Baked char siu bao is a popular bread item at both dim sum restaurants and Chinese bakeries. The filling inside is made of char siu pork and a sweet and savory sauce that's wrapped in a layer of fluffy, tender bread. Unlike the steamed char siu bao, the alternative, the baked version is perfectly golden brown on the outside and topped with a sprinkle of sesame seeds. These baked baos are great for snacks, lunch, and a perfect addition to dim sum, just like siu mai!
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What is char siu bao?
Char siu bao (叉烧包), or cha shao bao in mandarin, translates to roast pork bun. It's a popular Chinese bread/snack that can be found at Chinese bakeries, restaurants, and dim sum and often offered in two forms — steamed or baked char siu bao.
For the steamed char siu bao, the buns are white, tender, and fluffy, while the baked version is often topped with black or white sesame seeds and baked until a beautiful golden brown on the outside and tender and fluffy on the inside. These bbq pork buns are filled with a red sweet and savory char siu pork filling that's a perfect balance of flavor with each bite of the bun.
Please scroll down to the recipe card for the ingredient quantities!
Char siu bao filling:
- Char siu - This is the main ingredient of the char siu filling. You can easily make it at home with our char siu recipe or purchase it from Chinese markets like 99 Ranch Market and some Chinese restaurants.
- Yellow onion - If you prefer, you could use shallot instead. The onion adds a lot of flavor to the sauce, which is the other main ingredient for the char siu filling.
- Water - Using water is the most convenient and won't change the flavor very much. However, for a more nutritious option, you can use chicken broth or stock instead.
- Sugar, soy sauce, oyster sauce, dark soy sauce, toasted sesame oil - These are the seasonings needed for the sauce. The dark soy sauce is mostly for coloring so if you prefer you can omit. As for the sesame oil, it adds a nice layer of toasted, nuttiness, which we highly recommend, but you can omit if you'd like.
- Chicken bouillon powder - A little chicken bouillon powder helps to intensify the flavor of the sauce. Also, since we're using water for the sauce, the bouillon powder will give it an extra boost of flavor.
- Red food coloring - This is totally optional and is simply to give the filling the iconic red color.
- Cornstarch slurry - This is simply a mixture of cornstarch and water. The slurry is used to thicken the sauce.
- Oil for cooking - Any neutral cooking oil is fine.
For the dough:
- All-purpose flour - Normally, breads are made with bread flour, but we've opted to use all-purpose flour so that you don't have to purchase another bag of flour. Plus, all-purpose has enough gluten to give our char siu bao the support and chew it needs.
- Boiling hot water - Drizzling hot water into the flour is a technique similar to using tangzong when making Japanese milk bread, which keeps the dough tender. This is a technique we also used in our Korean sausage bread.
- Milk - Although you can use water, milk will enrich the dough and make it taste better.
- Active dry yeast - This is the most standard yeast to use because it's easy to keep and works with most recipes. You could use instant yeast instead without much adjustment. If you're using instant yeast, you can add it straight into the flour mixture without having to dissolve it in milk first.
- Sugar and salt - To season the dough.
- Unsalted butter - Adding some butter will further enrich the dough, which makes it tastier. We always recommend using unsalted butter so that you can control the amount of salt added to the dough. If your using salted butter, omit the salt from the recipe.
- Egg - For the egg wash. We like to use whole eggs, but you can also just use an egg yolk mixed with a tablespoon of milk.
How to make baked char siu bao
Please scroll down to the recipe card for the full recipe and instructions!
Make the filling:
1. Prepare sauce ingredients. In a bowl or measuring cup, mix together the water, sugar, soy sauce, oyster sauce, chicken bouillon powder, dark soy sauce, and red food color until well combined.
2. Saute onion. In a saucepan over medium high heat, add the oil. When the oil is hot, add the onions and sauté until it turns translucent and smells fragrant. Add the prepared sauce.
3. Simmer sauce. Bring the sauce to a boil and reduce to a gentle simmer. Then let the sauce cook for 1 to 2 minutes.
4. Thicken sauce. While the sauce is cooking, mix together the cornstarch and water. Give it a good stir and slowly drizzle it into the sauce while stirring the sauce. Let the sauce cook until it's thick and glossy. Finish by stirring in the sesame oil.
