The Best Baked Char Siu Baos (Baked Chinese BBQ pork buns)
I was on a very long search for the perfect baked char siu bao recipe (baked Chinese BBQ pork buns). The best that I’ve ever eaten was from a Chinese bakery in Richmond, BC Canada. We would order boxes of them to bring back home to enjoy throughout the week. Unfortunately, they have been closed for years and I have never found any pork bao as delicious as theirs. I’ll rarely eat the ones at dim sum places, because the ones I truly love are from Chinese bakeries. After years of searching, I found the recipe that meets my high expectations of a baked pork bao. Through about 10 trial and errors, I have perfected these baos to my liking.
The original bun dough recipe is from chef-owner Aquan Jiang at Dim Sum House in Morrisville, North Carolina. I think some steps were missing for that recipe, but I was able change the method to make it work. I’ve tested this recipe using two different methods for the first rise. Doing either a typical 2-hour rise in a warm area (like a warm-turned-off oven with door ajar) or a slow/retard fermentation by sticking the covered bowl with the dough in the refrigerator for 5 hours to slow the rise which enhances flavor development, then remove from the refrigerator about 1-2 hours before shaping. Both methods work and taste the same, I would do one or the other depending on if I need more time in the day before working with the dough. I also found that for the second rise, the buns can’t be in a too warm of an area or it starts to flatten out rather than puff up. Instead of brushing on a glaze after it’s baked, I did an egg wash. I didn’t like the stickiness of the bun from the glaze, I just wanted a golden brown top. I did a lot of trial and errors with the egg washes by first starting out with just 1 whisked egg, but that showed very noticeable brush marks after it baked. So I tried 1 egg with 1 TBLS water, but that still showed brush marks. Finally, I found the perfect mixture for these buns — 1 egg and 2 TBLS water. The end results of the bun is a perfectly round shaped, melt-in-your-mouth, slightly sweet, and super soft bread.
The filling is partially my recipe and chef Jiang’s. I created the char siu pork recipe that’s loosely based off flavors my mom used for her homemade char siu when I was growing up. I tweaked it by adding some other flavors in there and pressure cooked it, resulting in an extremely tender, fall-apart, flavor explosion char siu in just 25 minutes of cook time! If I were making the char siu to be served on it’s own, I would marinate it overnight (sans 1 cup water) before pressure cooking it (with 1 cup water). But for this, since it gets mixed with a sauce for the bun filling, marinating is not necessary and you can’t tell the difference. Just throw the pork in the pressure cooker with the sauce ingredients and start pressure cooking. After it’s cooked, the top of the meat that wasn’t covered by the sauce may look a little pale in comparison to the submerged half, but flipping the pork over after it’s cooked and while you are chopping up the pork piece by piece, it has time to soak up some of those flavors. Then the chopped pork is mixed with the super flavorful filling sauce. Make sure to reserve about 2 TBLS of the sauce before adding the pork and only use that reserve if it’s needed. The pork filling should look moist, but not too saucy. This filling needs to be prepared ahead of time so it can be fully chilled before being used to fill the dough. My usual timeline is I start the pressure cooking and dough mixing at the same time in the morning, and make the filling sauce as the dough is mixing. Then when the dough is mixed and set to do it’s first rise, I chop up the pork and mix with the sauce. Cover and chill until the dough is ready. By then the filling is nice and cold and ready to use. I personally prefer to portion out the cold filling before working with the risen dough for two reasons: 1) I can evenly divide the filling into 16 portions (careful not to use more than 1 heaping TBLS of filling or it will be hard to seal closed) and 2) I can just plop the portioned filling as I’m rolling the dough. Makes the shaping process smoother, but it’s optional.
Shaping can be the trickiest part of this recipe. Making the filling and dough is a cinch. Rolling out the dough circles just wide enough (about 4 inches diameter) for it to fit the filling is key. If rolled out too small, the filling won’t fit and it won’t seal at the bottom. If it’s rolled out too large of a circle, there will be thin spots that the filling will leak out of and/or the bottom of the bun will be dough heavy and the top will be too thin. Don’t be afraid of trying this recipe, though! To make it exceedingly easier to shape, I highly recommend portioning out the filling into 16 heaping tablespoons onto a freezer-safe plate, and placing in the freezer for 20-30 minutes before filling the dough. This allows you to shape the dough easily without having a wet and messy filling smear all over the dough, which would actually prevent the dough from sealing. I’ve made 192 baos as of today and that freezer trick always produces the perfect batch. Without that freezer trick, I would sometimes get thin spots where it would leak out after baking or I’d have to toss a dough ball because the filling got so messy and ruined the dough ball preventing me from sealing it at all. Regardless, they always taste delicious even when it wasn’t perfectly shaped.
