Vegan char siu bao (sticky pork buns)

Vegan char siu bao (sticky pork buns)

vegan char siu bao cross section

Whenever I make any kind of dumplings, my mind wanders to my late grandma. I feel like we would really bond over our love of cooking if she was still alive today. She was a real dumpling queen and I have never ever had dumplings better than hers and that’s not just me being sentimental. I remember her best with flour all over her hands and a headscarf over her hair, kneading yet another 100 dumplings that the whole family was trying to get their hands on as soon as they were done. I spent so many hours at her kitchen table watching her work that even though I did not discover cooking until long after she died, I feel like I must have absorbed some of her passion and knowledge through osmosis 😉 .

My grandma was a complex character. Her youth was stolen by World War II. The love of her life was shot in battle when he was only 18 years old and I don’t think she ever recovered from that. Her life was hard and she was tough. She worked at the local post office during the war and she famously slapped a German officer who tried to put his hand under her top. It’s a miracle she got to be a grandmother at all. The woman had courage!

She was a tomboy and was not really a touchy-feely person. I always felt that she preferred my brother to me, perhaps because she had two sons herself so she knew how to handle boys. I was a sensitive kid who took after my mum and my mum wasn’t her favourite person. This dynamic was tricky for us kids, especially that my mum is the kindest and most selfless person you’ll ever meet and I remember her being upset by some of the grandma’s less well judged moves. Their relationship very much fell under the classic wife and mother-in-law stereotype and it would have been okay, I guess, if not for the fact that we all lived in the same big house together.

I also have a feeling that she would totally understand our love for Tina, something that most of my family does not really get. She used to feed lots of strays in our neighbourhood and hang a large slice of lard on a tree outside our house for tomtits (little birds) during harsh Polish winters. In hindsight I realise that she loved cats ‘cos she was a bit of a cat herself. Despite her tough exterior, she could be moody at times.

She was generous with food and that’s how she expressed her love for people. She used to organise elaborate lunches for her female friends that my brother and myself loved attending as kids (we were sometimes invited) ‘cos the food was delicious and there was plenty of it – my gran would always pull out all the stops. I miss those days sometimes!

These fluffy little buns filled with a sticky ‘pork’ filling have been on my to-do list since this recipe. They are not hard to make at all, but quite hard to take photographs of (it’s hard not to overprove the dough when shooting process shots), which is why I dragged my feet a bit.

For the dough, I used the single proofing method by the lovely Elaine from this gorgeous blog with Chinese cuisine. It worked a treat and it’s a perfect method when you want to be able to tuck into one of these beauties real quick.

One word of warning though. This recipe makes 12 buns so make sure your steamer (a bamboo one is best) is big enough before you make the dough. I only have a small bamboo steamer that holds 6 buns at a time, which meant that the latter 6 had to wait for about 40 minutes before going in, which resulted in them getting a bit yeasty because it was a warm day and they over proofed.

vegan char siu bao filling

vegan char siu bao process rolling

vegan char siu bao process folding

vegan char siu bao after steamed

makes
12
PREP
60 min
COOKING
45 min
makes
12
PREPARATION
60 min
COOKING
45 min
INGREDIENTS
BUNS

  • 300 g / 2½ cups bao flour OR all purpose flour
  • 4 tsp – 3 tbsp sugar (optional)*
  • ½ tsp fine sea salt
  • 2 tsp instant active yeast
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil

FILLING

  • 400 g king oyster mushrooms / baby chestnut mushrooms OR firm cotton tofu**
  • 2½ tbsp tamari or all purpose soy sauce, adjust to taste
  • 1 tbsp Shaoxing wine
  • 2½ tbsp hoisin sauce
  • 1-2 tsp sugar, adjust to taste
  • ¼ tsp Chinese five spice
  • a good pinch of white (or black) pepper
  • 1 tbsp rice wine vinegar (optional)
  • 2 tsp cornflour / cornstarch
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil, for frying (I used peanut oil)
  • 3 small shallots or ½ small onion, finely diced
  • a small chunk of fresh ginger, finely diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely diced
  • 1 tsp toasted sesame oil
  • a pinch of salt

