Chinese Steamed Custard Bun Recipe

Chinese steamed custard bun recipe |

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!

rolled out dough with cut marks |

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!

Tear dough apart into smaller pieces |

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.

Small dough balls ready to work |

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!

Custard on flattened dough |

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.

Pleating dough around custard filling |

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.

Perfect round custard bun before steaming |

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.

Final steamed custard buns with red dots |

Whenever we would go to the tea house for dim sum, I would always tell whoever was closest the 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.

Steamed custard bun broken apart to see filling |

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!

Close up of custard bun filling |

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.

Chinese Steamed Custard Bun Recipe
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 24 buns
These homemade Chinese steamed custard buns are soft, tender, and just the right amount of sweetness. Your sweet tooth will be undeniably satisfied after eating this soul satisfying treat!
Bun 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
Custard Filling-
  • 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
Custard Filling-
  1. Combine custard powder, cornstarch, and sugar in a medium saucepan.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Combine liquid mixture with the flour; gradually incorporate the flour with the liquid to make dough.
  4. Knead the dough for 10 minutes, sprinkling with flour as necessary.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. Cover and let rest 30 minutes.
Dough Breaking-
  1. 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.
  2. Mark into 6 equal parts, 1 ½ inch long.
  3. 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.
Dough Rolling
  1. Flatten each piece of dough with your palm.
  2. Using a rolling pin, roll each into a round disk, making quarter turn with each roll.
  3. Roll to leave the center thick; thinner edges are easier to pleat.
  1. Place about 1 tablespoon of filling at the center of each dough round, flat side up.
  2. 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).
  3. Let buns rest, covered for at least 30 minutes.
  1. 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)


  1. says

    ooo, when i first saw this i thought it was the regular nai wang bao i see all the time – where the filling is the salted custard kind made from salted egg yolks. it’s so rare to see the sweet custard kinds in dim sum restaurants! gonna bookmark this for sure! 😀

      • Sandy says

        These look fabulous! I am going to make an attempt! How long can you let them sit before steaming them? I am hoping to make them in the morning for steaming in the evening. Or is it better to make them the day before, freeze them and then serve the next evening? If frozen, how long should they be steamed? Can’t wait!

        • Jessica Gavin says

          Hi Sandy- Yay! So excited for you to try the recipe, they are my favorite! You can let the formed buns sit at room temperature for 1 to 1.5 hours. If you plan to steam them later in the evening, refrigerate them covered with plastic wrap. Take them out about 1 hour before steaming, allow them to come to room temperature, then steam. You could also steam them the day before, allow to cool, refrigerate in a plastic bag, then microwave for about 15 seconds to reheat, or re-steam before serving. Check out my “steamed pork bun recipe” for a quick step by step video on bun making. Please let me know if you have any questions, I would love to help!

          • Sandy says

            Hi Jessica,

            I made the buns this weekend and they turned out fabulous…I received MANY compliments. Also, it was a lot of fun to make. The only part I got stumped on was the custard…I didn’t realize that I had to let it thicken so much over the stove (for some reason I thought most of the thickening/ firming would happen when it cooled)…but I tried a second batch with more time on the stove and it came out perfect! I also did a batch with red bean and that came out nice too! Thank you!

  2. Jessica Gavin says

    Hi Sandy! It’s so wonderful to hear that you had success and had fun! The custard was a challenge for me as well when I was developing the recipe, but the thicker texture is the goal as its cooking to make it easier to fill the bun. I have also heard success from others who had a runnier filling, and by reheating the custard until it thickens also worked :) The cornstarch needs to be heated until almost boiling so it gets the chance to swell and thicken the liquid, and stirred to prevent scorching and over lumping. Thank you for being brave to try the recipe, and not giving up! The sweet red bean filling sounds amazing, I love using these buns for sliders too!

  3. Karen Kao Ensign says

    I’ve been looking for a recipe for these steamed custard buns for years! And it looks like you’ve made some adjustments (from your previous recipe). I just made the filling and am so excited to make these buns, along with steamed pork buns and red bean paste buns.

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Hi Karen! I’m so happy to hear that you are trying the recipe! I can’t wait to hear how it turns out and any feedback you may have. I created the other custard filling recipe a few years ago, so I retested the recipe and made some adjustments that hopefully helped. Happy steaming!

