Wednesday, December 14, 2011

December Daring Cooks Challenge - Char Sui Bao (Cantonese BBQ Pork Buns)

As you may have noticed, we love Asian cuisine around here. And I am seriously excited by trying to learn to prepare more of it at home. Not only is it cheaper and healthier than the take-out variety, but it is a ton of fun, too.

So you can imagine how excited I was when I saw the announcement for this month's challenge.

Our Daring Cooks' December 2011 hostess is Sara from Belly Rumbles! Sara chose awesome Char Sui Bao as our challenge, where we made the buns, Char Sui and filling from scratch - delicious!

This challenge involved two aspects - first, the Char Sui (Cantonese BBQ pork), then preparing the Boa, the buns (which, in itself, involved two aspects - the filling and the dough!). The whole challenge had my mouth watering from the get go, and had me very excited to pay a nice visit to the local Asian grocery. See, the actual list of ingredients for the marinade for the pork was pretty long, and involved a few specialty items. And even the not-so-specialty items, well, I knew I could save a buck or two if I got them at the Asian grocery. So off we went, list in hand, and came home with all kinds of fun ingredients, all ready to prepare our marinade.

The marinade was very easy to prepare. The hardest part for me was grating the fresh ginger root, something I have never actually done. My first attempt resulted in me, well, juicing it more than grating it, but I finally wound up with what I needed and was ready to proceed with the rest of the recipe. Which consists of a tablespoon or two of each of the ingredients you see above, all dumped into a bowl. Kind of like this.

A little whisking later, and all that was left to do was to pour it over the meat.

This then went into the fridge. I actually prepared the marinade and meat before bed one night, and let it rest in the fridge until I was ready to pop it in the oven the next evening, so it had plenty of time to really flavor the meat.

The result of all of that time was a really juicy, flavorful cut of meat.

This made for an outstanding dinner. Seriously, we had to stop ourselves from eating both pieces that we'd prepared, since we knew we needed the second piece for the second half of the challenge.

Daddy, little miss and I all absolutely loved it. Little man had to miss out on this one, since one of the ingredients in the marinade is hoisin sauce, for which I used the homemade hoisin sauce recipe that I'd provided to the Daring Cooks during the Moo Shu challenge, which happens to contain peanut butter. Next time I make this, I'll find a substitute, because I know he'd have loved this, too.

After that delicious dinner, we were all eagerly anticipating the next part of the challenge, the buns.

Sara provided us with two options regarding the buns - we could steam them or bake them, depending on preference and availability of kitchen tools (for steaming). I was so excited by this challenge that it was just the motivation I needed to finally purchase a bamboo steamer. Sara provided two dough recipes, too - one for each cooking method. I chose to follow the recipe given for the steamed buns, but, out of curiosity, decided to steam only half the buns and bake the other half. Call it a science experiment if you like, we just really wanted to see what the differences would be.

The dough is a sweet yeast dough, made with scalded milk, sugar, oil, salt and flour. A pretty basic dough and very quick to come together. I started the dough first.

Then I proceeded to prepare the filling, which mostly involved chopping the reserved Char Sui pork.

And chopping a couple of onions.

The onions and meat were tossed into a pan to be heated, and then a few sauces (oyster sauce and dark soy sauce, as well as some sesame oil) were added for extra flavor.

The resulting deliciousness was then thickened with a basic slurry (cornstarch whisked into chicken stock).

Then set aside to cool, while the dough finished resting.

At this point, it was time for the hands on part, the actual construction of the buns.

The dough recipe indicated that it would make 20 buns, but I divided it up into 16 portions, which worked really well. Each portion was hand-rolled into a ball, then flattened into a disc with a rolling pin.

Into each portion, I spooned a tablespoon or so of the prepared filling.

I then tried like heck to seal each bun using the process shown in this video, provided to us by Sara. It is not as easy as it looks, but I wound up with some buns that, well, kinda looked something like they were supposed to...

I cut little squares of parchment paper to go under each bun in the steamer to make the steamer easier to clean, also. Half of the buns went into the steamer baskets, and the other half (which, luckily, didn't need to have those cool pleats), went onto a baking sheet.

