Sunday, February 28, 2010

Grandpa N's Char Siu Bao (Chinese BBQ Pork Bun) - Trial 1

When I was a young girl, one of my absolute FAVORITE things to eat was my Grandpa N's Char Siu Bao (Chinese BBQ Pork Bun).  I loved them so much that my grandpa would literally bake a whole party tray of like 50 to bring for my birthday parties.  They were divine.  The bread was tender, soft and fluffy, the meat was sweet and salty at the same time with beautiful red coloring, and the glaze on top was both buttery and sugary.  While Chris' favorite Chinese bakery bun is the Bolo Bao with Nai Wong Filling, I go for the Char Siu Bao anyday.

Sadly, when my grandpa passed away, there were no more char siu bao to be had.  The kitchen had closed.  My mom and aunt had a recipe that was supposedly his.  The recipe looked authentic enough...a small scrap of paper with both english and chinese, all crinkled with wear and stained with cooking ingredients but it just didn't taste the same as when Grandpa made it. 

We swear it's because he used lard instead of butter as in the supposed written recipe.  Or maybe it was because he probably really did knead the dough the old fashioned way - by hand.  What also was strange was that no one seemed to have a recipe for the filling, just the bun dough itself...which makes it even harder to try to replicate.  Either way, I asked my mom for the recipe and decided I would make it my life's goal (ok, a bit dramatic, I know...but I really do LOVE these buns!) to try to re-create my grandpa's buns that we all know and love.

This post will document my first trial run.  I made the buns and ended up bringing them with me to my extended family's Chinese New Year celebration so I would have lots of expert critique on them.  The final verdict was that the filling that I had concocted (with the help of the internet and sheer taste and trial during cooking!) was pretty good and authentic.  Where the epic failure was was in the dough bun itself...very dense and hard, not at all like Grandpa's.  Heart wrenching but I won't lie, I didn't have high expectations of myself because the recipe that I was given was poorly written/vague and we all know that grandpa/grandma/mom/etc always has that special touch to make things taste delicious.

So below I will post what I did in Trial Run #1 (I tried to interpret the original written recipe and clarify what I thought it meant) and then I will post what I would do differently next time in Trial #2.  I won't lie, this really might be a life-long pursuit because it is time consuming (4-5 hours dough rising time!) and I got the BBQ pork from my mom who doesn't make it often.  I could get the recipe to roast the pork myself, I suppose, but again, that process itself is a bit time consuming.

Grandpa N's Meat Bun Dough with Christine N's Char Siu Bao Filling - Trial #1
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Yields: 24 buns


For the Dough
  • 2 packages of yeast (4 ½ tsp)
  • 1 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 c warm water
  • 7 c bread flour
  • 1 c milk
  • 1 c sugar
  • 1 ½ sticks (3/4 c) butter
  • 1 egg
For the BBQ Pork Filling (as Christine made it; No recipe from Grandpa N)
  • 1 Tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 ½ pounds char siu, cooked and diced (this is a complete guesstimate!  Buy at a Chinese grocery store or Google for a recipe because my mom gave me this pre-cooked!)
  • 1 onion, diced
  • ¼ c dry red wine
  • ¼ c ketchup
  • 1 Tbsp oyster sauce
  • 1 Tbsp low sodium soy sauce
  • 1 ½ Tbsp honey
  • 2 tsp rice vinegar
  • 2 tsp hoisin sauce
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 1 tsp Chinese 5 spice seasoning*
  • ½ tsp ground black pepper
  • Red food coloring, if desired
*Note: DO NOT leave this ingredient out!  During my taste test trials this was the last ingredient that I added and when I did, it was truly the golden ticket to making it taste "right" in my opinion.  Everything before it tasted good but didn't have the correct taste.  If you can't find Chinese 5 spice seasoning, Google has a substitute listed as: 2 teaspoons of Szechuan peppercorns, roasted & ground + 8 star anise, ground + ½ teaspoon ground cloves + 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon + 1 tablespoon ground fennel seeds.  As you can see, a very unique flavor is imparted from this blend.
For the Egg Wash

  • 1 egg
  • 1 Tbsp milk
For Finishing
  • ½ stick (1/4 c) butter, melted
  • 1 ½ Tbsp honey

For the Dough
  1. In a large mixing bowl, proof the yeast by combining warm water, 1 Tablespoon sugar, and yeast. Mix together and let sit in a warm place until mixture is frothy (forms bubbles on surface).
  2. Combine remaining ingredients and knead (by hand or in stand mixer with dough hook) until smooth and elastic, about 15 minutes. Add more flour by the Tablespoon if dough continues to be too sticky. Cover bowl with a damp cloth and set aside in a warm place and let dough rise for 4-5 hours. While the dough is rising, make filling.
For the Filling
  1. In a large sauté pan, heat vegetable oil over medium high heat. Add onions and cook until translucent and slightly carmelized (browned). Then add cooked char siu pieces and sauté until heated.
  2. Add red wine and cook until reduced by half, about 3 minutes. Add remaining ingredients and stir to combine. If a redder colored filling is desired, add food coloring until desired redness is reached. Continue cooking until heated throughout.
  3. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.
For Making the Buns
  1. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. After dough has risen, punch down and separate into 24 pieces. Roll each piece between your hands to form a ball.
  3. Add a heaping Tablespoon of cooled filling to the center of the dough ball. Pull edges of dough around filling and pinch to close. Place seam side down onto prepared baking sheets. Continue until all buns have been formed.
  4. Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
  5. In a small bowl, use a fork and beat together the egg and milk. Gently brush the mixture onto the buns as to not disturb the risen dough.
  6. Bake buns in preheated oven for about 20 minutes, or until tops are lightly golden brown.
  7. While buns are baking, combine melted butter and honey in a small bowl. Brush the mixture generously on top of each warm bun after it has come out of the oven.
  8. Allow buns to cool completely on a wire rack and serve or store in an airtight container.
Source: Meat Bun Dough recipe from Grandpa N (Christine's Grandfather) and Char Siu Filling Recipe a Christine's Kitchen Chronicles Original, inspired by Kiteless on Visual Recipes
What I'd do differently next time:
  1. Substitute 1 stick of butter for vegetable shortening (Crisco).
  2. Change first rise time to about 1-2 hours, or until dough has doubled in size.
  3. Use a rolling, pin, roll each piece of dough into a circle, making the edges thinner than the center. Do not roll too thin or holes may form during baking. Add a heaping Tablespoon of cooled filling to the center of the dough circle. Pull edges of dough around filling and pinch to close. Place seam side down onto prepared baking sheets. Continue until all buns have been formed.
  4. Change second rise time to 4-5 hours (after buns have been filled and formed).  Periodically mist buns with water during this long rise time to ensure that they don't dry out.  This long rise time before baking should result in a lighter, less dense bun.
  5. Aunt Peggy says to consider using the Bolo Bao bun recipe instead of Grandpa's.  Will consider for a future trial run.

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