China’s answer to a sandwich, a bao is an exceedingly delicious steamed bun made from the softest, fluffiest white bread you have ever tasted. Here the buns are filled with succulent char siu , or barbecued pork. The recipe makes twice the amount of barbecued pork needed to fill the buns, but it’s so tasty you’ll have no trouble finding a use for it – either nibble it straight away or save it for stir fries. Or you could double the quantity of dough and make more bao . They freeze brilliantly, and you can cook them from frozen.
Note: you will need to begin this recipe at least 6 hours, or ideally 48 hours, before you want to eat, to allow the char siu to marinate.
you will need a large bamboo steamer (a regular steamer set over its own saucepan would be fine) Hang a large zip-lock bag in a bowl to hold it open and put the belly pork strips inside. Add the garlic, soy sauce, oyster sauce, tomato ketchup, honey, rice wine, Chinese five spice powder and white pepper. Seal the bag and give everything a really good squish around to coat evenly in the marinade. Leave in the fridge to marinate for a minimum of 6 hours, or up to 48 hours if you have time.
Start the dough an hour or so before you want to assemble the buns. Tip the flours into a food mixer fitted with a dough hook and add the sugar, baking powder, yeast and salt. Mix together for a few seconds to combine. With the motor running slowly, start to pour in the water, adding just enough to bring it together as a soft ball. Knead for a few minutes until smooth and elastic. Alternatively, mix and knead by hand. Transfer to a clean, lightly oiled bowl, cover, and set aside at room temperature to prove for an hour.
Once the pork has marinated, fire up a barbecue to medium-hot. Use tongs to lift the ribs from the marinade and on to the grill. Cook for about 25 minutes, turning regularly until cooked through and lightly charred.
Meanwhile, pour the leftover marinade into a small saucepan and bring to the boil, cooking for a couple of minutes until thick and syrupy. Pour into a bowl and stir through the spring onions, ginger and a good grind of black pepper.
Once the pork has cooked, take half of it, about 2–3 slices, and chop into small (½–1cm) pieces, dropping these into the bowl of thickened marinade, onions and ginger as you go. Stir well to mix and set aside to cool a little while you roll the dough. Set the remaining pork aside for another meal – it will keep for up to 3 days in the fridge.
Tip the risen dough on to a lightly oiled worktop and roll into an 8–9cm-thick log. Cut into 12 even-sized slices and roll each into a ball. Use the palm of your hand to flatten each ball on the work surface to a disc about 5mm thick and 12–13cm in diameter. Add a generous dessertspoon of filling to the centre of a disc of dough. Bring the sides up and over the top, pinching together like a little purse. Turn over so the bao is now seam-side-down, cupping gently to squeeze it into a neat ball shape. Repeat with the rest of the dough and filling, lining them up on a large plate or baking tray as you go.
Half fill a wok with water and set over a high heat to bring to a steady simmer. Take a bamboo steamer and line the base with baking parchment, pricking it all over with a small sharp knife so the steam can get through. Add 4 buns to the steamer, spacing out well, cover with the lid and carefully rest over the wok of simmering water. Steam for 15 minutes until the buns have puffed up. Slide the cooked buns on to a plate and steam the next 4 buns, then repeat with the last 4.
These buns are really hot when they first come out of the steamer, so leave them to cool for 10 minutes or so before eating, but they definitely taste best when warm so tuck in while you are steaming the last batch.