Funny enough, both sets of buns cook, via their own method, for about the same amount of time. Very convenient! So fifteen minutes later, dinner was ready!

I am so glad that I tried both cooking methods simultaneously, because comparing them side by side was really interesting. The steamed buns expanded more during the cooking process, and the baked buns retained more of the sweetness of the dough. The steamed buns both looked and tasted more authentic, but the baked buns were a bigger hit with little miss (no surprise there!).

But they were both absolutely delicious.

Sara, thank you so much for this amazing challenge. I will definitely be making everything again, both the delicious Char Sui and the awesome Bao. I can't wait to try all kinds of different fillings for those buns, too, and to play with my new bamboo steamer, as well!

You can check out the work of my fellow Daring Cooks here.

And here are the recipes I used, as presented in Sara's challenge (and the changes that I made are noted), which I highly recommend trying out for yourself!

Char Sui

1 pork filet/tenderloin (roughly 1 - 1 1/2 pounds)
4 large cloves of garlic, crushed
1 teaspoin (3 gm) ginger, grated
1 tablespoon peanut oil
1 1/2 tablespoons maltose (a sweetener. You can substitute honey for this, which is what I did)
1 1/2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
1 tablespoon light soy sauce
1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
1 teaspoon oyster sauce
1 tablespoon shaoxing cooking wine
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
pinch of salt
1/2 teaspoon five spice powder
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon pillar box red food coloring (I omitted this)

Trim the pork loin to remove the fat and tendon and slice the meat lengthwise so that you have two long pieces. Then cut each piece in half. By cutting the pork into smaller pieces to marinate them, you will end up with more flavorsome char sui. If you want to leave the pork in once piece, you can do that as well. Place the meat into the container in which it will be marinated.
Combine all the other ingredients in a bowl and mix well to combine
Cover the pork well with 2/3 of the marinade mixture, reserving the remaining 1/3 covered in the fridge for use in basting the meat while cooking. (I actually poured all of the marinade over the pork and it worked out very well.) Marinate at least four hours or overnight.
When ready to cook, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Cover a baking dish or tray with foil. Place a cooking rack onto the prepared dish or tray on which to cook the pork. (I do not have an oven-appropriate rack, so I cooked my pork directly on the foil, which I'd sprayed with non-stick cooking spray.)
Transfer the meat from the dish in which it was marinated to the baking dish or rack.
Bake for ten minutes at 350, basting and turning the meat.
Raise the oven temperature to 400 degrees and cook for 20 minutes more, until the meat is cooked through.
I used bigger pieces of pork, so I cooked my meat at 350 for 15 minutes, then at 400 for 40 minutes. I then turned the oven to the broil setting and cooked each side for just a couple of minutes to help char the outsides.
If you would like, you can also grill the meat (rather than oven baking it), or you can sear it in a pan prior to putting it in the oven.

Char Sui Bao

for the dough:
1 cup milk, scalded
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon oil (I used canola, but the recipe didn't specify)
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 teaspoons dried yeast (I used active dry)
3 cups plain flour (I used all purpose)

Scald the milk, then stir in the sugar, oil and salt. Leave this mixture to cool until it is lukewarm. Once the temperature is right (around 105-110 degrees), add the yeast, then let it sit until the yeast is activated and the mixture becomes frothy, about 10-15 minutes.
Sift the flour into a large bowl.
Add the milk/yeast mixture to the flour. Bring the flour mixture together with your hands, then knead on a lightly floured surface for approximately ten minutes. (I sifted the flour into the bowl of my KitchenAid mixer, then used the dough hook and incorporated the milk/yeast and did the kneading all in the machine, which worked out great.)
Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl (I kept it in the KitchenAid's bowl, just gave it a little spray of oil on top) and cover with a damp cloth. Leave it to rise until it doubles in size, 1 - 2 hours, depending on the temperature of your kitchen.

for the filling:
12 ounces prepared char sui, finely diced
2 shallots, finely diced (I used onions as I did not have shallots in the house)
1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1/4 cup chicken stock
1 teaspoon cornflour (corn starch)
1/2 tablespoon vegetable oil

Heat the vegetable oil in a wok or pan. Add the diced char sui to the pan and stir, then add the onions. Cook for one minute. Add the soy sauce, oyster sauce and sesame oil and stir fry for another minute. Whisk the cornflour and stock together, then add to the pork mixture in the pan. Stir well and keep cooking until the mixture thickens, about one or two minutes. Remove the mixture from the pan and place into a bowl to cool. Set aside until ready to use.

