Sunday, December 29, 2013

Steamed Char Siu Bao 蠔皇叉燒包

Happy New Year to all my blog readers!

As this blog approaches its fourth year, I would like to start a new seriesThis is the first post on the dim sum series, with more to follow. Stay tuned.

Every time I go to a dim sum restaurant, char siu bao (BBQ pork bun) is one of my must-have dishes. Inside the white, fluffy, and sweet bao is char siu with oyster sauce. It is so easy to gobble one down in less than a minute. Believe it or not, I have been trying to make a decent char siu bao on and off for more than three years.

I don't usually show my failed experiments on the blog. But in order to illustrate what can go wrong with this innocent looking bao, here are my previous trials:

brown baos with too much baking soda

baos with speckles

baos did not crack open

A successfully steamed bao should be white, has the cracks open on the top, and a soft texture that should not stick to your teeth. It sounds simple, but after trying out different recipes, I came to a conclusion that in order to make a decent bao, an aged dough (leaven) is indispensable. But experience in mastering it is very important. A recipe can only be a reference. How much base (ammonia bicarbonate, baking soda, etc) to balance the acid in an aged dough varies. It also takes experience to know when the aged dough is mature enough to be used.

Making aged dough is very similar to making the levain used in sourdough bread, but aged dough takes less time to be ready for use.

Step 1: mix 45g all purpose flour with 25g water. Cover and leave in a warm spot (75-80F) for 17 hours. If you start it early in the morning, you can start the next step at night or before you go to bed. Otherwise, leave it overnight for 17 hours until the next morning.
Step 2: Add 90g all purpose flour and 45g water to the dough from step 1. Cover and leave in a warm spot for another 17 hours. At the end of step 2, the dough should have risen with good gluten development and bubbles. It should also give an alcoholic and slight acidic smell. By then, it is mature and ready to be used.

Reference: Fine Dim Sum in Hong Kong


最近我專心研究眾多不同食譜,反覆試驗之後得出的結論是:要做一個像樣的包,做好麵種(或叫老麵)是少不了的。但要成功做好麵種須要耐性及經驗,不是光靠跟足食譜便行。要知道怎樣平衡麵種的酸鹼度,又要知道麵種是否成熟可以用來做包,真是不能三言兩語可以理解及掌握得到,所以以下食譜也只可提供給你作為參考。可能第一次做不到滿意的成果,但不要氣餒,自古成功在嘗試啊 !

參考食譜: 港點心,港味道



Ingredients to make 8 baos:
200g aged dough 麵種
75g sugar 糖
1/4 tsp ammonia bicarbonate 臭粉
1/8 tsp/ two drops of lye solution 鹼水
12g water 水
5g butter 牛油
75g all-purpose flour 麵粉
6g potato starch 薯粉

lye solution

1)  Combine your aged dough, sugar, ammonia bicarbonate and lye. Mix and knead until the sugar is dissolved.
2)  Add the rest of the ingredients and knead until the dough becomes smooth.


Char Siu fillings 叉燒餡:
1 slice of ginger 薑
1 spring onion, cut into 3 sections 蔥,切段
200g water 水
2 tbsp sugar 糖
1 tbsp oyster sauce 蠔油
1 tbsp dark soy sauce 老抽
1 tsp sesame oil 麻油
2 tbsp corn starch 粟粉
1 tbsp potato starch 薯粉
200g char siu, diced 叉燒,切粒

1)  Heat about 1 tsp oil in a pan. Add ginger and spring onion and cook for about 30 seconds.
2)  Add about 150g water and saute for two minutes. Discard the ginger and spring onion.
3)  Mix the rest of the ingredients, except char siu, and add to the pan, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and let it cool.
4)  Mix char siu with the sauce.
5)  Divide the dough into 8 pieces. Roll each piece out into a disk, put about a tablespoonful of filling inside, and seal the opening.
6)  Steam on high heat for about 6-7 minutes.

Ammonia bicarbonate will dissipate after steaming and will not be detected. The uncooked dough will be slightly yellow and it should change to white after steaming. If it remains brownish or yellowish, the pH in the dough is off balance.




  1. my mom said using the 'rose brand flour' give whiter buns, you might want to try when you get a chance

    1. Rose brand? Is it available in LA? I'd love to try it. But I think the color of the bun is more related to the pH than the type of flour being used.

  2. Hi Phoebe, Thank you so much for explianing how to steam /make Bao. I did fail so many time and gave up to do it but after review your blog. I will try to follow your suggestion.Big snow storm tonight in Boston I definitely try it for weekend .
    Happy New Year.

    1. Hi Pheobe, I heard if you want to Bao whiter in color you can put some vinegar in boiling water when steaming Bao.

    2. Hi Pat,
      I think it is based on the similar rationale of balancing the pH. But I doubt the effectiveness of making the steam acidic?

  3. hi Phobe,
    where can we by ammonia bicarbonate? Is it in a box or in a jar?

    1. Hi Sarah,
      I got mine from HK. In US, small quantity is rare to find in retail stores. Restaurant supply stores have large quantity. If you don't mind, send me your address and I can share some with you.

  4. Hi Phoebe
    Can you tell me is lye solution same as alkaline water?


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