🌟Pro tip: If you prefer, you can take the saucepan off the heat when adding the cornstarch slurry. This will decrease the chances that the cornstarch slurry gets cooked too quickly, creating clumps instead of thickening the sauce.
5. Make the filling. Transfer the sauce to a heatproof bowl along with the diced char siu. Mix until evenly combined. Set the filling aside to cool.
🌟Pro tip: Spread the filling onto the wall of the bowl or just in general spread out the filling to help it cool faster. If needed, you can also let the filling cool in the fridge.
6. Optional - Portion filling. Once the filling has cooled, evenly divide it into 12 portions. Roughly round out the filling for easier wrapping later.
Make the dough:
1. Dissolve yeast. Sprinkle the yeast over the warm milk and give it a good stir. Set it aside and allow the yeast to dissolve, about 3 to 5 minutes.
2. Make dough. In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, sugar, and salt and give it a good mix. While stirring the flour mixture with chopsticks or a rubber spatula, drizzle in the boiling hot water.
Then add the milk with dissolved yeast and mix until the dough starts to come together. Knead the dough for a few minutes until it's mostly smooth. Cover and allow the dough to rest in a warm area for about 30 minutes.
3. Add butter. After 30 minutes, punch down the dough and knead it briefly until smooth. Then knead in the softened butter until absorbed and round the dough into a ball.
🌟Stand mixer alternative: If using a stand mixer, you can skip the 30 minute rest time. Simply follow the recipe as is and mix the dough on low speed until it comes together. Then increase the speed to medium high and knead the dough until smooth and elastic. And finish by adding the butter and knead until absorbed.
4. Proof dough. Cover the dough and allow it to proof until doubled, about 1 hour.
1. Portion dough. Once the dough has doubled, punch it down and turn it out onto a clean work surface, lightly dusted with flour. Knead the dough to its original size and divide the dough into 12 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a ball.
2. Fill and shape bao. Working with one piece of dough ball at a time, roll out the dough into a 4 to 5 inch circle. Place a portion of the filling in the center and wrap the dough around the filling. Then pinch the seams together to seal the filling.
Place the bao seam side down and round out the shape. Lightly dust with flour as needed when handling the dough.
🌟 Pro tip: If needed, use the back of a spoon to push the filling into the dough if the filling starts protrude while wrapping.
3. Proof. Arrange the char siu bao on a sheet pan lined with parchment, seam side down, each about 1 to 2 inches apart. Proof the baos in a warm area until doubled, about 1 hour.
1. Egg wash. Once the char siu bao have doubled, preheat the oven to 350°F. Brush the top of each bao with the beaten egg and top with a sprinkle of sesame seeds.
2. Bake. When the oven is at 350°F, bake the bao for 22 to 25 minutes or until the bao is golden brown. Remove from the oven and repeat with the remaining trays of baos.
3. Cool and enjoy. Allow the baked char siu bao to cool until comfortable to handle. Enjoy while warm but be careful of the filling! It stays hot for a while.
Leftover baked char siu bao can be stored in the fridge for up to 1 week or in the freezer for up to 2 months. Make sure to allow the bao to cool completely before storing in an airtight container or a resealable bag.
These baked char siu baos are great whether fresh or after refrigerating/freezing. However, the baos will most likely develop wrinkles and imperfection on the outside.
The easiest way to reheat these baked char siu baos is using the microwave. To reheat, place the bao in a microwave-safe container and cover. Microwave for 30 seconds to 1 minute until the filling inside is hot.
For frozen baos, it is best to allow it to defrost overnight in the fridge until thawed.
Char siu bao literally translates to roast pork buns .
Yes, you can use instant yeast instead of active dry yeast. If using instant yeast instead, skip dissolving the yeast in the warm milk. Instant yeast can be added straight into the flour mixture since it's a much finer than active dry yeast, which requires dissolving first.
The best alternative for cornstarch is potato starch.
