Bread Around the World: Char Siu Bao

It’s a new year, according to the Lunar Calendar, the Year of the Snake.  Since any new years is traditionally a time of new beginnings, it seems a great time to introduce a feature on international breads.  I am very fortunate in that my city is home to a world class China Town with some beyond excellent cuisine.  My Kung Fu Sifu always said he preferred the Chinese food here to his native Hong Kong.  Any time I’m in China Town and feeling peckish I always hit up New Town Bakery for one of their steamed buns, the most popular of which is Char Siu Bao, probably more commonly known as BBQ Pork Buns.  Used to be the thought of missing out on these and other Dim Sum staples was enough to deter even the thought of moving out of Vancouver.  Fortunately I have since learned much and can make my own buns to rival those of New Town’s.  They’re not too hard to make, can easily be frozen and enjoyed later, be microwaved or steamed and are damn near irresistible.

The first stage of the game is the pork for the filling.  The Char (BBQ style, I think is the approximate translation) Siu (pork, I believe) can be purchased for the Bao (buns), and I have a place to buy them a mere three blocks from my Main Street apartment.  It is a great tragedy, however, that not everybody has access to this essential food item, so it is in our best interest to know how to make it ourselves.

Char SiuDSCF1574

1/4 Cup Ketchup
1/4 Cup Honey
1/4 Cup Hoisin Sauce (the most awesome of sauces)
1/2 Tsp Curing Salt*

1KG Pork (I used sirloin chops but the original recipe calls for boneless short ribs)

This recipe is a slight variation on the recipe from Dim Sum, The Art of Chinese Tea Lunch by Ellen Leong Blonder that I’ve altered slightly.  From what I can see though, this is a pretty standard recipe and I’ve found virtually the same one from a few different sources.  Mix the ingredients for the marinade and add the pork.  Marinate in the fridge overnight, then lay the pork in a baking pan and roast at 400° for 15-20 minutes.  Rest for a few minutes, then brush with some additional honey and place under the broiler for three minutes on each side.  Allow to cool.  This recipe makes much more Char Siu  than is necessary for our buns, but I always like having extra for eating in fried rice, stir fry or in chow mein.  Next we finish the filling.

*Curing salt, which I found under the name of Prague Powder #1, is basically Sodium Nitrate.  I got a pretty huge bag for about $10 which, if I’m careful should last me nearly 150 years.  Whether or not that’s worthwhile is up to you, but for this recipe you can use triple the amount of “regular” salt for much the same flavour.

300g Fine Chopped Char Siu
1/3 Cup Water
1 Tbs Soy Sauce
1 Tbs Sesame Oil
1 Tbs Cooking Sherry
1 Tbs Hoisin
1 Tbs Oyster Sauce
1 Tbs Sugar
1 Tbs Cornstarch

Mix the liquids together and bring to a boil.  While they are heating mix together the sugar and the cornstarch then add to the mixture.  Whisk until the sauce is thickened then add to the meat.

Bao Dough

200g Cake Flour (All Purpose works too, the end dough is just a little more dense)
115g Sugar
2 Tsp Yeast
230g Water

Mix the ingredients for the sponge, cover and let rest until bubbly, which should take an hour or two.

300g Cake flour
1 Tbs Baking Powder
1/4 Tsp Baking Soda
1/2 Tsp Salt
1 Tbs Rice Vinegar
1 Tbs Margarine

Add the dry ingredients to the sponge, begin mixing then add the rest.  Knead until smooth and cover to rise.  Once it has doubled in size (another two hours or so) fold down and divide into balls 80g in size.  Roll these flat and put 20g of the filling in the middle.DSCF1580

Fold four sides of the dough circle into the middle then fold in the remaining sides.  Pinch and twist the middle together.  DSCF1581


DSCF1582DSCF1584Your Bao can now be either frozen or steamed up.  Using your bamboo steamer, steam for 8 minutes (12 if they’re frozen) and enjoy.DSCF1588

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