flour and water, and I can’t think of anything that could happen to it whilst chilling, except turning if left too long. Try it out, and let me know how it goes. Good luck!

  3. I can’t find the instructions for using the roux. Does it go in with the flour when you mix the yeast mix with the rest of the flour?

    • Hi Hungry, The roux should be added to make the dough in step 7. In the ingredients for the bread dough, you will see “all of the tangzhong (water roux)” listed as the 8th ingredient. I’m sorry if this caused any ambiguity. Thanks for visiting and good luck with the recipe.

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  6. Hello, can i fill and shape the dough and leave in the fridge over night to bake in the morning? How long can I leave the dough in fridge to prove before or after I fill them?

    • I’ll split this response into two, it’ll make it a little clearer:

      (i) I have never put the filled buns into the fridge for a second cold proof, so I’m not sure how they’d turn out. I wouldn’t recommend it, but who knows? You might create wonderful buns that way. The reasons why I’m concerned is that you don’t know how big the buns will get whilst you’re not watching them, also, it’s harder to cover them without them getting over-dry in the fridge (creating a horrid hard crust).

      (ii) For the first cold prove, I have left the dough in the fridge for 24 hours with no problem. I hope this helps, and good luck!

  7. Our local Chinese bakery makes their baos like this. I have been looking for the dough recipe and came across the Tong Zhong starter on YouTube and did some research and I believe is what the bakery uses, soft, airy and sweet milk like consistency. I plan to make this but I am having a difficult time locating the Dry Milk Powder. I am tempted to buy the dry baby formula at our market… Do we have to special order this?

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