Chinese Baked BBQ Pork Buns (Char Siu Bao)


This is Kristina from late-ish Wednesday night. I just had a few friends over for a weeknight dinner party that would make any New Jersey Housewife proud. We feasted on eggplant parm, baked penne, kale salad (with homemade yogurt ranch dressing, OMG), red wine, and famous chocolate chip cookies and milk. I'm so full and happy. I'm super sleepy, but for some reason I felt like it was a good time to write. I'm also alone tonight. Reuben is away on a little business trip in Tahoe. It's weird to be alone in the apartment at night, I get spooked by every random thud and the tree branches scratching up against windows. But I'm taking advantage of my alone time. Meaning I'm going to write, stay up late, listen to annoying pop music, and binge watch crappy TV. It reminds me of the time before Reuben and I moved in with each other. Tonight, I'm catching up on Riverdale! Reuben hates it so much, but I can't get enough of it.

Have you started listening to Christmas music yet? How many times have you heard "All I Want For Christmas Is You"? Not enough? Me too.

I feel like the internet has been exploding with holiday cookies and eggnog flavored things lately. And I'm over here thinking about all the buns that I want to make. Typical. I think I'm just getting ahead of myself and jumping to my next holiday, which is Chinese New Year. I'm planning waaaaaay in advanced this year because I have big ambitions of throwing a huge Chinese New Year party in February. I envision endless and multiple dumpling options and a table covered in buns. However, both buns and dumplings take time and are pretty labor intensive. So I'm preparing and practicing 3 months early. 

Don't get me wrong, I have some Christmas cookies to share with you next week! And I'm working on a Christmas Red Velvet Cake this weekend. The holiday spirit is alive and well with me, but I'm just trying to break up the sugary sweetness with some BBQ Pork Buns!

I've ate approximately 209,248 pork buns in my life. Rough estimate. They are one of my favorite snacks and a must buy whenever I step into a Chinese bakery! When they are good, they are SO GOOD. Pork buns can be either steamed or baked. The dough should be pillowy soft. The pork on the inside should be tender, salty, but slightly sweet, and just saucy enough. Thankfully, I live in a city where every dim sum shop or Chinese bakery makes a pretty stellar BBQ Pork Bun or Char Siu Bao.

I've made my own BBQ Pork Buns a few times, but the dough was never quite right. Until now. After extensive research, I read about the tangzhong method, which is making a mixture of bread flour, milk, and water to help activate the dough and give it it's pillowy soft consistency. Reuben wanted to prepare his own Char Siu Pork for the bun fillings because he is the meat expert in this partnership. Is that a weird title? I've shared the recipe for the pork tenderloin if you want your buns to be extra homemade, but you can totally go to your local Chinese BBQ joint (the places with the ducks hanging in the window) for a pound of BBQ roast pork. It will save you a few hours. Pro Tip: order a pound or more because you're going to end up snacking on half of it before it makes it into your buns. We are going to work on another recipe using pork butt or shoulder in a few months and will share it with you soon!

I'm going to be honest with you. This is recipe takes a while. But isn't the holidays a great time to deep dive in crazy delicious but long recipes? You know you're about to plan a whole weekend decorating cookies. If I had to pick between a pork bun or sugar cookies, I'd most definitely pick the pork bun!

Baked BBQ Pork Buns

makes 12 buns

For the Pork Marinade:

3 Tbsp honey
3 Tbsp hoisin
1/2 tsp chinese five spice
3 Tbsp oyster sauce
1 Tbsp chinese cooking wine (Bourbon also works!)
2 Tbsp brown sugar
1.5 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp light soy sauce
1 Tbsp dark soy sauce
1 tsp red food coloring

For the Pork:

~ 1 1/4 lb pork tenderloin
2 Tbsp ketchup
2 Tbsp honey

For the Pork Filling

1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup finely chopped white onion
2 Tbsp brown sugar
1 1/2 Tbsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp oyster sauce
1 Tbsp dark soy
1/2 cup water
3 Tbsp cornstarch
~ 2 cups chopped BBQ Roast Pork

For the Buns:

25g bread flour
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup water

2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast (1 packet)
1/2 cup lukewarm milk
1 beaten egg
350g bread flour
50g sugar + 1/4 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
2 Tbsp butter
1 tsp oil
Egg Wash (1 egg+1 tbsp water)

To Make the BBQ Pork:

1. Whisk together all the ingredients for the pork marinade. Reserve 1/3 of the marinade for the glaze. Cut the tenderloin lengthwise. Combine the pork tenderloin and remaining marinade in a ziplock bag and let marinade for at least 2 hours or overnight.

2. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil (for easy clean up) and place the pork tenderloin on the sheet. Cook for 10 minutes. Combine 1/3 cup marinade with ketchup and honey to make your glaze. After 10 minute in the oven, glaze the top and bottom side of the tenderloin. Cook for another 5 minutes and then reglaze. Continue to glaze every 5 minutes until the pork has been in the oven for about 30 minutes.

3. Remove the pork form the oven and allow to rest for 20 minutes before slicing into the meat.

4. Enjoy! Make sure to reserved about 2 cups for the bun fillings.

To Make the BBQ Pork Buns:

1. In a small bowl whisk together 25g bread flour, 1/4 cup milk, and 1/4 cup water until smooth. Heat a small sauce pan over low to medium heat and cook the flour and milk mixture, stirring continuously, until thick. It will take about 2-3 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and cover with a towel or plastic wrap and let cool. You got your tangzhoug!

2. Combine lukewarm milk (I microwave the milk for 30 seconds) with 1/4 tsp sugar and yeast in a small bowl. Let proof for 5-10 minutes. You should see a few bubbles develop on the surface.

3. Whisk together the yeast mixture with the tangzhoug and beaten egg until combined.

4. Attach a dough hook to your standmixer. Sift together bread flour, sugar, salt in the bowl of your standmixer. Add in your yeast mixture and knead on medium high speed for 10 minutes. Add in butter a little bit at a time. The dough should be smooth and elastic.

5. Pour oil into a medium-large bowl and turn it to grease the sides of the bowl. Add dough into the bowl, cover with a towel or plastic wrap, and allow to proof in a warm place for 1-2 hours. If it is a little cold, I like to place my dough in the oven while it is off with the door left slightly open.

6. While the dough is proofing, preparing your filling. Heat oil in a skillet over medium high heat. Cook onions until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add in the rest of the filling ingredients and allow to cook for another 5-8 minutes until thickened. Set aside in a bowl and allow to cool.

7. Lightly flour your work surface and turn out your dough. Divide the dough into 12 equal parts. I like to cut it into wedges, scone style. Roll one wedge into a small bowl. With a small and lightly floured rolling pin, gently flatten the dough ball until you have a 3-4" diameter disc. Fill with heaping tablespoon of pork filling. With the dough in the palm of your hand, carefully pinch the bun closed. Pinch and twist the bun in a counter clockwise direction.

8. Place the formed buns, pinch side down, on a parchment lined baking sheet. I used a 9x12 pan so that they touch and look more like dinner rolls. You can also use a larger baking sheet and spae them farther apart.Cover with a kitchen towel and allow to rest for another hour in a warm place. The dough should double in size.

9. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Brush the tops of the buns with an egg wash and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Bake for 20-25 minutes until golden brown! Enjoy!

dough recipe was adapted from Betty Liu's Furikake Milk Buns recipe!