During the baking process, it should only take about 15 minutes to get that deep golden brown color. Adjust your oven heat if the first batch is not reaching around that time frame. My oven temperature drops to 315 F in the first 5 minutes of baking, which is frustrating, but I’ve now gotten used to quickly turning off my oven and quickly turning it back on to reset the heat to 350 F. If your oven runs hot and it starts to brown too quickly before the 15 minutes, then lightly drape foil or parchment over the top to prevent it from browning further. Let it cool on a cooling rack. I actually prefer eating these the next day. For some reason, after being stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator makes the buns even softer! Fresh out of the oven is great, but its not the softness that I actually prefer. I want it melt-in-your-mouth softness and eating it the next day (reheated in microwave) reaches that softness I love. After microwaving to reheat, these do NOT get hard like some reheated breads. I’ve also tried freezing these after they’ve finished baking and cooled completely. I didn’t need to separate them to freeze before placing together in a freezer bag, I just put them all in a bag and froze together and they didn’t stick together at all. When I want to eat one, I just pop it into a microwave for around 1 minute. Every microwave is different, just do it long enough that when gently pressed on the top center of the bao it’s soft inside and you don’t feel firm meat. The bread still stays soft.
I’ve made these for parties and have gifted them. I have gotten an overwhelming amount of rave reviews. Not to toot my own horn (especially since the dough isn’t my own recipe), but a couple of people have mentioned these are better than ones in Hong Kong. Quite simply, these are the best baked char siu baos you will ever eat.
If you try this recipe, comment and rate below to let me know how you like it!
Baked Char Siu Baos (Baked Chinese BBQ Pork Buns)
Char Siu Pork:
- 1 ½ lbs boneless, country-style pork ribs
- ⅓ cup Lee Kum Kee Hoisin sauce
- ⅓ cup honey
- ⅓ cup low sodium soy sauce
- 1 ½ tablespoon rice wine, (I use Taiwanese Michiu, a clear rice wine)
- 1 ½ tablespoon granulated garlic powder
- ½ tablespoon ground ginger powder
- ¾ teaspoon Chinese 5-spice powder
- dash white pepper powder
- 1 cup water
- 1 ½ lbs Char siu (recipe included), diced
- 1 cup water
- ¼ cup granulated white sugar
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce, (I use low sodium)
- 1 ½ tablespoons Lee Kum Kee Premium oyster sauce
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch, for slurry
- 2 tablespoons water, for slurry
- 454 grams bread flour, (*Measure by weight is a must!)
- 118 grams (about ½ cup + ½ tsp) granulated white sugar
- 1 large egg
- 203 grams (slightly over 225 ml) water, room temperature
- 7 grams (one ¼ oz packet) instant/rapid rise yeast, (see note)
- 6 tablespoons (84 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature, cubed
- 1 large egg
- 2 tablespoons water
Pressure Cook Char Siu Pork:
- Mix char siu pork sauce ingredients until combined. Pour into pressure cooker pot. Add pork. Flip pork to coat pork. Seal lid and bring to pressure. Pressure cook for 25 minutes. Natural release the pressure. Dice cooked pork and set aside.
- While pork is cooking, prepare the dough. In a stand mixer bowl, add the dough ingredients in this order: bread flour, sugar, egg, room temperature water, instant yeast, then butter. Using a dough hook, knead at medium-low speed (Kitchen Aid Level 4) for 12 minutes. Dough should be elastic with just enough stickiness to clean the sides of the bowl. Remove dough and with your hands and form a ball by pulling the edges toward the bottom and making a smooth taut top. Place dough back into bowl. Cover bowl with a large plate or tightly cover with plastic wrap. Place bowl in a warm area (like a warm-turned-off oven with door ajar) for about 2 hours or until doubled in size.Alternative method for 1st rise: Instead of the 2-hours in a warm area for the first rise, you can instead place the bowl in the refrigerator for around 5 hours. It may not double in size by then, but that's fine since its a little different when doing slow fermentation. Remove dough from refrigerator 1-2 hours before punching down and working with the dough.
