siew bao




Excess char siew filling led to this glorious treat.

I’ve never attempted making flaky pastry skin before. The instructions for making these were fairly simple but the work involved is anything but. I spent almost a day making 24 siew bao.

The reason was, I under-estimated the amount of pastry I would need to use up the char siew filling. So I made this pastry twice in a day. It was really good.

Another problem I met was the oil dough. I visited a few blogs and each one said to knead until it formed a dough. No dough formed for me. I was using Crisco vegetable shortening but I don’t think that is the cause. It is more like a floury sticky paste than a dough. Hence that caused some confusion on my part as I wondered if I had measured the ingredients wrongly. Still, if you do visit some other blogs to see the step-by-step pictures, the oil dough does look like a dough and not a paste. Weird. Maybe I will try using other brand of shortening.

Siew Bao (dough from Nasi Lemak Lover)


  • 200 grams char siew, cubed
  • 1/2 tbsp Lee Kum Kee char siew sauce
  • 1/2 tbsp Lee Kum Kee hoisin sauce
  • 2 shallots, minced
  • 1 garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp corn flour
  • 5 tbsp water
  1. In a small bowl, mix char siew sauce, hoisin sauce, corn flour and water together.
  2. In a non-stick saucepan, fry shallots and garlic until fragrant.
  3. Add in sauce and cook over a low flame until sauce thickens and coats the back of the spoon.
  4. Pour sauce over the char siew. Stir well to combine. Leave to cool.

Water Dough

  • 200 grams plain flour
  • 60 grams unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 grams salt
  • 2 tbsp castor sugar
  • 60-70 grams water
  1. Mix flour, salt and sugar in a bowl.
  2. Knead in butter until it resembles breadcrumbs.
  3. Slowly add in water until a dough is formed.
  4. Divide dough evenly into 20 portions.
  5. Place in fridge to chill for 10 minutes.

Oil Dough

  • 160 grams plain flour
  • 100 grams shortening
  1. Rub shortening into the flour lightly, until a rough paste is formed.
  2. Divide evenly into 20 portions.
  3. Place in fridge to chill for 10 minutes.

Egg wash

  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1-2 tsp milk/water

1 tbsp lightly toasted white sesame seeds


  1. Flatten water dough. Lightly roll into a circle. Place 1 ball of oil dough in the center of the rolled out water dough. Gather the edges and seal tightly.
  2. Flatten out the dough from step 1. Roll into an oblong shape, about 15 cm long.
  3. Roll the dough inwards, in a swiss roll style.
  4. Turn the dough 90 degrees. Repeat steps 2 to 3.
  5. Flatten the dough and roll out into a circle. Fill with char siew filling, pleat and seal the edges well. Do not over-fill and do not let any sauce touch the edges of the skin.
  6. Place on a parchment lined baking tray. Brush on egg wash and bake at 200 C for 15 minutes.
  7. After 15 minutes, remove from oven. Brush on egg wash again and sprinkle sesame seeds on each siew bao. Bake for another 10-15 minutes until golden brown.
  8. Serve warm.


For step by step pictures of how to roll the dough, please go to the link above.

This is a type of snack that is best eaten warm. When warm the flaky layers and the melt-in-the-mouth texture is fantastic. As the bao cools to normal temperature, some of the flakiness is gone.

No problem there though. Just reheat the baos in the oven toaster for 3 minutes or so and they will be as delicious as before.


Oh, if you should have excess bao skin and not enough filling, just add in your favorite spread as filling. I made some kaya puffs. :)


char siew bao


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This is the result of a second attempt at making smiling char siew bao, the traditional way. Traditional method makes use of old dough. I first read about this at Paula Cooking Fingers. The original recipe was from Prima Flour, one of the major supplier of flour in Singapore.

There are times when I get mad over a recipe. Mad as in the ‘I-have-to-do-it-or-I-will-die’ type of madness. When such a madness grips me, I have been known to gallop all over Singapore, searching out the ingredients or the special bake-ware needed. So after reading up on this traditional method of making bao, I became ‘mad’ again.

