Peking Pork Bao Buns

I am a very lucky guy in lots of ways. Both professionally and socially, I know more than my fair (or should that be fare) share of chefs and restauranteurs. Over the last few years, they have all, in various ways, been inspirational for me in developing my blog and the food that I prepare here. Kevin Hui, the affable and talented owner of China Sichuan here in Dublin is one such person. Recently, I told him that I planned to prepare Bao, the delicious steamed Chinese buns. I was surprised by Kevin’s reaction; “Don’t prepare the buns yourself. They are a pain to make. I’ll give you some.” This, of course had the opposite effect to that intended by Kevin. I had to make them.

Ingredients (for 16 Bao Buns)

  • 500g plain flour
  • 1 teaspoon caster sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 small pack dried yeast
  • Tablespoon of sunflower oil
  • Tablespoon of rice vinegar
  • 50 ml whole milk

Bao buns are not difficult, they do take accuracy, patience and the correct ingredients. So I set about making them. I mixed the flour with the salt and yeast. I then re-read the recipe and put the mixture in the bin. I weighed out more flour and mixed it with the salt and baking powder. I added the yeast to some warm water and let it rest to activate the yeast. I added 500ml of milk. I re-read the recipe and put the gloopy mixture in the recycling.

The activated yeast being added to the dry ingredients. How difficult is that?

Filling interlude: I planned to use sous vide pork fillet in the buns. I have done these before and they presented no problem. I simply removed any of the membrane from the fillet, added 5 spice powder, salt and pepper.

This bit was no problem to get right first time.

Then I vacuum sealed it and cooked it for an hour at 53ºC. The penultimate step was to brown it in a hot pan.

The pork browns really quickly after the sous vide cooking.

Back to the Bao: Third time lucky, I added the required 50ml of milk to the dry ingredients. I added the yeast mixture and gave it a good mixing, followed by fifteen minutes of kneading. Yes, they are a real pain to make.

Kevin’s words were ringing in my ears as I worked the dough.

Having left it in a lightly oiled bowl to prove, I knocked it down and cut into sixteen 3cm size pieces. These I rolled out into ovals and folded over an oiled chopstick. I removed the chopstick and let each bun prove on a square of grease-proof paper.

I think he said that they were very fiddley too. He was right.

This should take about 40 minutes. I didn’t have 40 minutes. All my messing around at the start had eaten into my time and the wife wanted to eat into the Bao. I gave them 20 minutes to prove and got the steamer on. I steamed the buns for 8 minutes.

They steamed up pretty well for a first attempt.

I served them with the pork mentioned above, Hoi-Sin sauce, a trio of spring onion, carrot and cucumber shreds (The Peking Pork name is inspired by the traditional Peking Duck roll filling).

The pork was sensational, as it usually is out of the sous vide.

They were not as aerated as Bao I have eaten in the past. However, they tasted wonderful (I ate six. The poor half starved Wife ate four). Next time, I’ll take Kevin’s advice and let him supply the buns.

It’s worth showing a slightly different angle. Lovely, troublesome, Bao.

Addendum: When I told my friend Izad, top man and chef at Lemongrass Fusion restaurants, he asked where I got the Bao flour. “Bao flour? What is Bao flour, I asked.” He couldn’t answer me, he was too busy laughing…..

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Latest comments
  • Despite the warnings I really want to try this, but I really *don’t* want to have to make the bao immediately before eating them! The pork will be no bother – if something can be cooked sous vide then, in my kitchen, it is. So….what did you do with the remaining six bao? Did you perchance freeze them? Did they survive?

  • Oh – also, googling “bao flour” provides the information that bleached cake flour can be used if one can’t find bao (or Hong Kong) flour. The vinegar in the recipe is to compensate for its low gluten content. However, those flours are only used in order to get very white buns, so if you don’t mind a more rustic appearance ordinary plain flour will do.

  • I admire your persistence – it all looks delicious in spite of the flat buns.

  • I routinely use just plain white flour… I also will make a batch of dough and just steam a few buns at a time, leaving the rest in the fridge. You can let it go for days and even get some sour-dough action going on. I make steamed ‘bao’ style buns even for plain old hamburgers.

  • I made steamed bao pork dumplings. Once. They were totally delicious, but my word, what a faff. I made golf sized balls into which I pushed a hole with my finger, inserted a teaspoonful of a sweet, sticky barbecue shredded pork mixture with garlic and ginger, sealed it over and steamed the dumpling balls. Now I come to think of it, it’s probably time to make them again….

  • I love following your culinary expereiences. Thanks so much for sharing with all of us. This sandwich looks amazing!

  • I’ve always wanted to make the buns but it involved dough 😀 Great job!

  • This is way out of my league, Conor. As it involves flour, my worst enemy. 😛

  • But yours looks delicious!

  • I had to laugh, that sounds like me ‘reading’ a recipe, with much the same outcome. Still, it keeps the hen happy. The final buns look great, must give these a try. Thanks. Lx

  • Now, Conor, remember this comment comes from Australasia 🙂 ! Your bao buns do look different to any I have made or had served to me, but methinks I would prefer them that way . . . . can’t resist making . . . shall slice them/there vegetables even more finely . . . . . . . .

  • Very cool! And those pics!

  • Boa buns and pork was one of my favorite street foods during my days knocking around China. However, the one’s on the street in China never looked as good as yours do.

  • I’m like you, if someone says don’t do it, I’ll find a way! Nicely done as these look delicious.

  • When I saw the title I first thought you were going to make buns that are steamed with the stuffing inside. I have never seen these before. Kudos to you for persevering in making these yourself. I am currently studying 2500 pages on bread baking and one of the things they say in the books is that making perfect bread is very difficult, but bread when freshly baked (or steamed) is almost always quite good. The pork looks spectacular!

  • I have to admire you, Conor. I would definitely have accepted the offer… I adore Chinese food (the real stuff) but limit myself to the occasional stir fry or red cooked dish at home. Kudos for making this yourself!

  • I would have made my own also. How hard can it be??!!! I think the guy was kidding about the bao flour, though. Wasn’t he? Bao flour sounds crazy. In any case, these are beautiful.

  • Who doesn’t love a challenge? Looks like you did quite well.

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