char siew bao



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. 😛

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.


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