- While the dough is mixing, in a saucepan, combine 1 cup water, sugar, soy sauce and oyster sauce in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil. In a small bowl, combine the corn starch and 2 TBLS water and mix until the cornstarch slurry is completely dissolved. Then while vigorously stirring, immediately add slurry to the sauce. Continue to stir and boil until the sauce has thickened. Remove from heat, reserve and set aside 2 TBLS of sauce. Add chopped char siu pork, stir to combine. Filling should be moist but not too saucy. Add reserved sauce if needed. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use later. Filling must be completely chilled before using. Highly Recommended Tip: If the filling is only getting an hour or two of chill time (which is not enough), it will be much easier to handle (when filling dough) if portioned into 16 heaping tablespoons onto a freezer-safe plate. Then placed in the freezer around 20-30 minutes before filling the dough.
- Punch down the dough to degas. On a working surface, like a very large cutting board, form a ball again by kneading and pulling down the sides until top is smooth and taut. Cut the dough evenly into 16 pieces. Shape each piece into 16 smooth balls. Lightly drape balls with plastic wrap or clean towel to prevent drying out. Let the dough balls sit for 5-10 minutes to relax the dough.
- With a rolling pin (I use a small fondant rolling pin), roll out to flatten a ball into about 4 inch diameter. Then add 1 HEAPING tablespoon of filling. Press down the edges of the dough disc to thin them out to prevent a bottom heavy bun. Then pull up the flattened edges and pinch to close and seal any holes.
- Gently, roll the sealed ball in your hands along the sides of the ball, slowly moving your hands downward to get a smooth taut top. Place them seam-side down onto a parchment lined baking tray. Repeat with remaining dough balls and filling. Keep finished dough balls lightly covered with a towel or plastic wrap to prevent drying out. Leave 2 ½ inches space between buns on baking tray.
- Place in a warm area for about 1 hour, or until the buns become rounded, smoothed, and puffed.Tip: I usually turn on my oven to around 100 degrees, then shut it off with door open until inside is just barely warm. When I place the palm of my hand directly on the oven rack it shouldn't be too hot on my hand, then insert the baking tray with the buns. Keep the door ajar. If oven is too warm when rising the dough balls, it will melt the butter and the buns will be flat and melted looking.
- After it's risen, remove from warm oven, if used, and remove the cover. Preheat oven to 350° F and move oven rack to middle position. Whisk together the egg wash and right before baking, brush egg wash all over top and sides of the bun. Bake for 15 minutes, or until the buns turn golden brown. If tops are getting too dark before the 15 minutes, lightly drape foil on top to prevent over-browning.
- Serve that day or allow to cool completely on a cooling rack before storing. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. To reheat, microwave one bao for about 23 seconds. Longer if reheating multiple baos. These are actually a little softer the next day and will stay soft after microwaving, so they're great for making a day in advance to serve for parties or sharing.
- For longer storage, freeze them. Place baked baos that have cooled completely into a freezer safe container or freezer bag, then place in freezer. No need to do an initial separate freezing, as in my experience, they don't stick together as they freeze. Freeze for up to 2-3 months for best quality. To reheat, microwave one frozen bao for about 1 minute. When pressed lightly on the top center of the bao it should feel soft. If you feel firm meat in the center, heat a little longer. The bread will still stay soft after it's been reheated.
- Doubling: If doubling to make 32 buns, double everything EXCEPT instant yeast. When mixing in mixer, stop to scrap bottom of bowl to get everything mixed in. Mixing will take longer when doubling, so mix until the dough cleans the sides of the bowl.
- Yeast: Instant rise yeast can be added directly to the dough ingredients. If using active dry yeast, it will need to be activated. Proof active dry yeast (same amount of yeast in recipe), by placing it in a bowl, then add ¼ cup warm water and ½ tsp sugar (take these from the measured ingredients listed above). Let it rest for 10 minutes or until the yeast foams up and is completely dissolved. If it doesn’t foam up, the yeast is dead and should be discarded and repeated with new yeast. Once it is dissolved and foamy, add all of it to the rest of the dough ingredients. Continue with the recipe. Be aware that active dry yeast may take a little longer to rise to desired amount compared to instant yeast.
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