METHOD
BUNS – single proofing method by Elaine (takes less time)***

  1. Cut twelve 8 cm / 3″ by 8 cm / 3″ squares from a piece of baking paper. Set aside.
  2. In a mixing bowl, combine flour, instant yeast, sugar and salt. Add about 120 ml / ½ cup of warm (that’s important) water and 1 tbsp of oil. Once combined roughly with a wooden spoon, start combining the dough with your hands. It will need a bit more water but it is very important to add the water in gradually, tablespoon by tablespoon. In my experience it takes another 2-3 tablespoons of water to achieve a dough that is not too dry or not too sticky. Knead it for 10 minutes with your hands until it is elastic and smooth. Form the dough into a ball and place it in a clean bowl covered with a kitchen towel. Allow it to rest for 10-15 minutes.
  3. After the dough has rested, knock the air out with your hands and divide the dough into 12 equal portions. I weighed the dough and then divided it evenly using scales, but you don’t need to be as accurate.
  4. Knead each ball briefly before rolling it out into a 10 cm / 4″ diameter circle. If you know how, roll the edges thinner and leave the centre thicker, but that’s not necessary.
  5. Place each dough circle in the palm of your hand, put about 1 tbsp of filling in the middle of the circle and then pinch the edges above the filling so that the dumpling resembles a little sack of money. You can crimp the top nicely if you have the skills, but I don’t yet so I simply folded the opposite edges of the circle together making sure the top is nicely sealed. You don’t want the dumplings to burst open during steaming.
  6. While filling the dumplings, warm up water in a pot that your steamer will fit onto. You don’t need the water to boil, you simply want the water to be warm enough to generate some steam so that the dumplings can prove in the steaming basket before getting steamed.
  7. As soon as you finish one dumpling, place it on a square of baking paper and put it in the steamer – but don’t put the steamer over the water just yet. Leave ample space between dumplings as they will get much bigger after you are done.
  8. Once all 12 dumplings are ready in the steamer, place the steamer over warm (the heat should be off) water and allow the dumplings to prove for 20-30 minutes until they get about 1/3 bigger.
  9. After the proofing time, bring the water under the steamer to a gentle simmer and steam the dumplings for about 15-20 minutes.
  10. Take the steamer off the water, but do not peak inside yet. Allow the buns to rest for 5-10 minutes before taking them out of the steamer.

FILLING

  1. Clean your mushrooms and chop them into an 0.5 cm / 0.2″ dice. If using tofu instead of mushrooms, drain and pat it dry with paper towels. Dice it into a similar size dice.
  2. Mix all of the sauce ingredients: tamari / soy sauce, wine, hoisin sauce, sugar, five spice, pepper and vinegar (if using, it’s not traditionally used, but I felt like it’s needed to cut through the sweetness) in a bowl. Prepare the cornflour / cornstarch slurry by mixing cornflour with 2 tbsp of water in another small bowl.
  3. Heat up 1 tbsp of oil in a wok. Add mushroom or tofu dice to the hot oil and stir-fry until the extra moisture cooks out (mushrooms only) and the dice is lightly browned. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.
  4. Clean or wipe the wok clean and heat up another tablespoon of oil, keeping the heat fairly low.
  5. Stir-fry the diced shallots until translucent, followed by the diced ginger and garlic. Stir-fry for about a minute, until the garlic gets fragrant.
  6. Return the mushrooms (or tofu) to the wok and season with 1 tsp of toasted sesame oil.
  7. Lower the heat, pour the prepped sauce over the filling and mix everything well. Taste and adjust the seasoning (add a pinch of salt, for example) if necessary.
  8. Finally, add the cornflour / cornstarch slurry to thicken the sauce (give it a good stir before adding to the work). Allow it to bubble gently for a few seconds, switch the heat off and set aside to cool.

NOTES
*The amount of sugar is up to you. Traditionally these are quite sweet, but I only used about 2 tsp in my dough and I did not feel like any more was needed, especially that the filling was quite sweet too.

**This recipe works well with lower water content mushrooms like king oyster. As king oyster mushrooms can be tricky to get, I have also tested this recipe using baby chestnuts. I personally like them in these but please be aware that they impart more of a “mushroomy” taste than the king oyster mushrooms, which some people may find undesirable in this dish. You can also use cubed firm tofu instead. I also tested tempeh, but I felt like it’s distinct flavour was a touch overpowering.

***You can find details of the alternate double proofing method here.

The single proofing method has been adapted from this recipe.

