Chinese BBQ Pork Buns are delicious appetizers of tender pork inside of soft yeast rolls. Make this recipe for the best steamed pork bao!
China is a country with many different languages and cuisines, Cantonese being one of them. One of the country’s popular food experiences is dim sum.
Basically, dim sum consists of an assortment of small or bite sized foods served with tea. BBQ pork buns, or pork bao, are a popular favorite.
Baked Chinese BBQ Pork Buns
There are two ways to prepare these pork appetizers, by baking them in an oven or steaming them.
Steamed char siu bao is delicious, but the process is more labor intensive. So, I prefer to bake them.
In researching this recipe for baked pork bao, I wanted THE fluffiest buns possible. The goal being, to replicate the ones I enjoy at my favorite Dim Sum house Jasmine in San Diego, California.
What is the trick? Tangzhong, an Asian cooking technique for making soft, fluffy yeast bread.
What Is Tangzhong?
The tangzhong method calls for briefly cooking a portion of the flour and water to make a paste, which is then combined with the rest of the ingredients. By using hot water, you can actually add more liquid to the dough because flour can absorb twice as much hot water as cold water.
The super-hydrated dough yields rolls that are not just moist but also fluffy because the water converts to steam, which acts as a leavening agent, creating rise.
The extra water also increases gluten development, giving the bread the structure it needs to contain the steam rather than letting it escape. (Source: Cook's Illustrated)
How to make pork bao dough
The Tangzhong technique for making dough involves creating a thick paste of flour and liquid in a pan on the stovetop. This is similar to the technique of making French choux pastry, for the shells of cream puffs and eclairs.
1. Create and cook the dough paste.
2. Incorporate additional ingredients and knead the dough.
If you have a hook attachment for your stand mixer, it will handle the kneading for you. Otherwise, you’ll have to knead it by hand for 15 minutes.
3. Rest and rise the dough.
You’ll need the dough to almost double in size, which takes about an hour. Place it in a nice warm spot. When the weather is cool, I like to use my microwave!
While you wait for the dough to rise, go ahead and make the pork filling.
How to make barbecue pork filling
The filling for the buns starts with char siu, which is a sweet and salty Cantonese BBQ pork. When that is ready, all you’ll have to do is add a few spices, then simmer it in a skillet with some chicken broth and let it reduce. Super easy!
How to make barbecue pork filling
The filling for the buns starts with chopped char siu. When that is ready, all you’ll have to do is add a few spices, then simmer it in a skillet with some chicken broth and let it reduce. Super easy!
How to form Chinese buns
1. Roll and shape the dough.
After the dough has risen, punch it down and turn it over onto a floured surface.
Roll it into a ball and cut it into 12 equal pieces.
To prevent the dough from drying out, cover the pieces you aren’t working on with a damp kitchen towel or sheet of plastic wrap.
Roll each cut piece into a small ball, then use the palm of your hand to flatten it.
Shape each circle by hand or with a rolling pin, keeping the center slightly thicker than the edges. I use my fingers to press and spread the dough, leaving a mound of dough taller in the center than the edges (see top left square in photo below).
2. Add barbecue pork filling to each bun.
NOTE: It’s important to add the filling sparingly. Otherwise, the buns could split open during baking. To prevent this, add no more than 1 tablespoon of filling per bun.
Rather than trying to explain all of the steps here, you can see instructions for each step in the recipe card, or watch my video (in recipe card) to see how it's done!
3. Seal the buns and let them rise. After adding the filling to each bun, you'll seal them and allow them to rise on a parchment lined baking sheet for another hour.
Before allowing the Chinese BBQ pork buns to rise, you can freeze some of the prepared buns to bake or steam in the future.
Just be sure to thaw completely and allow them to come to room temperature before rising and baking.
4. Bake and enjoy!
Before baking, brush each bun with egg wash.
Immediately after removing them from the oven, brush some glaze onto each of the tops. Then, let them cool a bit before you dig in!
Chinese Baked BBQ Pork Buns - Char Siu Bao
- 4 cups bread flour divided
- ½ cup hot water
- 1 cup milk divided
- ¼ cup sugar
- 1 tsp salt
- 3 tsp instant yeast
- 1 large egg
- 3 tbsp butter melted
BBQ Pork Filling
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil
- ½ cup shallots minced
- 2 tbsp sugar
- 2 tbsp light soy sauce
- 2 tbsp oyster sauce
- 1 tbsp dark soy sauce
- 1 tbsp rice wine vinegar
- 2 tsp sesame oil
- ¼ tsp Chinese five spice
- ⅛ tsp white pepper
- ½ cup chicken stock
- 2 tbsp flour
- 2 cups Chinese Char Siu BBQ Pork, diced
- 1 egg beaten
- 1 tbsp water
- 3 tbsp corn syrup
- 2 tsp water
- In a medium saucepan, whisk together ⅓ cup flour with ½ cup hot water and ⅓ cup milk until the flour is dissolved. Put the pan over medium heat and whisk constantly until the mixture resembles a thick paste, about 4 minutes. Set aside.
- In a large mixing bowl with dough hook attached, combine remaining 3 ⅔ cups of flour, sugar, salt, and yeast. Add the flour paste (tangzhong), remaining ⅔ cup milk, egg, and the butter. Stir on Low until dough comes together. Turn speed up to Medium and knead dough for 15 minutes. Using a rubber spatula, scrape the dough into a ball and place into lightly greased bowl. Cover with a damp tea towel, and let rise for 1 hour (See Note 1).
BBQ Pork Filling
- Heat 2 tablespoons vegetable oil over medium high heat in a skillet or wok. Add the shallot and stir-fry for 2 minutes. Add the sugar, light and dark soy sauces, oyster sauce, vinegar, sesame oil, Five Spice Powder and white pepper. Stir and cook until it starts to bubble up, about a minute. Add the chopped BBQ pork and sprinkle the flour over all. Toss to coat and mix in. Cook for another minute.
- Add the chicken stock, reduce heat to low and cook, stirring for 3 minutes until thickened. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool.
- After the dough has risen, punch it down and turn it over onto a floured surface, knead several times. Roll into a ball and cut it into 12 equal pieces. Cover the pieces you aren’t working on with damp tea towel or plastic wrap to prevent them from drying out.
- Shape each cut piece into a small ball. Using the palm of your hand, press down to flatten the dough ball. Shape each circle by hand or with rolling pin, keeping the center slightly thicker than the edges. I use my fingers to press and spread the dough, leaving a mound of dough taller in the center than the edges.
- Place 2+ tablespoons of the filling on the center of the dough circle.
- Bring the edges up and around filling to the center and pinch together. (If there is too much dough, pinch it off and discard and pinch dough to seal again).
- Place filled dough ball pinched side down on floured surface. Place your palm and fingers over the ball, cupping the dough and move the dough in a small circular motion to seal the pinched bottom. Repeat with remaining dough and filling.
- Lay each seam side down on baking sheets lined with parchment paper or silicon mat. Cover with damp tea towel again and let rise for another hour (See Note 2). Preheat the oven to 350°F.
- Brush each bun with egg wash and put them in the oven, bake for about 20 minutes, or until golden brown.
- Remove from oven and brush tops with glaze. Allow to cool slightly before eating.
- I keep it in the microwave, it's a tight small draft free space and it rises great.
- At this point I often times freeze half of them for another day. Seal in an airtight container or ziploc bag after frozen. Thaw and allow to come to room temperature before baking as directed above.
*The information shown below is an estimate provided by an online nutrition calculator. It should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist's advice.