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Hi Sondra! The flavor may taste slightly different, however if the powder contains egg yolks, sugar, milk powder and cornstarch, I think you will be okay. I would suggest making small test batches so you can play around with the flavor and texture, starting with the same input as recommended in the recipe, then adjusting from there if needed. Is there a brand or particular product you have found?

    • says

      Hi Sondra! The flavor may taste slightly different, however if the powder contains egg yolks, sugar, milk powder and cornstarch, I think you will be okay. I would suggest making small test batches so you can play around with the flavor and texture, starting with the same input as recommended in the recipe, then adjusting from there if needed. Is there a brand or particular product you have found?

  4. Winnie Lau says

    These are my husband’s favourite & I look forward to trying them. Just wanted to ask if I can substitute the lard/shortening for butter? Would it be a 1:1 ratio? I live in Australia where it’s hard to get lard. Thanks!

    • says

      Hi Winnie! Does your local market sell crisco? That would be the shortening I would recommend and it’s usually in the baking section. Otherwise, I would definitely give 1:1 replacement of butter a try! Make sure to let the butter come to room temperature so it is softened and easier to incorporate into the dough. I can’t wait to hear how it turns out!

      • Winnie Lau says

        No, Crisco’s not on sale here. 1:1 replacement of butter works well. Buns turned out perfectly. Thanks!

  5. Thomas Bonasera says

    When I go to pleat buns to secure filling, the pleats do not hold and appears to look as on big twist as if the dough needs to be kneaded more, or should I add a bit more flour. Taste great, but look of final product is taking me some time to perfect, I used dry active yeast.

  6. Custard says

    Hello, Jessica!
    I’ve tried your custard recipe, and its kinda depressing, seeing that I actually failed twice. I’m a first-timer at this.. 😀

    The first time I made it, the custard become scrambled-egg-like, instead of thick pudding?
    Eventhough I keep stirring under medium heat. Was it becoz I kinda overcook it under a long time? .

    So I tried again, this time I use low heat the whole time.. the custard turn lumpy too, but still better than previous. However, when I taste it, I taste cornstarch.. Q_Q

    Any advice? Oh, and um.. can you take a picture of how ur custard looks like when cooking? It might help me when to stop cooking the custard..! Thank you!!

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Hi! Please don’t be discouraged, it’s fantastic that you have tried the recipe (which is pretty techinical), it’s always a challenge the first time or two! Here are some tips: 1) Make sure for the first step when you add the beaten eggs to the custard/cornstarch/sugar/milk mixture, the heat is low, so that the eggs don’t cook and look like scrambled eggs. The mixture will still be liquid at this step. 2) Now gradually increase the heat to medium and consistently whisk the entire time (very important!), which will begin the thickening of the cornstarch. When cooking a custard, the cornstarch helps to thicken the mixture and give the “pudding” consistency. This only happens when the mixture is almost at boiling (100C, you’ll see the liquid begin to bubbly on the surface). This allows the cornstarch to swell and absorb water, then thicken. 3) Once the mixture thickens, you can reduce the heat at this point, continue rapidly whisking and taste as you go. I usually keep stirring and cooking over medium-low to medium heat until I can’t taste the cornstarch (I check the taste every additonal minute after this point). When I can’t taste the cornstarch and the mixture has thickened, I whisk in the butter. 4) With this recipe, the mixture does become lumpy, however keep whisking as you see the mixture thicken, stirring the sides and bottom of the pan to make sure the sides don’t burn and can get incorporated in to the mixture! All of the clumps will not be gone, however it’s important as the mixture cools (either at room temperature or chilled in the refrigerator), that the custard does firm so you can easily scoop and fill the buns. Even though it may be slightly lumpy when cooled, the filling will loosen when the buns are steamed and have a soft and creamy texture.
      I’m thinking of making a video for the recipe so you can see step by step how to make the custard buns, so stay tuned! I truly appreciate your time and feedback!