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NUTRITIONAL INFO
calories
141
7%
sugars
2 g
2%
fats
2 g
3%
saturates
0 g
2%
proteins
4 g
8%
carbs
23 g
9%
*per bun
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4.8
9 reviews, 41 comments
REVIEWS & QUESTIONS
LOTTE:
very good! I loved it so much!
its just a bit tricky with the wrappers but it ended up getting easier and was so much fun to make!
tysm for this recipe <3
    Ania
    Ania:
    Thanks, Lotte! I'm so happy you enjoyed them and yes, pleating does take a little practice, for sure! x Ania
zoe:
very good yes
    Ania
    Ania:
    Thanks Zoe, I'm really happy to hear that you enjoyed them. x Ania
Toni:
I don't know where I went wrong with this one. Everything seemed fine until it came to filling and wrapping up the dumplings - I couldn't put a lot of filling in per dumpling and none of them wanted to close up for me (even after googling a different method - the fold and pinch sealing one). :( Maybe because I used all purpose flour instead of bao? I also don't have a wok so I used a frying pan? Also maybe the dough was left a bit too long proofing because the filling section took a while to prepare and make. They still tasted lovely, just every one of them opened in the steamer. Sorry for the wall of text!
    Ania
    Ania:
    Hi Toni,
    It sounds to me that either you haven't rolled these thin enough or/and you overfilled them, which is easy to do - I am terrible at this myself as I want as much filling as possible in all my ravioli/dumplings etc. ;) Glad you enjoyed them and just be mindful of these two point when/if making them again. Also, if your dough has trouble sticking when you are sealing the dumplings (it is probably because it's covered with too much flour), wet it with your finger a little before trying to seal again. Hope this helps! Ania
Kristi:
So can u use a vegetable steamer? I have one with the basket but don’t know if it’s the same for this recipe.
    Ania
    Ania:
    Hi Kristi,
    You mean a steamer used for steaming vegetables (like a metal one, for example)? Sure, it should work fine! Ania
Sally:
Just made these... leaving some notes for future cooks. Followed recipe to a tee, but couldn't fit all buns in my steamer so went with six in the steamer and six to proof on the kitchen bench. The ones that proofed over steam were undercooked, and totally deflated. I steamed-proof for 30 minutes, properly steamed for 20, and then left to rest for another 20 minutes. Dough was raw. The ones I left to proof on the bench for 60 minutes I then steamed for 25, and then left them to rest for a good 40 or so minutes were absolutely perfect. I am not sure what went wrong with the first lot but it is an amazing recipe, so much flavour etc., just next time i will do the standard bench proof.
    Ania
    Ania:
    Thanks for your review, Sally. I am not sure why your buns didn't proof in the basket - I have never had any issues with that. Was your basket wet/just washed by any chance? It sounds like they simply needed to be proofed for much longer. It is really hard to be precise when it comes to proofing time in recipe instructions as the speed of proofing depends on many factors, such as ambient temperature, humidity/altitude, dough hydration etc. so you really need to go by your senses/experience when judging if the dough has proofed enough head of steaming/baking. Glad that at least half of the buns turned out well. Ania
Riley Renner:
could you bake these in the oven for a crispier dumpling? or even the air fryer? I do not have a steamer and am looking for alternative ways to cook. I really want to try these but don't want to mess them up. could you boil them?
    Ania
    Ania:
    Hi Riley,
    Full disclosure: I have not tried doing that, but pretty sure you can bake them. I would try at 350°F / 175°C for about 10-12 minutes. And I recommend glazing them with 1 tbsp soy milk + 1 tsp maple syrup/sugar + 1 tsp oil prior to baking. Hope this helps! Ania
vicky:
Made this for our Sunday brunch and my boyfriend ate SIX of these in one seating. They're so so incredible 😍😍😍
I want to make a bigger batch to deliver some to my parents' house for them to enjoy too, should I double the recipe or make it twice¿ Thanks you so muchh Ania
    Ania
    Ania:
    That's fantastic to hear, Vicky! Thanks so much for letting me know! Yes, you should be able to double or triple the recipe but do make sure your steamer is big enough to be able to steam all of the straight away as otherwise the ones that need to wait to go in tend to overproof and not be as nice to eat. Hope this helps! Ania
Emily:
Amazing recipe! I made a different filling because of what I had in my fridge (Aubergine, Pak choi and Tofu); the dough is fluffy and delicious. I'm so glad i found your blog your recipes have yet to dissapoint me.
    Ania
    Ania:
    I'm delighted to hear that, Emily! Thank you for letting me know that you enjoyed them and I hope you won't be disappointed by my other recipes either. Ania
Johanna:
Hi Ania, thanks for the recipe! Do you think it would work to use shiitake mushrooms instead of king oysters?
    Ania
    Ania:
