char siu bao

Char Siu Bao Recipe

Images of eating Char Siu Pao with my parents at a bustling dim sum shop in Ipoh still flashes vividly in my memories after more than forty years.

This childhood memory is sweet and nostalgic. The excitement of waiting for the waitress taking out the steamingly hot Char Siu Pao from the dim sum trolly made me smile in reminiscence.

The soft and tender bun, the oozing soy based thick gravy and the meaty filling weaving seamlessly into a perfect culinary masterpiece. Today, Char Siu Bao is still taking the center stage of all dim sum spread in every Chinese restaurant.

Char Siu Bao or char siu Pao ( 叉烧包) is the most famous classic Cantonese dim sum. Delectable and exotic, a meal of dim sum can truly be one of the best you’ve ever had.

steamed Char siu bao

Dim sum is a delightfully Chinese delicacy usually served with tea. It literally translates to "touch the heart," which means "take what your heart picks." The culinary art of preparing dim sum has been long-held by the Cantonese in Southern China.

Cha Siu Bao is a bun filled with barbecue pork. Barbecue pork is called Char Siu (or char siew) in Chinese, hence the name Cha Siu Bao. This pork bun is generally eaten from morning to early afternoon and usually served with Chinese tea, which is called yum cha ( drinking tea ) by the people in Hong Kong. Nowadays, you can also find barbecue in many lunch menus in Chinese restaurants all over the world.

Note: You will notice that I use chicken in the recipe. Char Siu Bao is filled with pork traditionally in China. However, there are some restaurants filled it with chicken meat, which is equally delicious. If you like to use pork, just substitute the chicken with 80% lean pork and 20% pork fat. It will turn out fantastic.

Char Siu means barbecue meat, which can be any meat.  There are stores in most Chinese community sell this type of barbecue meat as the filling of the bun.  You can also make it by yourself.  If not, follow this recipe, and it will turn out just like using the barbecue meat.


The buns are steamed by high heat to let the dough expand rapidly and burst open at the top, partially revealing the meat filling. This steamed pork bun is best to serve hot straight from the steamer.

The buns of the classic recipe are filled with the stir-fried trimmings of roasted pork butt which is slightly fatty but tender. You can use chicken meat instead of pork so that it is suitable for people of all races and religions.

char siu bao

The technique of making the dough is similar to that of making bread. The main difference is to use, multiple types of leavening agents to achieve the tender, bouncy and bursting surface. Of course, it is steamed, not baked. The buns are cooked in less than ten minutes due to the intense heat generated by the steam in the enclosed steamer.

My proven Char Siu Bao recipe with juicy filling

4.3 from 4 reviews
Char Siu Bao Recipe
Author: 
Recipe type: Breakfast
Cuisine: Chinese
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 12
 
Char Siu Bao is the most popular item in the Cantonese dim sum repertoire.
Ingredients
Dough starter
  • 200g of pao flour
  • 10g of dry yeast
  • 145g of icing sugar
  • 285ml of lukewarm water
Other ingredients of the dough:
  • 10g of baking powder
  • 400g of pao flour
  • ¼ teaspoon of vinegar (optional)
  • ¼ teaspoon of ammonium bicarbonate (optional)
  • 50g of shortening
  • 2g of salt
Filling:
  • 400g of diced chicken breast meat (or use 80% lean pork and 20% pork fat)
  • 60g (4 tablespoons) of sugar
  • 12g (2½ teaspoons) of cornstarch
  • 200ml of water
  • 70g (4½ tablespoons) of oyster sauce
  • 25g (5 teaspoons) of light soy sauce
  • 35g (7 teaspoons) of dark soy sauce
  • 50g of onion
  • 1 teaspoon of 5 spices powder
  • 45ml (3 tablespoons) of oil
Instructions
Fillings:
  1. Heat 3 tablespoons of oil in a pan or wok, sauté the onion for 1 to 2 minutes until soft and transparent. Add the diced chicken breast meat and sauté until the chicken is cooked.
  2. Add the remaining ingredients. Stir and cook until the gravy thickens.
  3. Transfer to a plate and let it cool.
Dough:
  1. Dissolve the dry yeast in water.
  2. Add 200g of pao flour and icing sugar. Mix well and cover for an hour.
  3. Add the remaining items into the starter mixture and knead for 8 to 10 minutes.
  4. Cover the dough with a piece of damp cloth and let it proves for 30 minutes, or until the size has doubled.
  5. Divide the dough into 50g portions. Let the dough rest for 10 minutes.
  6. Flatten the dough with a rolling pin to form a circle of 8-10 cm in diameter. Place 30g of filling in the middle, wrap and pleat the dough to seal. Place it on a 1.5 inches (4cm) square baking paper, sealed side up.
  7. Place the Char Siu Pao in a steamer, leave about 2-3 cm gap in between each Char Siu Pao. Steam in a preheated steamer on high heat for 8 minutes.
  8. Remove the Char Siu Pao immediately from the steamer and cool them on a rack to prevent the bottom of the Char Siu Pao from becoming soggy.
Nutrition Information
Serving size: 1522g Calories: 4603 Fat: 110g Saturated fat: 25g Trans fat: 0.1g Carbohydrates: 717g Sugar: 227g Fiber: 20g Protein: 185g Cholesterol: 308mg

