Char Siu Bao - first attempt

As I hinted in the post about Char Siu there was more Chinese cooking coming up. With the left over BBQ pork we of course had to make Char Siu Bao: steamed buns with char siu filling. I actually didn't like those at first in Hong Kong (what was up with my taste buds then? Char Siu Bao is delicious!), so Markus always got them to himself. But they grew on me, and by the end they were one of my favorites, competing with chicken and glutinous rice in lotus leaves, and another steamed dumpling which I believe had pork in it plus some kind of nuts and vegetables, and was served with a super hot red dipping sauce. They can be seen in this picture (sorry it's a bit blurry) - if anyone can identify it and tell me exactly what's in them, pretty please leave a comment!

So, Char Siu Bao. We turned once again to The Chinese Kitchen by Deh-Ta Hsiung and a recipe for steamed buns (you'll get it below), and immediately encountered four problems:
1. The recipe called for dry yeast. I have never used that before so I was a bit apprehensive. I know some people are uncomfortable using fresh yeast, which I don't get - baking with fresh yeast is easy, just make sure the liquid isn't too hot. Turns out, using dry yeast was super easy too. Okay, problem solved. Problem number two was a bit tricker though...

2. We were almost out of flour, and it was raining cats and dogs, as the Brits say (could I please get a mixture of tuxedo cats, soft coated wheaten terriers and Whisky?), so another trip to the grocery store was not too appealing. But if you kind of filled the measuring cup and really shaked the bag to get every teeny grain of flour out, and also used some special bread flour with extra protein (= develops more gluten) that we also had to squeeze out every last bit of, we could get the correct amount. Almost. In hindsight, we should have gone to the grocery store. Keep reading and we'll tell you why.

3. The recipe said to use self-rising flour. We don't have that in Sweden, but a quick googling told me what amount of baking powder to add to the flour (it's 1½ tsp baking powder for one cup flour). With that out of the way, we turned to the biggest issue:

4. The Chinese Kitchen didn't tell us how to make Char Siu Bao. Of course we could have googled and for instance used this recipe but for some reason we didn't. Instead we said "well, the english version of the dim sum menu said that it's BBQ pork and oyster sauce in the filling, so let's go with that!" We cut up the left over Char Siu and added oyster sauce according to the "do you think this is enough? Well, how the hell should I know? Well, I don't know either. Ok, just a little bit more"-principle.

The dough was a charm to work with, and we got our buns to be quite pretty if I may say so myself. Wanna see 'em in all their pre-steamed glory?

After steaming and tasting, it turned out that problem two and four had impacted the end result quite significantly. First of all, appearance wise: the buns got way too shiny. I understand that it's probably hard to get that really white color with the kind of flour we have here, but I also think that the extra gluten might have impacted the color of the buns. It also affected the texture: the buns got a bit too rubbery and tough and didn't have that right "short" consistency. And then the filling. Well, that was just way too boring and flavorless. Next time I'll just send myself here, type in "char siu bao recipe" and I'm sure that we'll get a much better result.

It wasn't a complete failure, we still ate all of the buns (yes, six each, they were our dinner), and they didn't taste bad or even super far from the original (just pretty far...). But there was definitely room for improvement, and we'll for sure let you know how our next attempt turns out. Anyway, here's the recipe for the steamed buns. Just follow it closely (i.e. go to the grocery store if you don't have enough flour) and I'm sure they will turn out great!

Mantou (steamed buns)
From The Chinese Kitchen by Deh-Ta Hsiung

Makes about 24 buns (we halved the recipe and it worked well)

For the dough:
1 tbsp sugar
2 tsp dried yeast
10 fl oz (3 dl) warm water
4 cups self-rising flour

Dissolve the sugar and yeast in the water and let it stand for 5-10 minutes until the mixture is frothy. Sift the flour into a bowl, the gradually stir in the liquid. The dough will be firm. Knead for 5 minutes, then cover with a damp cloth and let the dough rest in a warm place for 1-1½ hours.

After resting, knead the dough again for 5 minutes on a lightly floured surface. Roll it out into a sausage shaped form. Cut into 24 pieces. Flatten each piece with your hand, and then roll it out to a disc about 10 cm in diameter.

I won't give you a recipe for filling here, but these buns can have both sweet and savory fillings. Take about a tablespoon of your chosen filling and place in the middle of the dough. Gather the edges together to meet at the top (see above pictures for how it should sort of look). Twist to enclose. Let the buns stand for at least 20 minutes before cooking.

Place the buns on top of a cheesecloth or on individually cut out pieces of parchment paper on the rack of a steamer (we use a Chinese style bamboo steamer, it worked great). Cover and steam vigorously for 15-20 minutes. Serve hot.

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