Bao buns, encasing a filling of char siu pork, are a popular dim sum item in Cantonese restaurants. Old-timers usually steam them until fluffy white. Immigrant chefs who came to America discovered that when baked, the buns turned golden and pleased the locals. What they got was sort of an Asian hamburger.
Chef David SooHoo, along with his wife, food writer Elaine Corn, is a restauranteer in Sacramento, California, and the baked pork bao is the most popular appetizer on their restaurant menu. David took 5 years developing this particular recipe, a repeated draw at his cooking classes, but has been making bao since he was a teenager cooking in his father’s restaurant. Today he easily prepares the dough in his BreadMaker bread machine by Mr. Coffee, comparing the results to other rich egg breads like challah and brioche. SooHoo doubles this dough recipe (you need a machine capacity of 2-pounds to do this), knowing the dough is ready when it pushes up the lid a bit. He also likes them stuffed with 1-inch cubes of cheese, like Cheddar or Brie. The shaped bao will be baked in this recipe, but if you are comfy with the traditional steamer method, go for it.
David says it takes three times to master any recipe, especially for the handwork involved in the shaping of these buns, techniques that are repeated throughout Chinese cuisine. For that real Chinatown flavor, buy the meat ready-made from an Asian grocery in the deli department (hanging next to the Peking ducks), where it is cooked the traditional way–in a hanging oven.
savory char siu pork filling inside a fluffy bun (notice it is not browned)
Makes 6 buns
- Bao Dough
- 2/3 cup water
- 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
- 1 large egg
- 3 1/2 cups bread flour
- 5 tablespoons sugar
- 1 tablespoon nonfat dry milk
- 3 teaspoons bread machine yeast
- Pork Bao Gravy
- 1/4 cup water
- 1 tablespoon rice wine or dry sherry
- 2 tablespoons oyster sauce
- 1 tablespoon hoisin sauce
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- Bao BBQ Pork Filling
- 3 tablespoons diced yellow onion or stalk of green onions
- 4 ounces prepared char siu (Chinese barbecued pork)
- Bao Egg Glaze
- 1 large egg beaten with 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 1/2 tablespoons white sesame seeds
1. Place all the dough ingredients in the bread pan according to manufacturer’s instructions, reserving 1 1/2 cups of the flour. Program for the Dough cycle; press Start. (This recipe is not suitable for the Delay cycle.) About 5 minutes into the Knead 2 cycle, slowly add the remaining flour. Dough will be stiff, but by the end of the kneading cycle be pliable and smooth. This is important; if the batter is too moist, the bows will flatten as they bake.
2. While the dough is rising, prepare the gravy. Combine the water, rice wine, oyster sauce, hoisin, soy sauce, sesame oil, and sugar in the top of a double boiler. Whisk in the flour. Place over simmering water and, stirring constantly, cook until thick and smooth. It will be the consistency of mayonnaise. Remove from the water bath and cool in the refrigerator.
3. For the filling, chop the pork into a large dice and place in a large bowl with the onions. Add the gravy and mix with the pork. Cover and refrigerate until needed.
4. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper At the beep, remove the dough from the machine and place on a clean wooden work surface. Roll into a fat 3 inch wide log. Cut the log into 6 equal portions. Place a disc of dough on a wooden work surface (don’t shape on cool marble or ceramic because it will stiffen the dough). With the palm of your hand, press down on the center and rotate your palm, spiraling out from the center. The dough will grow into a 3-inch diameter circle (not lopsided, please) with a pretty spiral-pattern radiating from the center like a flower. Don’t use any flour.
5. Using a 1 1/2-ounce ice cream scoop (size 40), place a scoop of filling in the center of the round of dough. Bring up the dough over the filling, and holding the two sides between your thumb and third finger, and pinching with your pointer finger, pleat the edges to encase the filling. Place, seam side down and at least 4 inches apart, on the prepared baking sheet. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature until double in bulk, 45 minutes to 1 hour. If the filling is cold, it will take 1 1/2 hours to rise.
6. Twenty minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 350º Brush each bao with the egg glaze and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Bake in the center of the preheated oven 30 to 40 minutes, until big, puffy, and golden brown. If you have a convection oven, they will bake about 20 minutes.
Eat the day they are baked, or freeze in plastic freezer bags up to 2 months. Reheat in a microwave (no need to defrost) for 2 to 3 minutes for a quick dinner.
Please enjoy the recipe and make it your own. If you copy the recipe and text for internet use, please include my byline and link to my site.