Think soft, buttery, mouth-watering pull-apart bread rolls filled with lightly charred, crispy yet soft, saucy chunks of char siu pork.
Now I must warn you, this takes some effort. But if you fancy all of the above and you would like your taste-buds to jump for joy and thank you endlessly, then you’ll peel yourself up off the sofa and make some. It’s actually incredibly easy, and most of the effort comes from the patience requirement, so really, there’s no reason not to.
I actually first had this idea when I came across a recipe for Japanese milk buns (otherwise known as Hokkaido Milk Bread) on a random journey through the vortex that is the internet’s food catalogue. It seemed amazing, and wonderful, and I was wondering what saucy goodness I should make alongside it for general mopping purposes. Then of course, I thought about char siu bao, as I often do, and along came the idea of combining the two.
Char siu is traditionally Cantonese, and is basically Chinese BBQ pork that uses a host of wonderful salty and sweet flavours (think soy sauce and hoisin) as a marinade. Aside rom being used as a generally lovely seasoned pork in noodles and rice dishes, it’s often found nestled inside steamed bao (char siu bao) as part of a dim sum spread, and can also be found in baked char siu buns. These baked buns, however, aren’t really good enough for the char siu in my opinion. They’re often too sweet, or too thin, and never fluffy enough. The char siu bao, cloud-like and steamed in bamboo baskets, are lovely but are less bread-like and the steaming means the texture is constant until you reach the pork filling. I like texture combos. Crisp, soft, saucy. All together. In one mouthful.
You can decide on your meat-to-bun ratio. You can even just bake the buns with no stuffing and have exceptionally delicious dinner rolls. Or, if you fancy, you can replace your char siu pork with shiitake mushrooms. Slice them, marinate them, fry them on a high heat and toss them in the char siu sauce, then stuff them into the buns as you would with the char siu pork. Also delish and allows your vegetarian friends to let their taste buds join yours in the celebration.
Char siu pork stuffed milk buns (Hokkaido)
Quantities: Makes 9 buns
Timings: 60 mins hands-on time, 3 hours cooking / rising, minimum 3 hours marinating (or overnight)
Char siu pork: 10 mins prep / 3 hours – overnight marinating / 1 hour cooking — Milk buns: 50 mins hands on / 2 hours 15 mins rising and baking.
Kitchen Stuff: Bun baking dish (shape of your choice), oven rack with drip tray
JAPANESE MILK BUNS (HOKKAIDO)
For the starter (tangzhong) – Asian baking technique that helps create a seriously soft, stringy and tender texture
- 3 tbsp water
- 3 tbsp whole milk
- 2 tbsp strong bread flour (strong bread flour contains a higher level of protein to give a fuller, fluffier rise to your bread)
For the rest:
- 65g butter, melted and cooled (just over 1/4 cup)
- 350g strong bread flour + 2 tbsp extra if needed
- 7g sachet (2 tsp) instant yeast
- 120ml (just under 1/2 cup) whole milk, slightly warmed
- 1 large egg
- 1 1/4 tsp salt
- 1 rounded tbsp (16g) sugar
- EGG WASH: 1 egg whisked a dash of whole milk for brushing before baking
- Extra butter or oil for greasing
CHAR SIU PORK
- 500g pork – I use a combination of tenderloin and pork belly to get a mix of meaty and fatty bits
- 1 tbsp brown sugar
- 1 1/2 tbsp runny honey
- 2 tbsp Shaoxing wine (or dry sherry as a substitute)
- 1 1/2 tsp ground five spice
- 3 tbsp hoisin sauce
- 2 tbsp soy sauce
- large pinch of salt
- 1 tbsp sunflower oil
For extra sauce:
- 1 tbsp honey
- 1 tbsp hoisin sauce
- 1 tbsp soy sauce
- 1 tbsp Shaoxing wine
The ideal scenario here is to have your char siu pork ready and cooled when your buns are ready for stuffing. Therefore, start with the char siu pork marinade, and whilst it’s cooking, make your milk buns.
