Thursday, May 2, 2013

AB #31 - Smiling Char Siew Bao Hong Kong Style (港式叉烧包)

I would be lying if I tell you I made this on 1st May. No, I made this a few weeks ago, in preparation for my steamed buns event. I actually bookmarked quite a few bao recipes with good reviews from other bloggers, nearly 10 of them, with the intention of trying out all. But after a while, I realised that I had to be selective, so I narrowed down to just 2 to 3 recipes for making the Hong Kong style of smiling bao. These 2-3 recipes contain ingredients that I happen to stock at home, namely, double-action baking powder, HK flour or cake flour and shortening, these are the key ingredients to making the Hong Kong Style Char Siew Bao, the kind that splits into a smile on top. There were a couple of other recipes which intrigued me, but they either required the use of kansui (mixture of potassium carbonate and sodium carbonate) or ammonium bicarbonate, so those were immediately striken off the list, as there was no way I could get hold of those exotic ingredients here. :)

I have seen Lydia Teh's recipe being referenced in quite a few blogs, so hers was the first that I tried. Her recipe was quite special, she used HK flour (or cake flour), wheat starch, icing sugar, shortening (or vegetable oil) and baking powder (the normal type, not double-action) and yeast of course. What was special about her recipe was that she sprinkled the dissolved baking powder over the dough instead of adding it at the beginning. For those of you who can't get double-action baking powder overseas, this is the recipe to try! But you have to get your hands on yet another difficult-to-get ingredient, which is wheat starch, otherwise known as tung mein fun, tung fun or 澄粉. Now, which ingredient is more difficult to find overseas, double-action baking powder or wheat starch? The former of course!

By the way, wheat starch is NOT wheat flour, NEITHER is it corn starch NOR potato starch NOR tapioca starch, please don't get it wrong! Wheat starch is a type of flour often used for making dim sum and is responsible for the translucent skin of shrimp dumplings (har kow). If you can't get wheat starch from the supermart, then I can only advise you to skip this recipe and try another one. It is apparently quite easily available in Belgium, I got mine from a chinese supermart in Antwerp Chinatown. 

Some of you may wonder what are the differences between Hong Kong flour, cake flour and plain flour/all-purpose flour? Well, if I start discussing what are the differences in detail, this post will get very very lengthy. Just suffice to say that all these flours differ in their gluten levels. Cake flour is 6-8%, HK flour is 8-10%, plain flour or all purpose flour is 10-12% whereas bread flour is 12-14%. 

HK flour (otherwise known as Water Lily flour 香港水仙面粉) is highly bleached. Why do you need to bleach the flour? Well, freshly-milled flour is unbleached and is yellowish naturally. Bleaching whitens the flour, breaks down the gluten level further and makes the flour softer, hence HK flour is most suitable for making asian dim sum especially this HK style of fluffy super-white char siew baos. You sometimes hear pau flour used interchangebly with HK flour. Well, pau flour is mostly synonymous with HK flour but if it is the premix type of pau flour, then it contains extra ingredients such as yeast. Cake flour is made from soft wheat flour and is also bleached most of the time. It has even lower gluten level than HK flour and is suitable for making cakes, biscuits and cookies with a tender and delicate structure. So if you wanna make super-white buns, whiter than the face of Michael Jackson, make sure you use HK flour, pau flour, or cake flour, because they are all bleached low-gluten flours. 

I am very happy with the results of this recipe, it produced soft, smooth and fluffy char siew baos, surprisingly white with a very good texture and the texture was still as good even on the 2nd and 3rd day, just as long as you keep in the fridge and warm it up before eating. You can probably tell that I am a newbie at bao-making by just looking at the pleats of my buns, but I hope you can forgive me, I am still learning. Practice makes perfect. :)

Ok, I know I am very long-winded and you have already dozed off. So let's get started and get our hands dirty!

Hong Kong Style Smiling Char Siew Bao (港式叉烧包) (makes 16 buns)

(Fillings recipe is adapted from my char siew bao recipe)
Ingredients (Fillings)

250g char siew, chopped
1 onion or 2 shallots, chopped
1 tbsp oyster sauce
1 tbsp light soya sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
150ml water + 1.5 tbsp corn starch
1/4 tsp salt
1 tbsp castor sugar
1-2 tbsp oil for frying 

Method (Fillings)
1. Heat up a wok and add in 1-2 tbsp oil for frying. Add in chopped onion or shallots, followed by  chopped  char siew, oyster sauce, light soya sauce and sesame oil. Season with salt and sugar.