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How to make Char Siu Bao- video demonstration  (3.57 mins)

Note: Some techniques are easier to understand by watching  the video.)

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How to make Char Siu Bao like the professional chef

1. The meat filling

How to prepare the juicy filling

char siu bao fillingYou can use more water than stated to cook the filling. It is important to cook it until the gravy is thick enough. If it is too thick, the filling will not be juicy. If it is too diluted, it is difficult to seal the ingredients in the dough. I have water as part of the ingredients to cook the filling in the recipe, but you may notice that I did not add any when I demonstrate in the video. This entirely depends on you. As long as the consistency is just like what I show in the video, it should be good to go.

What other meat is suitable besides pork for making Char Siu Pao?

Traditionally, barbecue pork ( char siu 叉烧) is used. You can use chicken breast meat as it is suitable for all races and religion. The flavor is very close to that of pork.

When you prepare the filling, there are a few points that you need to note:
1. Sauté the onion until it turns fragrant before adding the chicken meat.
2. Combine the cornflour with water to form a slurry before mixing it with the meat, or you can just mix EVERYTHING together. It really does not matter.

2. The pastry

Choose the best flour to make the Char Siu Bao

Use the right type of flour to make Char Siu Bao. I have seen different types of flour suggested by chefs, and I would like to elaborate a little on this subject.

The suitable types of flour for making Char Siu Bao is Pao flour or Hong Kong flour. The low percentage of protein of these types of flour will produce the optimum amount of gluten required for bouncy and soft buns. Both are bleached and can produce white buns normally seen in dim sum stores.

The difference between Pao flour and Hong Kong flour is that yeast is added to Pao flour, and it is not added to Hong Kong flour. You can add more dry yeast even if you use Pao flour just in case the yeast is inactive. If you have difficulty to get Pao flour, you can use cake flour as it contains a similar percentage of gluten, but the color of the Pao will be slightly yellowish.

Freshly milled flour is bleached and the natural color is yellowish. Bleaching will not only whiten the flour to make it more appealing, but it also breaks down the gluten level further and makes the flour softer. Wheat flour contains protein and when it comes to contact with water, it develops gluten, which gives elasticity and strength to baked goods. Different baking items need different percentages of protein for optimum gluten development. Here is the summary:

  • Cake flour - 6-8% protein
  • Pastry flour, Pao flour, Hong Kong flour ( also known as Waterlily flour = 香港水仙面粉) 8-10% protein
  • Self-raising flour - 8-9% protein
  • All purpose and plain flour - 10-12% protein
  • Bread flour - 12-14% protein

char siu bao

3 Leavening agents to ensure it is soft and tender

There are three leavening agents used in the recipe.

Both baking powder (sodium bicarbonate) and yeast are used to achieve the bouncy and soft texture. Both are quite common in baking, but you may be unfamiliar with ammonium bicarbonate.

Ammonium bicarbonate ( commonly known as 臭粉 In Chinese ) is a leavening agent nowadays seldom used. It is also hardly used in any western baking products. It is used in the recipe to serve a special purpose- to produce the signature bursting surface of the Pao.. The professional finishing of Char Siu Bao should be burst ( 开花 ) into three or four parts on the surface, much like the crevices on top of a hot cross bun. It is created by using ammonium bicarbonate instead of cutting lines on the surface as for bread.