    Hi Johanna,
    They would quite have the same texture - king oyster stems are very meaty - but they will be equally delicious, I am sure. Hope you'll enjoy them. Ania
Kim:
Thank you so much for your recipe! Just a question, where did you get your amazing steamer baskets from?
    Ania
    Ania:
    Hi Kim,
    Honestly, I don't remember - I bought them online years ago, but they are widely available online (this is the one I have) or try a big Asian food store. Hope that helps! Ania
Rosie Blake:
Hey Ania, I love all you recipes! Can I ask what size your steamer is? I’m just going to buy one and can’t work out what size to go for!
Thanks, Rosie x
    Ania
    Ania:
    Hi Rosie,
    Thank you, that's lovely to hear. My steamer is 19 cm / 7.5" across, but I recommend buying a larger size - mine can only fit 3 buns at the time and the rest overproofs while they wait so that's not ideal. Ania
Marianna Vassiliades:
Thank you so much for this recipe! I just tried it and they turned out great. I'm not vegan but try to eat less meat. The these taste so yummy :)
    Ania
    Ania:
    Thanks for your kind words, Marianna! I am delighted to hear that you enjoyed these! Ania
Jessie:
If I have a smaller steamer set up and wanted to work in batches, what would be my best course of action? Form as many as fit, let them proof in the steamer, steam them, and then move on to the next batch? Form them all and then proof and steam as ready?
So excited to make these tonight!
    Ania
    Ania:
    Hi Jessie,
    Sorry for a late reply. I would only make as many as you can steam at the same time as otherwise the buns that are waiting to go in are very likely to overproof. Alternatively, you may be able to slow down their proofing time by keeping them in a colder place, but then again I worry that fridge may be too cold and you run the risk of killing the yeast. Sorry but I have no better suggestions. Ania
Domange:
thanks a lot for your suggestion Ania . I wanted to propose this course in my veggie restaurant called Annadata in the west sea coast in France. :-)
warm regards
Myriam
    Ania
    Ania:
    Great to hear, Myriam! x Ania
Myriam:
hi Ania,
could you tell me what kind of sauce you can serve with the buns . thank you for your quick reply
Myriam
    Ania
    Ania:
    Hi Myriam,
    They are quite saucy so not sure it’s needed but hoisin sauce or a simple soy sauce / rice vinegar / mirin / sesame sauce would work well, I think.
    Ania
Megan:
Such a lovely story and definitely making this recipe! Would it be possible to freeze the finished buns? And when would that be best? After steaming and then just steam again before you want to eat them?
X
    Ania
    Ania:
    Thanks, Megan! I hope they go down well. As for freezing, I have not tried myself, but I feel like freezing them before steaming might be a good idea. I've had a lot of success with freezing pizza dough and I think this is similar. Hope that helps! Ania
Inna:
OMG! You made me cry.. I have a same memory about my grandma..
🌹
    Ania
    Ania:
    Aw, thank you. I am glad my story resonated with you so much! x
Varadā:
Thank you Anita
Looking forward to trying them out soon 😊
    Ania
    Ania:
    Awesome, I hope you'll enjoy them! x Ania
aerofryer:
Thank you for this lovely recipe. On your website you have the best thrilling vegan recipes.
    Ania
    Ania:
    aw, thanks so much :)
Varadā:
Anla, this looks like a great recipe. It says at the beginning that the buns can be made a day ahead. Is that just the dough or the filled bun? Would the dough not continue rising in the fridge overnight?
    Ania
    Ania:
    Oh, I am so sorry, Varadā - it's a mistake, I accidentally left this from this recipe. As these have a filling inside them, which makes them go soggy if they sit around for too long, I would not recommend making them in advance. Ania
Aliyah:
I dont have any ginger and want to avoid going out to the store, do you think it'll still work out without that?
    Ania
    Ania:
    Yes, sure, the taste will be a bit different, but still delicious! Ania
Jenna:
I can't get shaoxing wine or any alcoholic substitutes, can I omit it from the recipe?
    Ania
    Ania:
    Try using dry sherry instead or simply skip. Hope that helps! Ania
Janne:
Beautiful story about your grandmother! She sounds like a strong woman indeed. Nice that you can recognize some of her in yourself.
    Ania
    Ania:
    Thanks, Janne! Yes, she was, not sure it rubbed off on me much but I wish it had :) Ania
Rachel:
These look fantastic! Is there a way to cook them without a steamer basket?
    Ania
    Ania:
    Hi Rachel,
    It's certainly worth a try although you may want to do a half recipe as it will be hard to fit all of them in at the same time. I would improvise something using a metal colander, some sort of contraption with holes inside and a lid on top. Hope it works. Ania
Daisy:
Thanks for the recipe share. I have been looking for a vegan version in the frozen section but have not found one to my liking. Excited to give this a try. Take care.
    Ania
    Ania:
    My pleasure! Hope you'll enjoy them! Ania
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