2. Fry for 1-2 min, then add in the cornstarch solution and continue to stir until it thickens. Remove from heat and set the char siew aside to be cooled. Divide into 16 portions.

(Bao dough recipe is adapted from Lydia Teh of mykitch3n)

Ingredients (Bao Dough)
8 g or 2.5 tsp instant dry yeast (I used Bruggeman, belgian brand)
160 ml lukewarm water
0.5 tsp white vinegar or lemon juice (optional)

280 g Hong Kong flour or cake flour (I used cake flour)
100 g wheat starch 
90 g icing sugar 
30 g shortening or vegetable oil (I used shortening. Do not use peanut oil or olive oil if you are using vegetable oil)

10 g or 2 tsp baking powder
10 ml cold water

Method (Bao Dough)
1. Sift together HK flour/cake flour, wheat starch and icing sugar in a large mixing bowl and make a well in the middle. 

2. Fill the well with lukewarm water, vinegar and yeast. Use a spatula, gently stir the water to dissolve the yeast then slowly bring together the flour mixture. 

3. Add in shortening or vegetable oil and knead for 10-15 min until a soft smooth dough is formed. (I kneaded for 15 min using the dough mode of my bread machine. The end result should be a smooth non-stick dough.)

4. Cover dough with plastic clingwrap or damp kitchen towel and let it rise for 30 min or until doubled in size in a warm place. (I proofed my dough for 40 min.)

5. Dissolve baking powder in COLD water, sprinkle over dough and knead until well combined. There is no need to rest the dough after adding in baking powder, but if time allows, rest it for 10 min to get fluffier buns. (I used my hands to give the dough a thorough knead for 2 to 3 min. Note that the 2 tsp of baking powder fizzled and became foamy when dissolved in cold water. The baking powder became cakey and grainy and I had to add a few extra drops of cold water to dissolve it, just a few drops, don't add too much. The key is you have to keep stirring the baking powder solution, until the baking powder is fully dissolved, before you add it to the dough. If the baking powder failed to dissolve, either because you didn't stir well or you didn't knead well, then you would end up with yellow specks on your baos. Luckily for me, there were no yellow specks!)

6. Divide dough into 16 equal portions and flatten with a rolling pin to make a 12 cm circle, with the corner of the circle thinner than the centre. Place 1 heaped teaspoon of fillings in the centre, pleat it and seal it tightly, about 9 to 10 pleats per bun. (My dough was about 640 grams, after dividing by 16, each piece of dough was about 40 grams each. After wrapping up the fillings and steaming, each bao weighed about 65 grams! This dough was not sticky and very pliable, there was generally no need to flour the work surface. Note: If you would like to learn how to wrap a chinese bun, this video will teach you how.)

7. Place each bun on a 8 x 8 cm square piece of baking paper with the sealed side facing up. Cover with plastic clingwrap and let it rest and proof for about 15 min in a warm place. (I proofed mine for more than 15 min because I was too slow in pleating the buns, so some of them had been rested longer and hence risen higher than others.)

8. In the mean time, heat up a steamer in advance. After proofing for 15 min, arrange the buns into the steamer, leaving about 1-inch gap in between buns. Spray water mist over the buns and steam at HIGH heat for 12 min(I did not spray the buns. I used an aluminium stacked steamer, and 14 buns were spread over 2 levels, and due to lack of space, 2 other buns were steamed separately in a wok.)

9. Remove buns from steamer and transfer them to a cooling rack to prevent soggy bottom. The buns are best eaten hot. When you need to eat one, just warm it up in a steamer for 5 min or in a microwave for about 1 min.

1. My char siew baos were very soft, smooth and fluffy, and quite whitish, not 100% white but pretty white for me. And they all broke into a nice smile just like the famous HK style char siew bao! I used a 8% gluten level cake flour from Thailand called Royal Fan Wheat Flour and I used Crisco shortening. If you want steamed white buns, you have to use both : bleached HK flour/cake flour and shortening. If either one is replaced, you will end up with yellowish buns.