You can omit ammonium bicarbonate as it does not contribute to the flavor of the Char Siu Bao. The only difference is that the surface may not burst into parts, the ‘professional’ finishing of Char Siu Bao.

char siu bao as dim sum

The right way to knead the dough

char siu baoDough making is quite similar to making bread. Some chefs prefer to prepare a starter just like for making bread, as in this recipe. In this case, part of the flour will be used to prepare the starter. The flour will ferment longer which results in a better flavor.

Some less common ingredients in dough making explained

Is lye water necessary in the recipe?

Lye water ( 碱水 )- some recipes suggest adding lye water into the dough. Our recipe has no lye water. There is a problem if you add too much lye water as it will leave a bitter taste to the Pao. I do not use lye water in this recipe.

How about include wheat starch in the recipe?

Wheat starch ( 澄面粉) can be added to the recipe in a smaller amount. Wheat starch can produce a very soft and bouncy texture since wheat starch has no protein. The Pao made by following this recipe is quite soft and there is no need to add wheat starch.

How about adding vinegar to the recipe?

Vinegar is added for a purpose. Since wheat starch has no protein, and Pao or Hong Kong flour has a low protein content, the development of gluten that contributes to the strength, and texture will be limited. The ideal pH for gluten development is 5-6. This will encourage gluten development and produce a more extensible (easier to stretch) dough. Vinegar helps to maintain the pH of the dough so that it is not too alkaline due to the use of baking powder and ammonium bicarbonate. This will produce Pao with good texture and yet is bouncy and soft.

However, I have tested my pao recipe and noticed that as long as the oil and the flour are white, there is no need to add any vinegar. Therefore, I do not include vinegar in my recipe.

How to make the bun whiter than snow white

A number of recipes suggest that vinegar can whiten the dough. However, we have tried to make Pao with and without vinegar, and the color of the Pao is identical.

The answer to the snowy white Char Siu Bao lies in the color of the flour and oil that you use. Hong Kong flour and Pao flour are bleached and will produce white Pao. If you use the standard cake or all purpose flour, the color of the Char Siu Bao will be slightly yellowish.

The type of oil you use will affect the color of the Pao. If you use vegetable or animal oil, the Pao will be slightly yellowish. We use shortening of soy origin to produce a snowy white Pao. If you want to use a healthier alternative, use unbleached flour and vegetable oil instead of bleached flour and shortening, The flavor will not be affected. But the Pao will not be as white as those from a professional dim sum shop.

3. Wrapping, steaming and storage

How to wrap the filling- best to watch the video

Filling of char siu baoThe nest way to understand how to wrap the filing is to watch the embedded video. The following is the summary:

1. Roll out the dough to a round shape, but leave the center slightly thicker as this is the bottom part of the Pao.
2. Wrap and pleat the dough to seal the filling.
3. It is not necessary to seal the Pao dough tightly, Just folding and slightly squeezing with your fingers is sufficient. This is different from shaping the pie crust, where the line formed by you will stay even after baking. Most of the folding lines will disappear after steaming due to the strong leavening action by baking powder and yeast. It is (traditionally) acceptable if the dough is 'erupted' due to the rapid expansion of volume during steaming and review part of the filling.

The right way to steam the Char Siu Pao

1. Place each Pao seal side up on a small piece of oiled baking paper.
2. Place the Pao in a steamer tray. Make sure the water is boiled rapidly.
3. Steam the Pao on high heat for eight minutes with plenty of water and covered at all times during the entire steaming process.
4. Please note the bigger the paos, the longer you need to steam them. There will be a starchy taste for paos that are not fully cooked. It is harmless to steam a little longer than suggested.

How to keep the Char Siu Pao for an extended period

1. You may want to make a large batch of Char Siu Bao but and keep part of it. The best way is to steam only the number of pao you want, and froze the raw pao (with the cooked filling inside). The is the same way how to keep the raw dough of bread in the bakery.
2. Place the freshly wrapped bao on a large baking tray.   Put the tray of bao in the freezer until the baos are hard enough.  Keep them in a platic container and keep in the frezer until you want to steam them.
3. Arrange the frozen bao on a steamer tray and wait until it is at room temperature. You can now steam the bao just like the fresh one.

