Baked Filled Buns
Makes 32 small or 16 medium buns
Baked buns, called guk bau in Cantonese, are a wonderful southern Chinese creation. They can be filled with a whole host of things, including sweet bean pastes and savory preserved pork shreds. Some have a crumbly crust that's akin to coff ee cake topping. My favorite renditions are slightly shiny and sticky from having been brushed with a lightly sweet honey glaze. Whatever the filling inside, whether it is spicy chicken curry, roast pork, vegetables, or bean pastes, you can't lose. Commercially produced Chinese baked buns are nearly cloying and super soft, whereas these have a delicate flavor and texture resembling that of challah.
- 10 tablespoons whole milk
- 4 tablespoons butter or canola oil
- 2 teaspoons rapid-rise (instant) dry yeast
- 2 1/2 tablespoons lukewarm water
- 1 large egg
- 2 1/2 tablespoons sugar
- 12 1/2 ounces (2 1/2 cups) bleached or unbleached
- All-purpose flour, plus more as needed
- 1 1/3 cups Char Siu Pork Bun Filling (see below),
- 1 large egg, lightly beaten
- 2 tablespoons honey mixed with 1 tablespoon warm water
- For the dough, melt the butter with the milk in a saucepan over medium heat. Set aside to cool for about 5 minutes, or until warm (about 110°F). If using oil, combine it with the milk and heat until warm.
- Put the yeast in small bowl, add the water, and set aside for 1 minute to soften. Whisk in the milk mixture and the egg to blend.
- Combine the sugar and flour in a food processor. Pulse two or three times to blend. With the machine running, pour the yeast mixture through the feed tube in a steady stream. After a sticky mass of very soft dough forms, about 5 seconds, continue processing for 45 to 60 seconds to form a smooth, slightly sticky dough that mostly cleans the bowl. The finished dough should stick a bit to your finger when pressed. Alternatively, to make the dough by hand, combine the sugar and flour in a large bowl. Make a well in the center and pour in the yeast mixture. Slowly stir with a wooden spoon to work in all the flour. (Add water by the teaspoon if this doesn't happen with relative ease.) Keep stirring as a ragged, soft mass forms. Then use your fingers to gather and pat the dough into a ball. Transfer to a work surface and knead for about 5 minutes, or until smooth, fingertip soft, and slightly elastic. (You should not need any additional flour on the work surface if the dough was properly made. Keep kneading and after the first minute or two, the dough should not stick to your fingers. If it does, work in a sprinkling of flour.) Press your finger into the dough; it should spring back, with a faint indentation remaining.
- Regardless of the mixing method, lightly oil a clean bowl and add the dough. Cover with plastic wrap and put in a warm, draft-free place (for example, the oven with the light on) to rise for about 45 minutes, or until nearly doubled. (Or, punch the dough down after rising, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight. Return the dough to room temperature before using.)
- Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper before beginning to assemble the buns.
- Remove the dough from the bowl and put on a lightly floured surface. Knead it a few times, then cut it in half. Cover one-half with plastic wrap or an inverted bowl to prevent drying. Roll out the dough into a 12-inch log, and then cut it into 8 or 16 pieces for medium or small buns, respectively. (Halve or quarter the log first to make it easier to cut even-size pieces. The tapered end pieces should be cut a little longer than the rest.) Lightly roll each piece between your hands into a ball and then flatten each one into a 1/4-inch-thick disk. Use a wooden dowel-style rolling pin to roll the pieces into circles, about 21/2 inches in diameter for small or 31/4 inches in diameter for medium buns. The rim should be thinner than the center; keep a 1-inch-wide belly. The finished circle will rise as it sits. (For guidance on rolling, see "Forming Wrappers from Basic Dumpling Dough," step 5, page 24.) Lay the finished circles out on your work surface, lightly dusting their bottoms with flour if you fear they will stick.
- To form a bun, hold a dough circle in a slightly cupped hand. Use a spoon or fork to center about 2 teaspoons of filling for small buns, or about 4 teaspoons of filling for medium ones, on the dough circle, pressing down very gently and keeping about 1/2 to 3/4 inch of the dough clear on all sides; your hand will automatically close slightly. Use the thumb of the hand cradling the bun to push down the filling while the other hand pulls up the dough edge and pleats and pinches the rim together to form a closed satchel (see page 52). Pinch and twist the dough closed at the end. Place the bun pleat side down on the prepared baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining dough circles, spacing them 11/2 inches apart on the baking sheet. Loosely cover with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel. Set in a warm, draft- free place (for example, the oven with the light on) for 30 minutes to rise. Meanwhile, work on the other dough half to form more buns.
- To bake the buns, about 10 minutes before the rising time is over, position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350°F. (Let the buns finish rising at room temperature if you've had them in the oven.)
- Bake one baking sheet at a time, brushing the top and side of each bun with the egg right before baking. Bake small buns for about 14 minutes and medium buns for about 18 minutes, or until a rich golden brown; the cooked buns sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. Remove them from the oven, set on a rack, and let cool for 5 minutes.
- Brush the honey mixture on the buns for a sweet-glaze finish that will also soften the crust. Enjoy warm and out of hand. Refrigerate left- over buns for up to a week and reheat at 350°F for 8 to 10 minutes, until hot. When making the buns in advance, wait to brush on the glaze until after you've reheated the buns. These buns may also be frozen for up to a month. Thaw them completely before reheating.
Makes 1 1/3 cups
Whether steamed or baked, buns stuffed with Cantonese char siu pork are among my favorite dim sum. I rarely pass up the opportunity to savor how the spongy, slightly sweet dough complements the savory-sweet, rich meat. For spectacular buns, make this filling with homemade roast pork (page 224); in fact you can prepare a triple batch of filling from a single recipe of roast pork. If you elect to use store-bought pork, wait to salt the filling until after it is done and you can taste it to see what it needs; the meat is often well seasoned already.
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 pinch of salt
- 1 pinch of white pepper
- 1 tablespoon light (regular) soy sauce
- 2 teaspoons oyster sauce
- 1 tablespoon water
- 2 teaspoons canola oil
- 2 scallions (white and green parts), chopped
- 1/2 pound Char Siu Pork, diced
- 1 tablespoon Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry
- 1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch dissolved in
- 2 tablespoons water
- To make the flavoring sauce, combine the sugar, salt, white pepper, soy sauce, oyster sauce, and water in a small bowl. Stir to dissolve the sugar and set aside.
- Heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add the scallions, and cook, stirring constantly, for about 30 seconds, or until aromatic and slightly softened. Add the pork and combine well. Add the flavoring sauce and cook, stirring frequently, for about 2 minutes, or until the pork is heated through. Meanwhile, add the rice wine to the dissolved cornstarch. When the pork is hot enough, add the wine and cornstarch mixture. Cook for another 30 seconds, stirring constantly, until the mixture comes together into a mass that you can mound. Transfer to a bowl and set aside to cool completely before using. (The filling can be prepared up to 2 days in advance, covered with plastic wrap, and refrigerated. Return to room temperature before using.)
Andrea is an author, freelance writer and cooking teacher based in Northern California. This site exists to promote conversation and contribution from Vietnamese food enthusiasts -- as well as curious cooks and eaters! As a contributing editor to SAVEUR