An award winning media company committed to sharing the perspectives of people of colour from marginalised genders

Vegan Chinese New Year: Char Siu Bao recipe

28 Jan 2017


Char siu bao are barbeque pork filled steam buns. In this recipe I use mushrooms to replace the meat. Please don’t be put off by this recipe: it’s actually pretty simple. And learning to make your own bread and rolls for the future is hugely rewarding. Steaming rolls is also super fast and they come out beautiful and soft. Speaking of steaming, you will need a steamer for this recipe. You can get them from pretty much any Chinese supermarket relatively cheap. And you can use them for steaming veg in too. It’s how I cook broccoli.

Give these bao a go: they’re delicious and fragrant but filling and make for very happy housemates.


In a big bowl combine all your dry ingredients and sprinkle a surface liberally with plain flour. Then add in the oil and warm water to your dry ingredients. Using your (clean) hands with your sleeves securely rolled up, mix everything together thoroughly. It’ll be quite sticky but don’t worry. Tip out your mixture onto your floured surface, scraping out any bits still stuck to the bowl. Now it’s time to knead. If you already know how to knead dough, go you! If you don’t, that’s fine. I think it’s easiest to learn if someone else shows you so here is an instructional video for you.

This dough is quite sticky which is why you floured your surface before. Feel free to add a little more flour if you’re finding the mixture not getting any less sticky as you go along. Your dough is kneaded when you can hold it up to the light, stretch it, and see light through it without it breaking.

Now form it into one big ball and plonk it back into its bowl. This is when my #1 baking hack comes in. My house is cold. Because I’m in my early twenties and working in a cafe and half my wardrobe is woolly jumpers and socks and my best bed companion is my trusty hot water bottle. I may be able to survive in this arctic environment, but bread dough’s rising gets slowed down to the pace of a glacier. I’m yet to be on bake off and have access to a proving drawer so instead I deploy the hot water bottle.

Fill up your hot water bottle about half full with boiling water and grab a big blanket. Now wrap up your hot water bottle in a few layers of blanket, place your bowl of dough on top of it and wrap the whole thing in a few more layers of blanket. This will keep it warm and insulated so the yeast gets cosy and the dough can rise. GBBO eat your heart out.

Leave the dough for an hour or so or until when you prod it with a finger it bounces back. In the meantime, get on with making your filling.

Heat some veg oil in a frying pan and then throw in the finely chopped garlic and ginger. Let them sizzle for about a minute and then chuck in the mushrooms after them. Stir around and fry until the ginger and garlic get golden and the mushrooms begin to brown after shedding water. Now add in the hoisin sauce, soy sauce and tomato puree and again stir around. Leave for another minute to sizzle away and boil off some of the excess water then add in the spring onions and water chestnuts. And you’re done!

When your dough is doing the bouncing back thing well, tip it out onto a lightly floured surface divide it in half, then half again, then half again and so on until you have 16 equal pieces.

Cut 16 squares off baking parchment/greaseproof paper about 7x7cm. These are just to put in between your buns and the steamer so they don’t stick to it when cooking thus making it easier to clean afterwards.

Take a piece of dough and form it into a ball and then, using your fingers, squish it out into a circle. Stick a teaspoon or two of filling in the middle of the circle and then gently pull up the edges of the circle bit by bit around the filling until you can pinch them all together at the top. Pinch them hard to make sure the bun will stay stuck together during its steaming, then cup the bun in your hands to get it more even if it wasn’t already. Now turn it over so the pinched bit is sitting on its paper square and pop it in your steamer. Repeat for the remainder of your buns. If it turns out you don’t have enough layers in your steamer (I have four because I love love love steaming things) then don’t worry: you can cook them in two batches!

Once you’ve assembled all your buns and placed them in the steamer baskets with a little room between them so they don’t turn into one amorphous bun, let them sit for about ten minutes. This is to ‘prove’ them. I.e. Let the dough rest and rise a little again before the actual cooking. Whilst you’re waiting, prep your pan for the steaming.

Put the kettle on and fill the pan with at least 5cm of boiling water. You can use a wok or frying pan in which case just make sure you don’t have so much water in them that the buns are touching it. I have a pot that my steamers fit over really well. The important thing is that you don’t let the pan boil dry whilst steaming and that the water doesn’t touch your bao.

After ten minutes, with the water in the receptacle of your choice bubbling away, pop your steamers with their lid on on top. Now set a timer for 15 minutes. Usually when making bread you tap the bottom of it to see if it sounds hollow: if it does, it’s cooked; if not, it needs longer. When you’re steaming bread however, that’s not an option. After 15 minutes take out a bun (carefully, they’re hot!) Tear it apart with your fingers. If it’s still doughy instead of fluffy, turn the heat back on and cook for another 5 minutes or until done, switching round the levels on your steamer before you do so.

Then, you’re done! You can bring the bamboo steamer directly to the table and serve from there. These are great just dipped in a little soy sauce or chilli oil or just by their delicious selves.