Luckily, this char siew bao does not require hard-to-find stuff. 1 trip to Phoon Huat got all the ingredients I needed. My first attempt using the recipe from Paula Cooking Fingers did not turn out well. The dough was dry and slightly stiff and the finished bao did not rise much. My filling of meat slices with mushrooms was also too salty. Nothing wrong with her recipe, I think I must have done something wrong somewhere with the dough. For the filling, it was purely my own a bit of this and that that caused it to turn to salt pork filling. :P

For a second attempt, I used the recipe from Lily’s Wai Sek Hong, spotted at Vivian Pang’s Kitchen. She had done her homework well and gave very clear instructions on how to make the bao dough. As for the filling, I decided to save myself some effort and money by just buying some char siew from the food stall near my home. I just cooked up some sauce.

Char Siew Bao (The Smiler) (from Vivian Pang Kitchen)

Starter Dough

  • 250 grams Prima Superlite flour
  • 1 tsp instant yeast
  • 1 tsp castor sugar
  • 130-150 ml water
  1. Mix all together to form a dough. Flatten slightly and cover with cling wrap. Leave to proof for 4 hours.


  • 150 grams char siew meat, cubed
  • 2 shallots, minced
  • 1 garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tbsp Lee Kum Kee char siew sauce
  • 1/2 tbsp Lee Kum Kee hoisin sauce
  • 1 tbsp corn starch
  • 5 tbsp water
  1. In a small bowl, add in char siew sauce, hoisin sauce, corn starch and water and stir till combined.
  2. In a non-stick saucepan, add in shallots and garlic and stir-fry until fragrant.
  3. Add in sauce and cook over low heat until sauce is thick and coats the back of the spoon.
  4. Pour the sauce over the char siew meat and allow to cool.

Main Dough

  • 150 grams starter dough
  • 50 grams castor sugar
  • 1 tsp double action baking powder, separated
  • 1/2 tsp ammonium bicarbonate
  • 1 drop of alkaline water
  • 3 tsp water, separated
  • 5 tbsp Prima Superlite flour
  • 4 tbsp wheat starch
  • 1 tbsp shortening
  1. Prepare a steamer with enough water to boil for 45 minutes.
  2. Mix starter dough and sugar together until sugar dissolves.
  3. In a small plate, add 1/2 tsp of baking powder, ammonium bicarbonate, alkaline water and 2 tsp water. Mix well to combine. Add this to the starter dough mixture. Knead well to combine.
  4. Add flour and wheat starch to starter dough mixture. Knead well to combine.
  5. Add 1 tbsp shortening. Knead well to form a soft pliable dough.
  6. Roll out the dough to about 10 x 4 inches.
  7. In a small plate, mix well remaining 1/2 tsp of baking powder with 1 tsp of water. Spread this over the rolled out dough.
  8. Knead the dough well for about 5 minutes to ensure baking powder solution is evenly absorbed. Otherwise, brown spots may be seen on the bao skin.
  9. Divide dough evenly to 10 pieces.
  10. Start boiling water for steaming.
  11. Fill with char siew filling (about 1 1/2 – 2 tsp), pleat the edges of the bao and seal well. Try not to overfill and do not let the sauce touch the edge of the bao skin. Otherwise, you’ll have a tough time sealing the bao. If there is excess filling, keep for another recipe or just gobble it up with some rice/bread.
  12. Steam at high heat for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, reduce fire to smallest and steam for another minute before turning off the heat. Open the lid by a small crack and leave the bao for another 10 minutes before opening.
  13. Steam again at high heat before serving, to get rid of the ammonia smell.

The effort is worth it. The taste is really authentic. The bao skin is unbelievably soft and snowy-white! The extra starter dough can be kept in the fridge for another batch of bao. If you don’t fancy making smiling bao again, you can just use that as a starter for other types of bao too.

Another good part of making this myself is, I now know what goes into these beautiful snowy-white smiling baos. Horror, when I first read the list of ingredients. Ammonia!?!!! After the first steaming, the scent of ammonia was still apparent to my nose. In fact, even of the second steaming, I swear I could still smell it.


By the third steaming (yeah, third time!) the smell was barely there. So what is the use of ammonium bicarbonate? It gives added lift and is more powerful than baking soda with the added advantage of not leaving any salty/soapy taste. But the smell…whoosh. Can’t even faint, since will keep waking up from the ammonia smell. Haha!

My take on this is, it is okay to eat these type of bao, but, like all things, try not to take too much too often eh? We do consume plenty of chemicals from processed food and pesticides used for vegetables and God knows what else they feed/inject into the chickens/pigs/cows etc. Unless, of course, you’re lucky enough (and have easy access to organic sources) to be able to go completely organic without breaking the bank. Can’t do that in Singapore though.