Learn how to make homemade Vegan Char Siu Bao (Chinese Steamed BBQ Pork Buns), just like the ones at dim sum! Traditionally made with pork, this version is filled with seitan and oyster mushrooms with a saucy, sweet and savory barbecue sauce.
Growing up, every time we would go to dim sum there was one dish I would look forward to the most: Char Siu Baos (Char Siew Bao, Cha Siu Bao Cha Siew Pao) AKA Chinese Steamed BBQ Pork Buns. I don’t think anyone ever goes to dim-sum without ordering 2 or 5 stacks of these delicious, fluffy stuffed buns.
Vegan Steamed BBQ ‘Pork’ Buns
Since going vegan, I haven’t been to dim sum because of the lack of vegan options. Since immersing myself more in the Chinese culture last month, it reminded me of how much I love baos, noodles and dumplings. Over the holiday while reconnecting with my grandma, I spent a lot of time learning about Chinese food, culture and cooking techniques– especially when it comes to baos, dumplings and noodles.
The first type of steam bun she taught me how to make were the Lazy Dragon Rolls because it doesn’t involve a lot of steps and no pleating the dough was needed. While I love the simplicity of that style of bun, I was itching to get to re-learning how to make steamed buns that you’ll find at Chinatown, dim-sum and Asian grocery stores… specifically char siu bao.
My grandma helped me with the bao bun, but it was up to me to come up with a vegan filling. After a few rounds of testing out the flavour and textures, I’m happy to say that this vegan char siu bao is as close to the real thing as it gets– seriously my family was mind blown. The bao is perfectly fluffy (almost cake-y), the filling is truly meaty, the sauce is mega flavourful and the perfect balance of sweet and savory.
This Chinese Steamed BBQ Pork Bun recipe is not a quick and easy recipe but they are so worth it, especially if you’ve been looking for a delicious meatless char siu bao. Plus, it’s a fun project for the weekend that gets your whole family involved!
Lets get to it, shall we?
What type of flour to use
The key to soft and fluffy steamed buns is using flour with a low percentage of gluten and combining it with a starch. Flours with low gluten % include Chinese low gluten bao flour, called Di Jin Mian Fen (低筋面粉) Fen or cake/pastry flour. I’ve tried both and have found that the low-gluten bao flour does yield softer buns. For starch, I always opt for corn starch or wheat starch.
What is low gluten flour?
Low-gluten flour is a type of flour blend that contains regular wheat flour and wheat starch, not to be confused with cake flour. Cake flour does not contain starch, rather the lower percentage of gluten is achieved by the milling process. The bao flour I’ve used has a protein % that is slightly more than cake flour but still less than all purpose.
I highly recommend using low gluten flour if you’re able to find it, but if all you have is cake flour (or even all purpose flour), these buns can still be made.
How to Make Vegan Char Siu Bao
There are four main steps to making steamed BBQ buns:
- The dough
- The filling
- Stuffing & pleating
For the steamed bao dough
To start, dissolve the yeast in room temperature soy milk, starting with the smaller amount. Stir in the sugar and oil.
Add the flour, corn starch and salt to an electric mixer. Starting with a low speed, slowly pour in the yeast mixture and then increase the speed setting to #4– let it run for about 10 minutes. You’re looking for a smooth, elastic-y, sticky (but handle-able) dough. Cover with a damp kitchen towel and let it rest for 1 1/2 – 2 hours (time will vary depending on temperature or your kitchen).
How to make dough rise faster
To speed up the fermentation process, microwave a cup of water for 2 minutes on high. Then place the bowl into the microwave with the door slightly open. The warm temperature will help speed up the proofing time.
While the dough is resting, lets prepare the Chinese BBQ pork filling!
For the filling
First, prepare the char siu sauce by mixing together the mushroom sauce, soy sauce, sesame oil and sugar. Then prepare the slurry by mixing the corn starch and vegetable stock.
Moving over to the stove, fry the onions over high heat until caramelized– this takes about 4 minutes. Decrease to medium high and cook oyster mushrooms for 2 minutes. Turn down to medium low add all the sauce. Stir and cook until it starts to bubble and simmer. Add the slurry and stir until it thickens (it’s very quick!). Turn off the heat and then stir in the seitan char siu. Set it aside and let it cool.
Note: Instead of oyster mushrooms, you can use shiimeji mushrooms, shiitake mushrooms, konjac, jackfruit or tofu.
Once you dough is proofed, sift the baking powder on top of the dough and knead it again. You can either use your hands or do it directly in the electric mixer at speed 2 until baking powder is well incorporated. If the dough looks dry, add 1-2 tsp of water and knead until dough is smooth again. Cover with a damp cloth and then let it rest for another 15 minutes. In the meantime, if you do not already have some parchment paper prepared, cut 6-8 squares (approx. 4.25×4.25 in size)
How to wrap char siu bao
Divide the dough into 7 equal size pieces (I use a kitchen scale for accuracy). Cover the pieces of dough with the damp cloth and work with one piece at a time to prevent them from drying. Now is also a good time to pre-heat your steamer by bringing a pot of water to a boil.
Gently flatten the dough with a rolling pin twice and then flatten out the sides, keeping the middle thicker. The dough should be about 4-4.5 inches in diameter. Place the filling in the middle and pleat it closed.
You will probably have some leftover filling, you can eat it with rice or spread some over toast!
Steam & Serve
Place the buns on parchment paper with 1 inch between each bun and into the steamer basket. I use a double layer bamboo steamer but you can also use a metal steamer– just be sure do this the steamer on top of the boiling water and steam for 12 minutes (for 6 buns). If making 8 buns, steam for 10 minutes.
Watch How to Make it
Tips & Tricks for Soft & Fluffy Char Siu Bao
To make dim-sum worthy char siu bao, here are some tips to help you along the way:
- Weigh your ingredients: I tested the ratio of these ingredients many times for these baos, and for best results I HIGHLY recommend weighing your ingredients with a precision scale (even the yeast and baking powder).
- White baos: If you want to achieve that pure white char siu bao you see at dim sum, use unbleached flour.
- Start with less liquid: Depending on the type of flour and starch you use, as well as the temperature of your kitchen you may need more or less water. Start with the lesser amount given and add additional only if needed to bring the dough together.
- Check dough earlier: Proofing time is roughly 1 1/2 – 2 hours but that can depend on the temperature of your kitchen. In the winter, it can take up to 2 1/2 hours. However, I always recommend checking your dough earlier rather than later. To check if your dough is done proofing, make a indent in the dough with your finger. It should spring back up slowly. If it springs back quickly, proof for longer. If it does not spring back at all, it is over proofed and it may cause the buns to collapse when cooking.
- Pre-heat the water: Instead of starting them off with cold water, these baos need instant hot steam to make them puff up.
- Do NOT open the lid of the steamer while it is steaming, it will cause the baos to collapse.
Steamed Buns FAQ
Can I make these ahead of time?
You can prepare the filling ahead of time. I don’t recommend making the dough ahead of time due to the nature of proofing. If timing is an issue, you can try these yeast free bao steamed buns.
How to store steamed buns
Place them into a air tight container or reusable bag and keep it in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
Can I freeze steamed buns?
These are best eaten fresh but they can be frozen. Once they’re cooled down, keep in a reuse-able bag and freeze. To reheat, steam the buns until warmed again (12-15 minutes) or in a pinch, microwave for one minute.
If you recreate this Vegan Char Siu Bao recipe let me know how you liked it by leaving a comment and rating below or by tagging me on Instagram @Okonomikitchen, I love seeing all of your tasty recreations!
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