Char siu bao

 Char siu bao….There's a Cantonese song for it and I couldn't stop humming. That song stuck into me like a broken recorder. Perhaps I've made some char siu a couple of days ago. I suppose that's a calling for me to make some char siu bao - this famous Cantonese steamed staple filled with juicy roast pork is a must-eat for most dim sum. For me, the reasons are simple: nostalgia. I remember when we were really small. My sister around 8 years old, my cousin at 7, me at 6 my brother barely 5. Our entire extended family will be at Hong Kong for a month or two during the school holidays. And us being the youngest of the lot are required to wake up at 6am and troop to a yum cha restaurant at Winsor Palace to queue for tables. For the reason that their baos were simply one of the best in Hong Kong, the restaurant will be packed by sunrise. The grown ups, my aunts, uncles and grandma will stroll in around 8am. We usually sat on the very large round table in front of a platform with a backdrop of dragon and phoenix that doubles for wedding banquets. As soon as the tea are order, we will be sent off to hunt for the dim sum trolleys that were stacked high with bamboo steamers of baos and dumplings. My sister will wobble her way through back to our grand table with the stacked dim sum delicacies and I will follow behind wading gleely with the stamped dim sum cards. 

I've made char siu bao more than a dozen times while teaching at a culinary school. The classes are rather short with multiple recipes to be taught. Time constrain is a factor. Good bao requires 2 days to develop its soft, fluffy, sweet flavours. With time and patience, the end result will be as good as what the dim sum place serves. Reckon I can share the recipe with you now.
 For the classic smiling buns of char siu bao, I'll need to get into some details: the recipe requires a use a starter. The dough starter recipe requires a minimum of 12 -24 hours to culture, depending on temperature. The finish start should be foamy and doubled in size. A combination of a few drops of lye water, a strongly alkaline solution, together with baker’s ammonia to make the buns, and the results were quite spectacular – the buns rose just like the ones you see in yum cha restaurants. Nevertheless, if time is not on your side, you can use the starter within an hour of proving at 30˚C (put it in a warm oven) and omit the alkaline and baker's ammonia. They’ll still steam up soft and delicate.
To start of making the bao you need to cook water Roux.
Water Roux made a different in the texture of steam bao. The result is extremely fluffy, soft and tender; the gluten in the flour and water mixture would absorb the moisture and become leavened. To make water roux – 1 part flour is being cooked in 5 parts of water to 65ºC. In measuring terms, 25g flour to 125g water for the bao recipe below. The water roux keeps steamed bao moist, soft and extremely fluffy.

Dough starter
300g hong kong flour
1 packet instant yeast = 2¼ teaspoons
2½ tablespoon sugar
125 mL full cream milk
1 portion of water roux

Making bao is very similar to bread making. 
Add flour, yeast, sugar and water roux into a mixing bowl and pour the milk. Roughly incorporate water into the flour and set aside covered with damp tea towel for 15 mins to let the flour absorb the water. This will make the kneading easier.

Mix the flour mixture to form a dough, add more milk or flour if required. The dough will be a bit sticky at first, knead until it's soft and smooth. It takes approximately 20 minutes depend on how you knead it. Coat a mixing bowl with oil. Place dough in a mixing bowl, cover the bowl with wet cloth or cling wrap and let the dough rest for an hour or until it double in size. 

When dough is double in size about 45 minutes, punch air out and knead into a ball. To maximize the flavor. Proof a second time round in the fridge left overnight. When ready to use, leave it till it warms up to room temperature and double in size again.

Ingredients for bao
Dough starter (recipe above)
80g Hong Kong flour
40g corn starch 
3 tablespoon lard or oil
½ teaspoon ammonium bicarbonate
2-3 drops lye water
1½ tablespoon baking powder
1 tablespoon white vinegar

Add all the ingredients to the dough starter. Knead well for 10 mins to form dough. Divide dough into pieces and add filling of your choice.

Ingredients for filling
200g roast pork, diced
2 tablespoon diced shallots
1 tablespoon Lee Kum Kee Char siu sauce
1½ tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon Chinese shaoxing wine
1½ teaspoon corn starch
¼ cup water

Alternately if you have pre made char siu sauce,
200g roast pork, diced
2 tablespoon diced shallots
1 cup char siu sauce
1½ teaspoon corn starch (Mix into the char siu sauce)

Oil for cooking

Mix all ingredients together. Heat the oil in pan and sauté the diced onions until translucent. Add pork mixture. Cook until sauce thickens. Reserve the filling in a bowl and keep refrigerated until use.

To assemble buns
Flatten the dough and place filling in the middle. Pleat to close buns. Set the buns on a small piece of paper. Lay the buns in bamboo steamer and let it rise for 15-30 mins. Steam on high heat for 10 mins. 

For salted egg custard buns (lau sar bao) 流沙包, click here.
For Mantou/Basic bun recipe, click here.

- till next post, ss. 

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