Growing up in the San Francisco Bay area, my family and I would have dim sum at least once a week at our favorite Chinatown tea house. It was so exciting seeing the servers push shiny silver steam carts filled with goodies around to each table. The dim sum carts were filled with different types of a la carte items like several varieties of steamed dumplings, rice noodles with seafood or meat, chicken feet, sticky rice and sweets.
I don’t speak Cantonese fluently, but I began to quickly learn how to order my favorite foods at this Chinese restaurant. Even to this day I anticipate the steam cart that brings my favorite dim sum treat; nai wong bao or steamed custard buns! This is my absolute favorite comfort food, and I am delighted to share with you my Chinese steamed custard bun recipe. I hope you enjoy!
To make homemade steamed buns is a labor of love, but well worth the time and effort! I recommend making the dough in the morning, so that you can enjoy the steamed buns for dessert. The dough is made with yeast, so time is needed to allow for the fermentation process or “proof” several times at various preparation stages. When the dough has completed the fermentation steps, it’s ready for shaping into buns!
This method is called “dough breaking”, you use your hand to separate each piece instead of a knife, because it will be easier to shape back into round dough balls.
Once each piece of dough is separated, they are rolled into balls, flattened, and rolled out to be large enough for adding the delicious custard filling. You can also make these buns into sliders by adding your own favorite fillings after you slice them!
A generous tablespoon of custard filling is added in the center of each dough round. This steamed custard bun recipe should be scoopable (not runny) and hold shape so that it is easier to handle the bun once filled. If you are craving a more savory filling instead, I also have a recipe for steamed pork buns.
With the filling added, begin to pleat the edges of the bun, slightly stretching the corners of the dough to meet another edge and pinch them together. As you pleat with your right hand, you are simultaneously twisting the buns with the left hand, resulting in a tightly encased dough ball.
The seam of the custard filled bun is placed on the bottom so the surface is nice a smooth when steaming. You can also keep the beautiful twisted seam side up when steaming for a similar look as my char siu bao recipe. Char siu bao is a savory filled bun.
Whenever we would go to the tea house for dim sum, I would always tell whoever was closest to the server to ask if they had “the custard buns”. I knew they were the right ones when they arrived with a small red dot in the center of the pastry. For authenticity and to bring back childhood memories I used food coloring and a small round stamp to create the red dot on the custard buns after they were steamed.
These heavenly pastries are so delicious, that I always have to bring a pink box filled with more nai wong bao home when I visit Chinese bakeries. When I make these buns at home, I can tell you that they don’t last very long!
This Chinese steamed custard bun recipe turns out soft, tender, and just the right amount of sweetness. Your sweet tooth will be undeniably satisfied after eating this soul satisfying treat!
TIP #1 – The bun dough used in the Chinese custard buns are yeast raised. Fermentation by the yeast of the sugars in the dough helps the dough to rise, allowing with the steaming process. This a long process, however the end result of soft, tender and light custard buns are worth the wait!
TIP #2 – Yeast isn’t only responsible for helping baked goods rise, but also for wine and beer that all of us enjoy! The species of yeast used for these fermentation products is called Saccharomyces cerevisiae.
TIP #3 – Baker’s yeast comes in three forms; compressed (cake), instant dry and active dry. Compressed is fresh yeast mixed with starch at 70% moisture, it is softened in 2x it’s weight in warm water before adding to the dough. Instant dry yeast is “fast acting”, it can reduce rising time by half! It can also be added directly to dry ingredients without rehydrating. Active dry yeast is very low in moisture compared to compressed yeast, the dried yeast is in a semi-dormant state and has a longer shelf life than fresh yeast, up to 2 years! I used active dry yeast in the custard bun recipe, which needs to be rehydrated in warm water before adding it to the dough.
- 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
- ¼ cup warm water (105°F)
- 2 ¼ teaspoon active dry yeast
- 4 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoon lard or shortening
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- 1 cup whole milk, warm (105°F)
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1 tablespoon baking powder mixed with 1 ½ tablespoon water
- 160 g custard powder (Dr. Oeker Crème Brulee product- 2 packages)
- 40 g cornstarch
- 120 g granulated sugar
- 400 ml whole milk
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 4 large eggs, slightly beaten
- Combine custard powder, cornstarch, and sugar in a medium saucepan.
- Add in milk, and stir mixture over low heat for 1 minute until mixed, then gradually add the beaten egg. Increase the heat to medium; the mixture should start to gently boil. Constantly whisk until thickened; the texture should be similar to a very thick pudding and may be slightly lumpy. Taste the custard, it is done cooking when you cannot taste the cornstarch . Stir in the butter until fully incorporated.
- Let custard filling cool and set aside until ready to use. The custard will become slightly firm as it cools. This is the correct texture as it will be easier to scoop out, fill and shape the bun.
- Dissolve sugar in warm water, sprinkle yeast over; let stand 2-3 minutes, and then stir to mix well. Let set until it starts to foam, 10 minutes.
- Sift flour and make well in the center. Whisk together the lard/ shortening, sugar, yeast mixture, and milk. The fat will not completely dissolve into the liquid.
- Combine liquid mixture with the flour; gradually incorporate the flour with the liquid to make dough.
- Knead the dough for 10 minutes, sprinkling with flour as necessary.
- Use the oil to grease the outside of the dough; cover and let rest in warm area 1 ½ hours or until double in size.
- Punch dough down and flatten out to about ¾ inch thick. Spread the baking powder mixture evenly on the dough (this acts as a stabilizer). Roll dough up and knead about 10 minutes, or until smooth and satiny. The dough should be firmer than regular white bread dough.
- Cover and let rest 30 minutes.
- Divide the dough into four equal parts. Roll one part by hand to form a rope approximately 9 inches long and 1¼ inch in diameter.
- Mark into 6 equal parts, 1 ½ inch long.
- Holding the dough with one hand, grip at the first mark with the thumb and index finger of the other hand and tear away briskly to break off a small dough piece. Continue breaking until you have 24 pieces.
- Flatten each piece of dough with your palm.
- Using a rolling pin, roll each into a round disk, making quarter turn with each roll.
- Roll to leave the center thick; thinner edges are easier to pleat.
- Place about 1 tablespoon of filling at the center of each dough round, flat side up.
- Gather the edges by first pleating counterclockwise, and then twisting to seal securely. Place the bun round side up on a square piece of parchment paper (2.5 X 2.5 inches).
- Let buns rest, covered for at least 30 minutes.
- Steam on high heat for 8 to 10 minutes. Do not uncover the steamer any time during the steaming. If a flat lid steamer is used, wrap the lid in a kitchen towel to prevent condensed steam from dripping on the buns.
Dough recipe adapted by: International Cuisine, (Unbranded)