Cha Siu Bao

…or Chinese Steamed Buns, to put it another way. When we were still living in Glasgow we often went to a gigantic warehouse of a Chinese supermarket, usually ending up with a basket full of weird and (sometimes) wonderful goodies that we had found. Unfortunately we didn’t discover the tiny cafe round the back of the shop until our last visit there before we left the city… It was essentially a room attached to the kitchens, with a small cabinet stocked with various cakes and mysterious delicacies and a shelf or two of baked goods, and it was pretty clear that the usual clientele were Chinese locals rather than Glaswegians – the woman behind the counter didn’t even speak English.  All of which I loved, the whole experience was just like being on holiday! After managing to order two jasmine teas (unfortunately by pointing, I hadn’t learned any Mandarin at that point) we decided to go lucky dip on some of the food. I saw a basket of what looked like plain bread rolls and was keen to try one since I had only heard of the various Chinese steamed breads and hoped that this was one of them – also it was only 40p!

I admit that I fell in love at that moment. I had no idea what it was that I was eating but it was good – slightly sweet, sticky, fluffy bread and a sweet, fruity salty, meaty filling (sounds weird, yes, but just try it!) I ate 3 that day and wish it had been more, because that was the one and only time that I have eaten the wonderful Char Siu Bao.

Moving on…the night before last we had a pack of pork mince (from happy piggies, on offer at Tesco…I hate eating intensively reared pork.) I made most of it into burgers with apple, fennel seeds and sage, but on a whim kept a quarter of it back. I mixed the pork with soy sauce, honey, ginger, garlic, five spice and star anise and left it in the fridge overnight. It’s not the authentic filling (google Char Siu for that) but it was close enough for experimentation purposes.

The fun part (speaking sarcastically) was making the dough. I haven’t made any steamed bread before, so was really flying solo trying to work out which recipe to use. Eventually I settled on one that sounded fairly simple and made the most sense, although I do have my doubts: I followed the recipe exactly but ended up having to add a LOT more flour than suggested. This may have been because the recipe gave quantities in cups, which I hate, but seeing as the proportions should still have been roughly accurate I really don’t know! Anyway, this was the recipe I used:

3 cups plain flour; 1 sachet/7g dried yeast; 1/4 cup sugar; 1/8 cup lukewarm water; 1/2 cup h ot water; 1/2 cup warm milk; 1 tbsp lard/veg oil; 1/2 tsp baking powder.

Prove the yeast with lukewarm water. Make a well in the middle of 21/2 cups flour, add hot water and m ix quickly. Add the yeast mix, baking powder, milk, lard and sugar and mix well, then add the rest of the flour slowly until you form a workable dough. Knead the dough lightly until soft and pliable, and leave to rise for about 45 minutes. Roll into a sausage, cut into 12 and roll each into a ball. Leave to rest for 20-30 minutes. Flatten balls out, place 1 tbsp of filling in middle [I added more soy sauce and honey because my pork was drier than it should have been] and pinch sides of dough together, then turn over and place on baking parchment. Leave to rise 15-20 minutes, then steam for approx. 10 minutes.

The dough after kneading - very soft and sticky

Resting - I know, not the most regular of sizes!

Filled and rising. Not pretty!

In the steamer

The finished product - sticky on the top, soft and fluffy inside.

As I said, I probably doubled the amount of flour to get a dough I could knead, but I kept the original quantities in the recipe above as I’m not going to assume this was the recipe’sfault (Note: whenever I stick to a recipe exactly it goes wrong. Fact.) I also made a bit of a mistake by leaving the dough to rest for longer than I intended, which I think explains why the filling ‘migrated’ and spread throughout the dough when I steamed it – not the most attractive creations.BUT the buns still tasted good! And next time, I think I know how to make them better. I’d be curious to see how this recipe works for anyone else.

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