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!
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 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.
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!
- 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.
Dough recipe adapted by: International Cuisine, (Unbranded)