Chinese steamed custard buns also called Nai Wong Bao are deliciously sweet dessert. A popular Asian treat found at Dim Sum restaurants, but I’m going to show you how to make these right at home!
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 teahouse. It was exciting to see the servers push shiny silver steam carts filled with goodies around to each table. The pushcarts are loaded with different types of a la carte items like steamed dumplings, rice noodles with seafood or meat, chicken feet, sticky rice, and sweets.
I don’t speak Cantonese fluently, but I began to learn quickly how to order my favorite foods at Chinese restaurants. 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 this bun recipe with you.
How to Make Steamed Custard Buns
To make homemade custard 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 dessert after dinner.
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’re 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 placed in the center of each dough round. The custard should be scoopable (not runny) and hold shape so that it is easier to handle the bun once filled.
With the filling added, begin to pleat the edges of the bun, slightly stretching the corners of the dough to meet another side and pinch them together. As you fold the dough with your right hand, you are simultaneously twisting the buns with the left hand, resulting in a tightly encased ball.
The seam of the custard filled bun is placed on the bottom, so the surface is nice and smooth when steaming. You can also keep the beautiful twisted seam side up when cooking for a similar look as my char siu bao recipe, a savory bun made with pork filling.
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!
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The Importance of Yeast in Steamed Buns
Steamed custard buns are made with yeast dough. Fermentation of sugar in the dough by the yeast called Saccharomyces cerevisiae helps the dough to rise. Yeast can be killed at temperatures above 138°F (43°C), so make sure not to add water or milk hotter than directed during fermentation. This a long process, however, the result is worth the wait!
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