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Char Siu Bao Recipe was last modified: May 29th, 2017 by KP Kwan

15 Comments

  • KP Kwan

    Reply Reply June 2, 2016

    Hi, this is KP Kwan. I am happy to see you at this comment area, as you have read through my recipe. I am happy to reply any questions and comments as soon as possible.

  • Catherine

    Reply Reply July 8, 2016

    Hi KP Kwan, love your recipes and blog. As a Malaysian living in the US, it is very hard to find a Malaysian restaurant unless we live near to it. Chinese food here is very different, very Americanized. Again, unless we live near a city with a Chinatown where we could get our hands on authentic chinese food. Your recipes are wonderful and very educating. Now i can make them when ever i miss Malaysian food. Thank you KP.

    • KP Kwan

      Reply Reply July 8, 2016

      Dear Catherine,
      Thank you for your kind words and it’s my pleasure to share.
      KP Kwan

  • Liz

    Reply Reply March 1, 2017

    Hi KP Kwan! Thank you so much for sharing this wonderful recipe. I have always wanted to make a soft and white char siu pao. Other techniques are more complicated and requires more ingredients. Yours are simple and easy to understand. I have one question, do you have these ingredients listed in US measurements, instead of metrics? I tried to convert it but it doesn’t to seem right. I am greatly appreciate for your help! Thank you, KP!

    • KP Kwan

      Reply Reply March 2, 2017

      Hi Liz,
      1 tablespoon is 15g, 1 teaspoon is 5g, 1 cup is 250g.

      However, this is a rough calculation, and it depends on the density of the ingredients. That is why I have converted all the measurements to weight, which is the most accurate method.

      I strongly suggest you purchase a digital weighing machine with accuracy down to 1g, which I use it in the kitchen in my cafe and works very well.

      Meanwhile, try to use the above guidelines. I also have just found a conversion table as below and hope it is useful to you.

      http://startcooking.com/measurement-and-conversion-charts

      KP Kwan

  • Liz

    Reply Reply March 2, 2017

    Also KP, can I use granulated sugar in replacement of icing sugar? Thank you!

    • KP Kwan

      Reply Reply March 2, 2017

      Hi Liz,

      I have not tried to use granulated sugar so far. I think it should work too as long as you knead the dough until the sugar is fully dissolved. With icing sugar, it should be easier as it is in the powder form.

      KP Kwan

  • Tom

    Reply Reply April 1, 2017

    Why have you filled a pork bun with chicken 😐

    • KP Kwan

      Reply Reply April 2, 2017

      Hi Tom,

      Thanks for pointing out the confusion. I have just added the following note in my post:

      “You will notice that I use chicken in the recipe. Char Siu Bao is filled with pork traditionally in China. However, there are some restaurants filled it with chicken meat, which is equally delicious. If you like to use pork, just substitute the chicken with 80% lean pork and 20% pork fat. It will turn out fantastic.”

      So if you like pork, go ahead and hope you enjoy it.

      KP Kwan

  • Mun Yee Wong

    Reply Reply June 25, 2017

    Hi KP,
    Tried your recipes twice recently, although I made my own fillings. The second time, the pau dough turned out wonderful, so pliable, therefore easy to fill and pleat. I used butter instead of shortening the second time because I don’t want to use shortening anymore in my cooking. Don’t know what goes inside the shortening.
    Anyway, everyone who tried had only good reviews for the dough. This is a keeper, a recipe I will use from now onwards. Thanks KP. Keep them recipes coming!

    • KP Kwan

      Reply Reply June 25, 2017

      Hi Mun Yee,
      Glad to know the recipe works.
      Butter has much better flavor than shortening. Alternatively, you can use lard (the traditional way), but some people are concerned about the health aspect of it.
      Shortening contains trans fatty acid which is known to increase cardiovascular risk. The reason I use shortening is that the color is the lightest, and able to produce near-white buns. The color of the bao is a little yellowish if you use butter, but I guess it does not matter.

      KP Kwan

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