Learning how to make Chinese barbecue pork bun (char siu bao) for my family

filling for char siu bao

baked char siu bao

One of the things that my lovely wife S likes me to do is make char siu (Chinese roast pork). It’s one of the things I feel I can be immodest about. Over the years, I’ve really perfected the art of making it. She’s always bringing home gorgeous fatty slabs of pork neck from Huber’s Butchery for me to turn into yummy hunks of Chinese roast pork. Because we always have char siu in the freezer, I decided recently that I wanted to learn how to make char siu bao. I figured it was something we’d enjoy, and if I knew what went into it, something we could feed our son.

making baked char siu bao

I actually enlisted little T’s help in selecting bao recipes. S has a fantastic collection of Chinese cookbooks, including one devoted entirely to Chinese buns, by a Hong Kong chef named Lee Chun Leung. T and I looked at that one, at Ellen Leong Blonder’s Dim Sum cookbook and at Murdoch’s very large Food of China. I decided that I would test out two kinds of dough. You see, I’ve never really been a fan of the steamed, fluffy dough style of char siu bao. I know most people prefer it. But I’ve just never really loved it. What I like most is the baked style that is common in Hong Kong and in the USA, but which you almost never see in Singapore. In fact, S had never even had one before. She kept saying, “you mean char siu sou, right?” Which it is not. Char siu sou has a flaky crust. The char siu bao I like most has a thin “bready” dough, that is baked and usually has a thin glaze on the surface. Some people refer to this kind of bao as a bo lo bao but a true bo lo bao has a sugary, crunchy crumble on top.

So I decided to make a fluffy bao for other people and a baked bao for me. And hopefully S and T.

filling for char siu baofilling for char siu bao

For the filling, I decided to follow Ellen Leong Blonder’s recipe. The recipe in Food of China seemed too thin and not sticky enough and the one in Lee Chun Leung’s book called for food coloring and some other oddities, which I wanted to avoid. For the steamed dough, I followed the recipe in Food of China, which turned out to be a mistake. The recipe that this book purports is the correct dough for char siu bao is actually the dough one would use to make buns for, let’s say, pork belly burgers à la David Chang. Which means that this dough hardly rises when baked and maintains a smooth skin on the surface. So, while this is actually a great dough to know how to make, it wasn’t the right dough for the occasion. (That said, the bao were actually very tasty… they just didn’t qualify as proper steamed char siu bao. They’re pictured below in case you wanted to see what they looked like.)

char siu bao

The baked bao turned out much better. I followed a “sweet dough” recipe prescribed by Lee Chun Leung, which was easy to make and only needed to rest for an hour before assembly could begin. The finished product went over very well, not just with S but with her parents and mine–all of whom visit us regularly in order to get as much grandparent time in with little T as possible. He, thankfully, also liked the bao, but I suspect he likes any “adult food” he can get his hands on right now.

Making the bao was both fun, and while a bit time-consuming, wasn’t particularly complex. The best thing is these keep well in the freezer and the fridge. Perfect for an afternoon pick-me-up or to serve to a visiting friend.


About Aun Koh

Aun has always loved food and travel, passions passed down to him from his parents. This foundation, plus a background in media, pushed him to start Chubby Hubby in 2005. He loves that this site allows him to write about the things he adores--food, style, travel, his wife and his three kids!