Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Char Siew Pau

That's Cantonese for Steamed Buns with Chinese BBQ pork filling.

Dear Reader, you may or may not remember this post I wrote some time ago of making steamed buns. Of course, the batch which I wrote about was an embarrassment. The second batch I made using that recipe was better, but not great. Prior to that time, I'd made steamed buns twice, using a recipe I got out of the box of flour I bought. They were a success both times. Then, I lost the recipe (sad!) and had since been on the hunt for one which I can keep. Earlier this year, I stumbled upon Lily's Super Soft Pau. I'd never heard of, or used a starter for pau dough, so I was eager to try it.

I'd since made no less than 5 batches and each time, they turned out good (I'd say 'great', but won't that make me sound conceited?). They are incredibly soft and fluffy when hot from the steamer, and remain soft for up to a couple of days, stored in containers at room temperature. Most importantly, when I made them for my mother, she didn't retort with "I have a better recipe for this... why don't you use mine next time?" which, believe me, is rare.

On Monday night I whipped up a batch of particularly good (again, I'd say 'great', but...) char siew paus, and I thought, why not write about it? I am not a food blogger (there are so many, you don't need one more!) but I do have some pretty photos I can post. I don't think I've yet written a how-to post, but considering what I do for a living, I don't suppose I'd do too badly. Alright, Reader, are you ready to learn?

The first thing you'll need is the char siew. Honestly, I don't know how much you'll need... when it comes to cooking, Chinese-style, I don't bother with measurement. (OK, this is not a good start...) Anyway, my mother bought me a strip of char siew from the local wet market, and it looked as if it were about 10 inches in length. The seller also gave us some gravy, usually used for drizzling on the meat when eaten with rice. To prepare the filling, dice the meat, along with 1 carrot and 1 onion. Try not to let your tears drop into the ingredients (I always end up crying when chopping onions, so I assume you do too)

Heat some oil in a wok and when it is hot enough (this may be quite ambiguous for those who don't cook regularly, so if you're one of those, when you suspect the oil is ready, throw in a tiny bit of onion to confirm) dump in the chopped onion and stir-fry until fragrant. Toss the diced carrots in and continue stir-frying until the carrot is somewhat cooked. Oh, I should mention that the usual char siew filling has peas instead of carrots, but I don't like peas. This is the best thing about making your own food - you can replace or eliminate whatever you don't like. Ha!

So, where was I? Ah yes, the stir-frying. Once the carrots no longer look raw, throw the meat in and tumble the whole lot around a little. Now, since I have the char siew gravy, it was easier for me - I poured the whole thing in, added some light soy sauce (to offset the sweetness of the gravy), dark soy sauce (for the colour) and a little water. If you do not have char siew gravy, make your own sauce by combining oyster sauce, light and dark soy sauce, sesame oil and some pepper if you wish.

Let simmer for a little while to let the meat absorb the moisture, then thicken the sauce with a little starch (dissolve a teaspoonful of corn starch in a little water). Cook until the filling becomes dry and gooey. Fine, I don't think that is an appetizing way to describe. Here's how mine looked like:

The filling has to be completely cooled before they are used, so while it does that, you can prepare the dough.

For those who don't like clicking on links when reading posts, here's a copy-and-paste-with-minor-editing of the recipe:


For the Tangzhong starter:
2 ½ tbsp / 25 g pau flour
125 ml water

For the Pau:
All the Tangzhong starter
240 ml water
5 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp shortening
1 ¼ tsp double action baking powder
3 ½ cups / 480 - 500 g pau flour
1 ½ tsp instant yeast.


For the Tangzhong Starter:

Measure 125 ml tap water in a glass measuring pyrex jug and whisk in 2 ½ tbsp pau flour until there is no lumps.

Microwave on high for 30 seconds ( 20 seconds - if you are having a higher wattage microwave). Stir well and continue to microwave on high for another 30 seconds - stirring after every 10 seconds to get the roux to a temperature of about 65C/150F.

For Pau:

Put all the ingredients into the breadmachine bowl starting with the list above accordingly, starting with the starter and ending with the yeast on top of the flour. Choose the dough function on the bread machine and press start.

In the initial stage of kneading, check if the dough is binding, add the remaining 2 tbsps of water or add more if necessary. Do not add too much as if the dough is too soft, the pau will not have a nice shape.

Prepare the filling while the breadmachine is having all the fun.

When the fun is over in about 1 ½ hour, the breadmachine will beep and you can start shaping the paus.

Cut into equal portions and roll all the portions into a very thin circle before wrapping in filling.

Wrap the first circle and so forth.

Let it rise for 20 minutes.

Heat up the steamer and when water is rolling hot, steam small buns for 7 - 8 minutes and big ones for 12 - 15 minutes.

To say I kneaded the dough with my hands because I don't have a bread machine is just saying for the sake of saying. Reason is, my mother has one she makes bread dough with. I never use it because I'm a masochist (ahem!) and I like suffering myself through 20 minutes or so of working that dough from a sticky mess to a smooth-textured ball. It takes some practice and experience to know how much is enough, though generally, once the dough stops sticking to the sides of the bowl and your hands, you're about done. There are some who recommend whacking the dough, but I don't do it. If you're harbouring a lot of suppressed anger and whacked yours, maybe you can let me know how the buns turn out.

Next, the dough needs to proof for 45 - 60 minutes.

I covered it with a clean towel (weighted down with a clean plate because I'm also a paranoid who's afraid the dough might dry out, or the towel might slip off etc.) Then, I watched an episode of House.

After proofing, the dough should be roughly twice its original size:

To make a pau, I weigh out approximately 2oz of dough (I'm not being OCD about uniformity, just that I'm so poorly still, that if I don't do this, all my paus will turn out very different in sizes), flatten it using a rolling pin (try to make the sides thinner than the center), heap 2 to 2.5 small spoonfuls of filling and pleat the sides together.

Since all the photos in the post are taken by me, I have none of myself working at this stage to offer. These are some of the wrapped-and-proofing ones (from previous endeavours, since I forgot to take some of those I'm writing about):

As you can tell, Reader, I've not yet mastered the delicate art of pau-pleating. *Sigh*

Once the wrapped paus have proofed for another 15 to 20 minutes, jam them into the steamer and steam for about 15 minutes. Be sure to place them adequately apart as they will rise even more when cooking.

The recipe yielded 18 buns - 16 wrapped with filling and 2 man tous for my most-of-the-time-vegan mother.

Now, for the close-up:

So, Reader, will you be attempting this anytime soon? =)


CHER-RY said...

no i wont attempt but u will for me :))) nyek nyek nyek

Mui Siew said...

Can I replace the pau flour with cake flour??

neil said...

Mui Siew: I have not tried that, but yes, I believe you can. The texture will be similar, but the paus may not be as white. Good luck! :)

Anonymous said...

Will the buns get the same fluffy texture if i replaced the pau flour with cake flour?

neil said...

Anon: Yes, it is possible.
Paus that have cooled, or been kept for more than a day, tend to be harder. Just pop them back into the steamer and steam (on high heat) for a few minutes, and they'll be soft and fluffy once more! Good luck! =)

Amanda L. said...

Thanks for sharing!