Chinese new year is just around the corner! This year on February 10 we celebrate the year of the snake, the sixth animal in the Chinese zodiac. The snake is known for being keen, cunning, intelligent and wise. The Chinese lunar calendar is based on a 12 year cycle represented by different animals (except the majestic dragon) and their characteristic attributes. To celebrate the new year I thought it would be fun and festive to make a classic steamed pork bun recipe, also called char siu bao.
The filling is made up of tender pieces of pork marinated in various Chinese spices and sauces giving tons of flavor in each bite. You can take a look at my Cantonese char siu recipe to see how I made the pork.
To shape the bun, each piece of dough is gently hand rolled to create a round surface, 1 tablespoon of pork filling is placed in the center, and then the bun dough is carefully pleated until the filling is encased inside the dough. The buns are covered and allowed to rise for about 30 minutes to yield a lighter and more tender bun after steaming.
The steamed pork buns are cooked for 8 to 10 minutes in the steamer, and expand almost double in size! Once uncovered, the buns are piping hot and extremely tender and soft, making it hard to eat only one! The steamed pork buns reheat very well too, I have some in my freezer for anytime I get a craving!
The pork in this steamed bun recipe can be substituted for any of your favorite fillings, in one of my other favorite recipes I made steamed custard buns, also known as nai wong bao.
This is my go-to steamed bun recipe, it has worked perfectly every time I’ve made the buns and I promise that your friends and family will be very impressed! You can learn how to make the basic steamed bun recipe and how to shape the buns in the video below.
TIP #1 – The buns are made from a yeast raised dough, the yeast acting as the leavening agent. The magic that happens to help make the dough rise is fermentation. Yeast are living organisms, so just like us, they need food to grow. During fermentation, the yeast eat the sugars in the dough, and the end result (by product) is the creation of alcohol and carbon dioxide. The alcohol evaporates during baking, and the carbon dioxide assists in leavening.
TIP #2 – The absolute most important step in making yeast raised dough, is to not kill the yeast. It is one of the first steps in the process and the most integral. Yeast die at temperatures above 138°F!
TIP #3 – Temperatures between 100 to 110°F is optimal for hydrating active dry yeast. In the recipe, I indicate to combine warm water at 105°F with sugar and yeast. When the yeast mixture is allowed to sit for 10 minutes, you can see fermentation in action! The mixture starts to foam from the yeast eating the sugar and creating carbon dioxide. If you do not see any foam created, your yeast has died. Start over and make sure to use a digital thermometer to test the temperature before you add the yeast to the water.
Traditional Chinese steamed pork bun recipe (char siu bao). Each soft and tender bun is filled with sweet and savory barbecue pork. You don’t have to leave home for some dim sum!
2 cups barbecue pork (char siu), ¼ inch dice
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
4 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon peanut oil
2 teaspoons sesame oil
4 tablespoons peanut oil
4 teaspoons shallots, minced
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
12 tablespoons chicken stock
2 tablespoon dark soy sauce
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 extra-fine granulated sugar (Pulse in a grinder for 30 seconds)
1 cup whole milk, warm (105°F)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 tablespoon baking powder mixed with 1 ½ tablespoon water
For the filling base heat the oil over medium heat and sauté the shallots 2 minutes or until light brown. Add the flour, stir to combine, and cook 1 minute.
Add the chicken stock, stir well, and cook 2 minutes. Add soy sauce and cook one minute.
Remove from heat and stir in cut pork and seasoning ingredients (oyster sauce, sugar, peanut oil, and sesame oil). Chill until very firm.
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.
I'm Jessica Gavin, a certified culinary scientist and food is my passion! This site features my recipes, restaurant reviews and lifestyle insights. If you enjoy what you see, you should consider subscribing and following me via the links below!
Jessica Gavin is a certified Culinary Scientist who works at one of the world's leading nutrition companies. She develops healthy food products and supplements for consumers around the globe.
Jessica has a bachelors degree in Food Science with a masters in Dairy Products Technology from Cal Poly State University in San Luis Obispo. Jessica also holds an associate degree in Culinary Arts from The Art Institute of Orange County, CA.