To prepare the buns:
Once the dough has doubled in size, gently deflate it and divide it into 20 portions (I did 16 and the sizing worked great). Roll each portion into a round ball.
Use a rolling pin to roll each ball into a circle approximately two inches in diameter. Using your hands, gently pull the edges out to enlarge the circle to about three inches in diameter (mine were a little bigger) (this makes the edges thinner than the center, keeping the center of the bun stronger for the filling, and keeping it from cracking).
Place a good sized tablespoon of filling into the middle of the circle of dough.
Gather the edges of the dough and seal the bun.

If baking the buns:
Place the bun on a parchment covered baking sheet, seam side down.
Preheat your oven to 392 degrees F (200 degrees C, converted exactly, is 392. Close to 400 on your dial, for those of us whose ovens aren't quite that precise...).
Brush the top of each bun with egg wash (if desired).
Bake for 15 minutes, until golden brown.

If steaming the buns:
Place the bun on a square of parchment paper inside the steamer basket, seam side up (you can attempt the pleating method in the video above, if you are so inclined). Set your pan of water on to simmer.
Place your steamer basket(s) over the pan of water, covered, and steam for 12-15 minutes.

I promise, it's actually quite a simple process, and is absolutely delicious.


  1. Great job on these buns. It seemed like a ridiculous number of ingredients for the marinade, but each one added something that the others could not. I'm definitely interested in trying some other fillings.

  2. Great job! Your char sui and bao look delicious! :)

  3. Nice job!
    I baked mine & was very pleased with results - definitely would like to try the steamed version in the future!

  4. Isn't it nice having an Asian Market so conviently close? LOL

    We loved the marinade too, and this challenge was great!

  5. As always you did a wonderful job on this challenge. I too had to go shopping to complete the marinade ingredients but iti was so worth it..
    I love the fact that you made both steamed and baked versions.

  6. I love the way you pleated the top of your steamed bao. Yummy!

  7. I am really happy you enjoyed the challenge. I love the pleating on your buns, they look fantastic!

  8. Yum yum, I ate some of my Cha Siu with rice too. Your steamed and baked bbq buns look delicious!

  9. Beautiful buns, Shelley! Both your steamed and baked look terrific! I'm so addicted to these :)

  10. Both sets of buns look absolutely beautiful, Shelley! Gorgeous pleating. Ack, I wish I hadn't run out of time.

  11. Your buns all look great, and you had the scientific interest to do both methods of cooking too. This was a fun challenge for sure.

  12. These look fantastic - the steamed ones look so tender - making me wish I'd given them a shot as well as baked. I'm also loving the giant bottle of honey in your ingredients picture - I've only ever seen it in jars!

  13. Shelly, you've outdone yourself. that pork looks so amazing, it's hard to believe it lasted until you made the buns! wow!

    then your steamed and baked buns both look great. Isn't it nice to be able to make these? I can't wait to try again!

  14. Love how you did steamed and baked buns the meat looks delicious and moist. And great to hear that the recipes went down so well with the family. And I agree the dough is wonderful and easy to make and gives a moist buns. Cheers from Audax in Sydney Australia.

  15. It looks wonderful and great idea to bake some and steam some. I love the texture of the steamed ones, so that's what I did, but I did pan-fry some first to brown the bottoms, then added a bit of water and covered to finish cooking. Your pleats look great--my friend and I managed only a few nice-looking ones! We were pretty hungry..
    Oh, and for the ginger--I'm tired of it going bad, so I keep it in the freezer and then it's easy to grate from frozen.


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