CHAR SIU PORK
1. MARINATE: Mix all the char siu pork ingredients together in a bowl until the pork is sufficiently coated. Cover and put in the fridge for 2-3 hours minimum, or overnight if possible.
2. CRISPIFY: Preheat your oven to 180°C (350°F). Place the marinated pork on a rack over a drip tray filled with a layer of water. This will steam your meat to keep it soft and tender, whilst also ensuring the fat doesn’t burn as it drips down off the pork. Place the pork in the centre of the hot oven for 25 minutes. Keep the marinade.
3. MORE SAUCE: After 25 mins, remove the pork from the oven and brush it with more marinade. Turn it over and brush again. Put it back in the oven for a further 20 minutes. Check there is enough water in the drip tray and re-fill if necessary.
4. YES, MORE SAUCE: Remove the pork from the oven and, yet again, brush with more marinade. If you’re using a fatty cut of pork such as pork belly and it looks crisp enough or too charred, remove it from the oven and set aside, as it is likely ready. The tenderloin, however, will require a little more time in the oven. Put it back in, slathered with marinade, for a further 15 minutes until lightly charred on the edges and a deep red/brown on the outside. Repeat for a further 10 minutes if necessary. Remove from the oven and let cool.
5. EXTRA SAUCE: Put the remaining marinade on a low heat with extra sauce ingredients. Let it bubble and thicken slightly for a minute or two, whilst stirring, and remove from the heat.
6. FINITO: Chop your char siu pork into small chunks and mix with the extra sauce in a bowl. Set aside to cool. Cover and put in the fridge when at room temperature.
JAPANESE MILK BUNS (HOKKAIDO)
1. TANGZHONG: To make your tangzhong / starter, mix together the water, milk and strong bread flour in a small saucepan. Put on a low heat and stir for 2-4 minutes until thickened to a loose paste, and your spoon leaves trails on the bottom of the pan. Put the tangzhong / starter in a small bowl and cover with clingfilm touching the surface to prevent a skin forming. Set aside to cool for at least 30 mins. Melt your butter and let it cool. Lightly warm your milk.
2. DOUGH: In a mixing jug, whisk together the cooled melted butter, large egg, tangzhong and warmed milk. In a large mixing bowl, mix together the bread flour, sugar, salt and instant yeast. Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients and pour in the wet ingredients, mixing as you go until all incorporated in a big sticky, doughy mess. Then knead your dough in a mixer or by hand, until you have a smooth, elastic dough. This can take 20 mins or so. When ready it will be tacky, but not unbearably sticky. If it remains too sticky, add a tablespoon or two more flour and continue kneading. You can tell when your dough is ready by stretching the dough to create a small, translucent window. When the window tears, it will tear in circles.
3. RISING: When the dough is ready, put it in a lightly greased bowl and cover with clingfilm or a tea towel. Leave to rest somewhere warm for 60 – 90 minutes until risen (doesn’t need to be double the size, but should be well risen and airy).
4. DOUGH FILLIN’: Grease your baking tin lightly with butter. Remove the dough from its bowl and cut into 9 equal pieces. Remove your char siu pork from the fridge and have it ready. Roll out a piece of dough into a round disc about 10cm across (I just use my hands, but you can use a rolling pin), and put 1.5 tbsp char siu pork in the centre. You can do less, or slightly more depending on what you fancy for your pork to bun ratio, but I find this a good amount. Gently bring the edges up around the filling and squidge them together, sealing in the filling. Roll the bun lightly in your hands to make sure it’s round, and put it, sealed edge down, in your baking tin. Repeat with the others. Don’t worry if you have left over char siu pork, this can be used for other wonderful asian recipes.
5. MORE RISING: Cover the buns with a tea towel or clingfilm and leave to rest for 45 mins somewhere warm. Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F) in the last 10 mins of resting time. Remove the buns from their cosy resting place and brush the tops with your egg wash (see ingredients). This will help them form a shiny, golden crust. Sprinkle the top lightly with flakey sea salt or sesame seeds for extra texture and crunch. I go for the salt option.
6. BAKE: Put in the centre of the hot oven for 25 – 30 minutes, until golden brown. Remove and let sit in their tin for 10 minutes. Devour.