      • Custard says

        Alright, thank you so much for replying me! And all these wonderful tips..!
        Now I’m more eager to try again! Hahaha, will definitely report back! Hopefully, with good news! XD

        Looking forward to your video too, if you’re making one. Hehhee

      • bun lover says

        hi jessica, i just finish making the custard and if you keep stirring and whisking the thick pudding for about 5 min heavily, the clumps will disappear. now i’m waiting for the dough to grow and tomorrow i’ll serve them♥
        thanks for the recipe!

  7. nick says

    We just made steam buns this morning from your recipe but with sweetened bean paste, So Great! The only part we still need to get right is the pleating and folding, so ours were a little ‘original’ but otherwise they were great! Thanks!

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Hi Nick- Thank you for trying the recipe! The sweetened bean paste sounds amazing! No worries on the pleating, practice makes perfect, and is fun to eat! :)

  8. Shelley Hinatsu says

    I’ve made a similar recipe before the filling didn’t turn out at all, this one looks most like the ones I’ve had in restaurants and would like to try, but I have never heard of or seen custard powder in stores, where can I get it?

  9. Cindy says

    Hi Jessica! I’m excited to try making these. I was trying to figure out the conversions for the custard part of the recipe and wondered if you might have an equivalent of the ingredients in cups/tablespoons/teaspoons/etc and the like? thanks in advance!

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Great question Cindy! Conversions can be really tricky from the metric (SI) system to US/English. The thing that gets confusing is considering density of a food, because a cup of water is not the same weight as a cup of flour.

      However for a rough estimate for cooking, you can use the following conversions for mass/weight/volume:
      1 ounce = 28 g
      1 pound = 16 ounces = 454 g

      For volume use these conversion:
      1 cup = 8 fl. ounces = 240 ml = 16 tbsp = 48 tsp

      I have a common cooking conversion guide on my “resources” tab on the navigation under “conversions”.

      I used this guide to estimate the conversions in the US units for you for the recipe:

      Custard powder (160 g)= 5.7 ounces or 1 cup + 2 tablespoons custard powder*
      Cornstarch (40g)= ~ 5 tablespoons
      Sugar (120 g) = ~ 1/2 cup + 5 teaspoons sugar
      Milk (400 mL)= ~ 1.5 cups + 2.5 tablespoon milk

      *Since the custard powder is a mixture of dried ingredients, I had to guess the closest ingredient density for the conversion to cups. If you can weigh out to 5.7 ounces on a scale, that would be the most accurate measurement.

      Please let me know how the recipe turns out for you. Before you start making the custard, check out my comments section at the end of the post. There are a lot of great questions and answers for trouble shooting. Just make sure to continuously stir the custard over medium heat and don’t stop until it thickens! The custard should not be runny, it should be a thick pudding. Good luck!

      If you love baking, I would highly recommend a digital food scale, your measurements will be much more accurate. I got mine from target and love it!

  10. Marshall says


    • Jessica Gavin says

      Hi Marshall! I think you can definitely use a stiff custard from scratch for this recipe. Just let it chill before filling, that will make it much easier to scoop and fill the buns. Looking forward to hearing how your experience goes for making custard buns!

  11. says

    I put a spoonful of jam in a few so some were jam & custard buns. ACtually they were quite sweet, so the plain custard buns were better. i used birds custard powder. I will try chocolate spread next time instead of custard, for a change! I put half the buns in the freezer and brought out 1 a day to steam. they were perfect! thank you.

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Hi Doreen- I’m so glad that you enjoyed the recipe! I’m impressed that you tried different fillings, let me know how the chocolate filled ones turn out!

  12. Kailia says

    I just tried this sticky bun recipe today on my day off from work. I love this recipe, The preparation takes awhile but so worth the work in the end result. I also tried a filling my boyfriends mom uses. Dehydrated mushrooms, oyster sauce, sugar, sesame oil, three small cooking onions, corn startch. Mix it together leave in the fridge for an hour or two, I like two hours. Then use the custard as well as the mushroom filling. The dough recipe is amazing. Thank you!

  13. rebecca ruiz says

    if i add food coloring to the dough at the end of the kneading process will they be ruined? i love custard buns but they always looked plain to me. i’d like to make them pink!

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Hi Rebecca! Maybe you can try to add a drop or two to the milk so that it mixes in more evenly and the dough does not get over worked at the end. Let me know how it goes!


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