One of the first food experiences I had when I moved to the Bay Area was trying a baked pork bun from a little Chinese bakery in Chinatown. I instantly fell in love with the salty pork pocketed in a lightly sweetened bun. I must say – I love pork; there isn’t a pork dish that I’ve had that I haven’t swooned over. Last weekend, I wanted to recreate that food experience at home, so I set out to try to make my own version of Baked Pork Buns.
Here is how to create these yourself, as adapted from the I Made This blog:
Char Siu Pork
1 lb boneless pork shoulder (I used pork butt, which was fatty and delicious)
1 clove garlic (I think I used four or five. In my world, there is never enough garlic)
1 1/2 tbsp sugar
1/4 tsp Five Spice Powder (fennel, cloves, and cinnamon, along with star anise and Szechuan peppercorns)
2 tbsp Hoisin Sauce
1 1/2 tbsp Honey
1 tbsp Rice Wine (apparently Rice Vinegar is the same? That’s what I used.. turned out yummy!)
2 1/2 tbsp Soy Sauce
1 1/2 tsp Sesame oil
Step 1, the Marinade:
Slice the pork into strips about one inch thick and wide. Combine all of the ingredients above, except the pork, in a large bowl. Reserve about 1/3 of the marinade for glazing during roasting. Put pork in the marinate, and place in refrigerator for 6-8 hours. In my opinion, I think they could marinade longer, like over night, but I let my go for about 8 hours. Longer is better here!
Step 2, the Roasting:
Remove your pork from the refrigerator and preheat your oven to about 425 degrees (note: I did mine at 475 degrees and found it to be too hot and not the best way to roast the pork, so I’m adjusting down). Lay your pork on a sheet pan that is lined with aluminum foil and has a roasting rack above it. This will allow your pork to be able to caramelize and not sit in a ton of juice and marinade. Take your reserved marinate and give the pieces a good bath with it.
Once your oven is preheated, pop in the pork and let roast about 20 minutes. Check on the pork, turn them and add some more of the reserved marinade to the top. Return to oven for about another 20 minutes or until fully cooked and brown.
Just wait.. it gets better.
Step 3, the Dough:
3/8 cup whole milk
4 tbsp butter
2 tsp active dry yeast
2 1/2 tbsp lukewarm water
1 large egg
2 1/2 tbsp sugar
12 1/2 oz AP flour
For Egg Bath and Glaze:
1 large egg, lightly beaten
2 tbsp honey mixed with 1 tbsp warm water
Here comes the fun part: the dough! First things first – get your yeast activating by combining it with the warm water. I like to throw a pinch of sugar in there. This gives the yeast something to eat. Within a few minutes, the mixture should be a little foamy – that’s how you know you’ve got active yeast!
Combine the milk and butter in a small sauce pan. Gently heat until the butter is melted, and let cool.
While that’s cooling, it’s time to get flour-y! Break out your handy scale (or measure it and hope it’s pretty accurate) and weigh out your flour. Combine with the sugar in a stand mixer. If you don’t have stand mixer, a good old bowl and spoon work just fine here – you’re just going to get your hands a little messy when kneading. Once your milk mixture is cool, add it to the yeast mixture and the one egg. Combine. Add to the flour, and with a dough hook, let the machine mix it for 5 minutes (or you can knead by hand – how retro!).
Lightly oil a bowl, add your dough, cover and place in a warm place for one hour. It should double in size. Once doubled, you’re ready to start filling buns.
Step 4, the Sauce-ification:
1 tbsp sugar
1 pinch of salt
1 pinch of white pepper
1 TBSP soy sauce
2 tsp oyster sauce
1 tbsp water
2 tsp canola oil
2 scallions (white and green parts), chopped
1/2 pound Char Siu Pork, diced
1 tablespoon rice wine
1 1/2 TBSP cornstarch dissolved in
2 TBSP water
While your roasted pork is cooling (Note: I made the roasted pork the day before, let it cool, refrigerated and then did this step. Totally fine!), start combining the following: water, soy sauce, oyster sauce, sugar, salt and white pepper. Mix in a small bowl and set aside. Chop the two scallions and reserve.
Once you can handle the pork, cut it into teeny-bite sized pieces (think small enough to fit about ten or so in a tiny ball of dough – the smaller the better here!).
In a saucepan, heat the oil. Toss in the scallions for about 30 seconds. Next comes the pork! Throw in that wonderful Char Siu pork and mix well. Here’s where it gets yummy: add in that sauce that you just made to the mix. It’s going to smell good! Meanwhile, combine the rice wine and cornstarch together. Once everything is heated in the pan, add in the cornstarch mixture. It’s all going to thicken together and be ready for you to bun-ify!
Step 5, the Buns:
This is the fun part! If you’ve never made buns like this before, you are probably going to want to watch a youtube video or two about how to properly fold them. Before you start building, make sure you’ve got two sheet pans with parchment paper ready to go.
Start by cutting your dough in half, and then putting the reserved half back in the bowl covered so it doesn’t dry out. Then, cut off about 2 ounce chunks (Note: the size is really up to you — you can make this bigger or smaller. I chose to go for little buns) of dough from the initial half. Roll out and make sure your edges are thinner than the center. Spoon in some mixture and start folding!
Once you have them formed, cover them lightly and let rest for about 30 minutes. They should plump a bit and get soft.
When you’re ready to bake them, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Brush each bun with a little beaten egg.
Depending on size, bake for 12-18 minutes. The small ones I made only took 12. Remember, the filing is already fully cooked – you just need to bake the dough.
As they come out of the oven, brush them with the honey glaze. This final touch will give them a sweetness that pulls the whole bun together. Enjoy them hot and fresh out of the oven!