2. You may replace shortening with vegetable oil, that will generally not affect the taste, but the buns will be yellowish. 

3. If you don't have HK flour, pau flour or cake flour, here is an easy substitution from JoyofBaking. You may substitute cake flour with bleached all-purpose flour (note the word bleached), 1 cup of sifted cake flour (100 g) is equal to 3/4 cup (84 g) sifted bleached all-purpose flour plus 2 tbsp (15 g) corn starch. But if you use unbleached all-purpose flour, then your buns will be yellowish. If you use all-purpose flour without any corn starch added, the flour gluten level will not be low enough and the buns will not be as soft and fluffy, so it is not recommended.

4. Wheat starch is an important ingredient in this recipe, there is no substitution that I know of. So you don't have wheat starch, you would have to give this recipe a miss.

5. The steamer must be preheated and the water must be boiling before you put in the buns. Also do not open the lid when the buns are still steaming. When you open the lid, be careful that the condensation don't drip onto the steamed buns. You may cover the lid of the steamer by wrapping a tea towel around the lid to avoid condensation from dripping onto buns.

6. Lydia Teh advised to spray the bun surface with water mist so as to produce smooth buns after steaming, I didn't do that but my buns were still pretty smooth. She also advised to add a few drops of vinegar in the steaming water so as to produce whiter buns, I didn't do that so I am not sure how true that is.

7. If there are yellowish specks or spots on your steamed buns, and you are using HK flour/cake flour and shortening, that can only mean one thing, your baking powder is not fully dissolved. See my advice above in blue under step 5.

Thanks to His Majesty for being my model for this photo. For once he didn't fidget!

I am submitting this post to Aspiring Bakers #31 - Bao Ho-Chiak (May 2013) hosted by none other than myself, Miss B of Everybody Eats Well in Flanders. :)

This post has also been submitted to YeastSpotting.


  1. You just reminded me I have not made CSB for long.
    Your buns look absolutely inviting!

  2. By looking at your bao filling, they look so juicy & yummy. It made my hands itching to start to make too :)

    1. Hi DG,
      Welcome to my blog, hope you can participate in this event and share with us your bao recipe. :)

  3. Hi Bee,
    Your smiling baos are so inviting!!
    Juicy filling and soft fluffy bao skin...
    Can i have one please...;p
    I will send in my bao post soon to support you :D
    Have a lovely week ahead.

    1. Thank you, Mui Mui. :)
      Yes please do, I am waiting, the more the merrier. :)

  4. I love the bao skin here but it's got so many steps, I wondered if I can be patient enough to do this!

    1. Hi Jeannie,
      Try this recipe then, easier but just as good but you must use shortening and the right flour in order to produce whiter buns !

  5. Good afternoon, miss B
    Thank you soo much for your nice recipies.
    I do love your recipy of the white buns, so I bought 1 packet of bapao wheat starch.
    Ingredients: wheat,, protein/ less than 1 gr, carbohydrates 86 gr.
    Can I take 380 grams of this bapao wheat starch instead of 280 grams of cake flour + 100 grams of wheat starch as mentioned in your recipy?

    Thanks in advance for your answer.

    Kind regards,
    Ellen van Schaik/The Netherlands

    1. Hi Ellen,
      I have not tried using wheat starch bapaomeel before, so I'm not sure whether it will achieve the same results. Are you using the brand with a picture of pak choy on the packaging. Well since you have already bought it, give it a try then. I do hope the flour is bleached, so that the bad skin will appear white, but of course you have to use shortening tooto achieve whitish bad skin.

      Do let me know your results with this flour, thank you!

    2. Hi, Miss B
      The brand I bought has a picture of pak choy on it, but: has only less than 1 gram protein and is not bleached and the ones at the Chinese Toko's have 8 grams protein!
      Now I have to find out where to by shortening.The most important thing for me is that these pao's are very soft and will rise well.

      Kind regards,

    3. Generally, the lower the gluten level, the better for making bao, since we need low gluten flour, though I'm not sure whether the protein level translates to gluten level.

      Fyi, I bought my Crisco shortening in an Aveve winkel, one that has a baking section. Aveve is a big chain of shops that sell gardening stuff, and some shops have a bakken section which sells flours and all kinds of baking stuff. Does NL have Aveve shops ? If not, try asking in specialty shops that sell baking supplies. Alternatively, you can use pork lard, although I'm not sure where to buy it, maybe from a slagerij ?