Baked Char Siu Bao
For the filling:
- 16 ounces Chinese BBQ roast pork small diced (homemade or store-bought) *see notes
- ½ cup yellow onion small diced (or shallots)
- 1 cup water
- 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce light sodium
- 1 tablespoon oyster sauce
- 2 teaspoon chicken bouillon powder
- 1 teaspoon dark soy sauce
- 1-2 drops red food coloring optional for color
- 3 tablespoons cornstarch mixed with water to make slurry (mix every 3 tablespoon cornstarch with 3 tablespoon water)
- 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil optional
- 1 tablespoon oil (any neutral oil)
For the dough:
- 1⅓ cup milk warm (between 95-105°F)
- 2 teaspoons active dry yeast
- 5 cups all-purpose flour fluffed, spooned, and leveled *see notes (plus more for dusting)
- ⅓ cup granulated sugar
- 2 teaspoon Kosher salt
- ½ cup boiling hot water
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter cut into small cubes and softened
- 1 large egg beaten (optional for egg wash)
- Black sesame seed
- White sesame seeds
For the filling:
- In a measuring cup or bowl, mix together the water, sugar, soy sauce, oyster sauce, chicken bouillon powder, dark soy sauce, and red food color until well combined.
- In a saucepan over medium high heat, add the oil. Once the oil is hot, add the onions and sauté until the onions turn translucent and fragrant, about 1 minute.
- To the saucepan, add the prepared sauce and bring it up to a boil. Reduce the heat to a gentle simmer and allow the sauce to cook for about 2-3 minutes.
- Give the cornstarch slurry a good mix and slowly drizzle it into the sauce while stirring the sauce. Allow the sauce to cook until it's thick and looks glossy, stirring frequently. To finish, stir in the sesame oil.
- Transfer the finished char siu sauce to a large, heatproof bowl along with the diced char siu pork. Mix until well combined. Set the filling aside to cool while you prepare the dough.*If needed, you can chill the filling in the fridge. You can also spread out the filling to help it cool faster.*
For the dough:
- Sprinkle the yeast over the warm milk and give it a stir. Set aside to let the yeast dissolve and activate, about 3 to 5 minutes.
- In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, sugar, and salt and give everything a good mix.
- Drizzle the boiling hot water into the flour mixture while stirring with a rubber spatula or chopsticks. Then add the milk with yeast. Mix until a dough starts to come together, then knead for a few minutes until the dough becomes a ball and is mostly smooth. Cover and let the dough rest in a warm area for about 30 minutes.
- After 30 minutes, punch down the dough and knead briefly until it's smooth. Then add the softened butter and knead until the butter is absorbed. Cover and allow the dough to proof in a warm area until doubled, about 1 hour.*You can also make the dough in a stand mixer. If using a stand mixer, follow the recipe as is and skip the 30 minute resting time. Mix the dough on low speed until it comes together, then increase the speed to medium high and knead until the dough is smooth and elastic (about 10 to 15 minutes) before kneading in the butter.*
- Optional: Once the filling has cooled, divide it into 12 equal portions and roughly round them up.
- Once the dough has doubled, punch it down turn it out onto a clean work surface lightly dusted with flour. Knead the dough back into a ball and divide the dough into 12 equal pieces and round each piece into a ball. Keep the dough covered when not using.
- Working with one piece of dough ball at a time, roll the dough into a circle, about 4 to 5 inches wide. Place a portion of the filling in the center of the dough and wrap the dough around the filling. Pinch the seams to seal. Roughly round out the dough into a ball and place the finished char siu bao onto a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. Keep each bao about 1 to 2 inches part. Repeat the process until all of the filling and dough are used.*Please refer to the post above for step by step photo reference of this process if needed.*
- Once all of the baos are made, proof the baos in a warm area until 95 percent doubled.*We like to proof in our oven with just the light on on warmer days and on colder days, we would briefly preheat the oven until warm before using it for proofing.*
- When the baos are about 95 percent doubled, start preheating the oven to 350°F and brush each bao with some egg wash and top with a sprinkle of sesame seeds if you'd like.
- Once the oven is at 350°F, bake the char siu bao for 22 to 25 minutes or until the outside is a nice golden brown. Remove from oven and allow the baos to cool for a few minutes before handling.
- Enjoy the char siu baos while they are warm! Do be careful — the filling can be very hot!
- Char siu - Feel free to make it yourself (it's incredibly easy!) or use store-bought ones. Try to cut the pork into diced pieces not bigger than ¼ inch.