      If the colour of the bao skin is not of a concern to you, you can use vegetable oil, just as long as it is not olive oil or peanut oil. The colour of the bao skin will probably look like this :

    4. In order to test your flour and to see whether vegetable oil works for you, you can do a very small test batch of 2 or 3 buns, dont waste your char siew filling, just add some filling such as nutella or peanut butter, then you will know the results very quickly. :)

      Btw, my cake flour has a gluten level of 8%, but i dun think 1g protein translate to 1% gluten, as there is no such thing as a 1% gluten flour, the lowest is 6 to 7% gluten I think.

    5. Hello, Miss B

      Here are the results of my Pao made in Holland: 10+ (ha, ha)

      I'm happy to tell you that my pao's are very nice and fluffy.
      I used your recipe and the recipe of Nasifriet.

      400 gr Bapaoflour, 210 ml water, 1/4 teaspoon lemonjuice, 50 gr icing Sugar, 2 tbsp Crisco, 7 gr instant yeast, 8 gr baking powder, a pinch of salt.
      Filling: spicy mackerel.
      The color is not bad; next time I will try milk instead of water? Have you ever tried milk instead of water? I made the dough with my Bear Teddy Varimixer.

      Thank you so much for your recipe.

      Kind regards,

      Ellen van Schaik/The Netherlands

    6. Hi Ellen

      So happy for you! Spicy mackeral, that is really a good idea for a bao filling! The colour is indeed quite good, looks the same as mine. Nasifriet used the same Royal Fan brand of cake flour as me since I gave a pack to her, and her recipe was taken from the packaging of that cake flour. But it worked equally well for your Double Rings "Pak Choy" bapao flour as well. :)

      I think it's alright to add milk instead of water, I already googled and saw this recipe doing that, the only concern is you have lemon juice as one of your ingredients. I hope it doesn't interfere, bcos milk is alkaline and lemon juice is acidic. So whatever that lemon juice is supposed to do in the recipe, maybe neutralised by the milk. Just thinking. :)

      I am putting the link here again so that everybody can click and see :)

  6. Perfect dough recipe! Thanks heaps. Made it with homemade red bean paste.
    Will I get the same result if I double the bao recipe? My friend said it won't turn out and I should make separate batches to be on the safe side. What do you think? - Kypo

    1. Hi Kypo,
      I am not sure, I think it's kind of difficult to dissolve the baking powder in cold water and sprinkle it over the dough if you do it in bigger quantities. The proofing time may also take longer...So it's best to make 2 separate batches to be on the safe side.

  7. I tried your recipe but I don't know where I went wrong. The pao were fluffy and soft, but they didn't smile! :-( kris

    1. Hi Kris,
      Did you follow the recipe exactly? I have no idea what went wrong. All I know was my buns were not pleated tightly (due to the fact that I didn't know how to pleat) and they were steamed over high heat. Maybe your baking powder was not fully dissolved?

    2. I am perplexed too. I dissolved the baking powder as instructed, perhaps they were not fully so. Shouldn't the buns be tightly pleated? My buns were totally 'closed'! I am going to give it another try and see how it goes. By the way, why can't olive oil or vegetable oil be used, Thanks - Kris

    3. Hi Kris,
      If you want the buns to smile and open up, then don't pleat so tightly, else it won't open up, it will just be soft and fluffy. Vegetable oil and olive oil are yellowish in colour, if you them, the buns will not be white. You shouldn't use olive oil or peanut oil for buns, the flavour is too overpowering. For buns to be white, it has to be HK flour/bao flour/cake flour or top flour AND shortening.

    4. Okay, thanks for the tips. Will let you know the results when I next try the recipe. Happy cooking! [I enjoy your blog] - Kris

  8. Since there is no restaurant around me who serves baos I have now resorted to making my own.

    Firstly I must just say that I greatly appreciate this blog, it is my new favorite place to figure out what to make next. Good job!

    So I have now tried this recipe twice in the past two days and am getting better at it.

    I am not that good at the pleating yet, but practice makes perfect. However even though I am using cake flour, wheat starch, shortening and vinegar/lemon juice, my bao still turn out with a slight tinge of yellow.

    Not speckled yellow from the baking powder, just not white.
    Not sure what I'm doing wrong.

    Maybe the cake flour I'm using isn't bleached enough?

    1. Hi Michael,
      I am not good at pleating too!
      Is the colour of your buns more yellow than mine? My buns were a bit off-white or cream in colour, they were not 100% white. Btw, what was the brand of cake flour you were using? If I recall correctly, I didn't use lemon juice or vinegar at all, could it be this reason? Otherwise I can't think of any other reason other than the fact that your cake flour is not bleached enough.

    2. Yours are whiter then my ones.

      We only get one type of cake flour here, it's just re-branded with different companies. I'm considering looking at the Chinese shop (which is where i found the wheat starch) for a flour that is more bleached.

      I'll try my next batch without vinegar/lemon juice to see what happens.
      Oh, and I'm only doing 1/4th batches - so four buns worth - at the moment with a chicken filling, because i want to get the buns right before i go through the whole process of doing the pork.

    3. I suppose you can't get Hong Kong flour bcos that is the most ideal. Alternatively you can try to get bleached all-purpose flour and add cornstarch to it to make cake flour. Btw, Lydia Teh advised to add white vinegar to the steaming water to make the buns whiter. I have not tried it, not sure if it will work.

    4. I assume you are using shortening and not vegetable oil? Vegetable oil will make steamed buns yellowish.

    5. I'll look at the Chinese shop and see if they have Hong Kong flour, we don't actually get all-purpose flour here, you have to make your own by adding self raising flour.

      I tried the vinegar in the water yesterday, made no difference at all.
      Once I've looked around and maybe tested a few more times I'll get back to you.

      Once again, thank you so much for this wonderful blog.

  9. And yes, I'm using shortening.

  10. Hi. Ms B. Thank you so much for the recipe. Yours is simple w/o starter dough n ammonia etc. Good for beginners like me.

    You mentioned in your recipe that vinegar in the dough is optional. I don't hv vinegar. So it's ok for me to just proceed with the recipe w/o vinegar. Thanks

  11. Hi Ms B, can I use double action baking powder as I don't hv normal baking powder? Thanks - Mona

    1. Hi Mona,
      DABP is stronger and has a double-acting effect. I'm not sure if you can use it in this recipe, you would have to reduce the quantity. I have another chicken bun recipe that used DABP, you may wanna take a look.

  12. Hi Miss B,

    Do i need to sprinkle all the baking powder solution into my dough? Or just partially?

  13. Hi! Made this tonight and they were amazing, light and fluffy, maybe just a little...dense? It might have been my folding! The dough was a joy to work with, white, light and no extra flour needed. Not sure what I could do to make them a tiny bit lighter? Thanks!

  14. Hi! Can I mix the double baking powder with the rest of the dry items?

  15. I am looking forward to trying this however I dont think wheat starch is available where I'm from? Would it be possible to substitute it with something else? or do I just omit it from the list of ingredients. Thank you

    1. No, you cannot substitute it nor omit it. It is absolutely required. I suggest you try another recipe without wheatstarch, for eg this recipe below. Texture is slightly different though.

  16. Hi, I tried ur recipe. It's too soft. It won't spring back. What did I do wrong?

  17. Hi Miss B,
    Thanks for the Char Sui Bao recipe it turned out really white and fluffy.
    I added half teaspoon of Ammonium bicarbonate in your bao recipe to see if it can improve smiling, it did, but the texture seem more dense and slightly creamy colour.
    Can you suggest how I can improve them?
    Whanauli for NZ

    1. Hi whanauli,
      I have no experience with ammonium bicarbonate, have you tried the original recipe without it.

  18. Hi miss B,
    I tried the recipe. Taste so goood. Thank you for posting such a good recipe. The only problem is the bun all closed up. No smiling at all. What's went wrong?

    From Stephanie Indonesia

    1. Hi Stephanie
      Maybe you pinched the bao skin too tightly? Or check the expiry date of the baking powder. But as long as it tastes good, the looks should not matter too much, right ? :)

  19. HI Miss B! I have made these a few times, with great success! Today however, after the bad were steamed they were shiny and the dough was swampy, quite thin, and not fluffy at all! The dough looked as usual when I made them, maybe a bit dry. Has this ever happened to you? Any trouble shooting tips? x


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