Char siu bao using water roux

I made these char siu bao (bbq meat steamed buns) with a simple yeast dough. This is not the traditional smiling (cracked top) bao recipe which takes about 2 days to prepare. Traditional smiling bao also needs super white bleached fine milled flour (Hong Kong flour) which is not easy to find even from Chinese supermarkets in London. I used standard non bleached plain flour, the buns are not snowy white but beige in colour. Bleached plain flour is not sold in any standard supermarket in UK. I also added water roux to the dough which works quite well.

Here is the recipe if anyone like to try. I made double the quantity.


a. water roux
20g plain flour
100ml water

Whisk the water and flour together, sieve and gently cook (stirring all the time) till thicken like pouring custard. Cover and leave to cool.

c. Dough

0.75 tsp quick (instant) yeast
75 - 100ml water

1 portion of water roux as above
300g plain flour, all purpose or HK flour
1.5 tsp baking powder
15g cooking oil or melted lard
50 - 60g sugar
0.5 tsp salt

extra flour for dusting

  1. Mix the yeast with water and leave aside for about 10 - 15 minutes while the roux is cooling.
  2. Mix the water roux with yeast liquid, sugar, salt and oil.
  3. Sieve the flour and baking powder together.
  4. Either using a bread machine or mix by hand, mix the liquid with the dry ingredients together till combined. Add the last few tbsp of the liquid bit by bit, stop when a soft but not sticky dough is formed. Do not knead. Leave for 10 - 15 minutes. Then give it a quick knead till the dough is smooth, do not over knead. If the dough is very sticky add a bit more extra flour.
  5. Cover and leave to rise for about 1.5 - 2 hours at room temperature till dough is about 1.5 in size.


1 heap tbsp cornflour
200ml water
1 tbsp hoi sin sauce
1 tbsp oyster sauce
0.5 tbsp dark soy sauce
1 tbsp cooking wine
2 - 3tsp sugar
pinch of ground pepper

about 175g char siu (bbq pork), diced
2 -3 shallots, chopped
a little cooking oil

  1. Mix cornflour with water then add the rest of the flavouring ingredients.
  2. Heat oil then fry the shallot till softened. Then add in the mixed liquid. Cook till thickened.
  3. Add in char siu and heat off.
  4. Leave the filling to cool.

To wrap the buns

greaseproof paper, cut into 9 - 10 pcs about 5 - 6cm squares

prepared dough
Prepared filling

a little vinegar for steamer

  1. When the dough has risen. Put it on a flour dusted worktop or board. Give it a quick fold or knead.
  2. Divide equally into 9 - 10 pieces. Roll into a balls and cover with clean cloth to prevent drying.
  3. Dust hands with flour, take a piece of dough and flatten it.
  4. Put on some filling. Then start gathering and pleating the edge of the dough into a ball/bun.
  5. Put the bun pleated side up on paper.
  6. Lay buns on steamer basket or rack. Leave them to rest and rise for about 15 minutes.
  7. Heat the steamer on high heat. Add about 1 - 1.5tbsp of vinegar to the steaming water. I was told vinegar helps the buns to expand bigger and whiter in colour. No sure if true I tried it, even if it doesn't help the buns it gives less build up on the steamer by the hard water here.
  8. Steam the buns on high heat for about 9 - 10 minutes till the buns double in size.
  9. Eat while hot.
  10. Any leftover either freeze or put in the fridge, reheat by steaming again.


  1. Looks good! Have never tried the water roux way of making dough. Will try it one day:D Thanks for the recipe.

  2. Believe it or not... I prefer the natural color of bao.. with a tinge of yellow from the milled flour sans the bleaching agent.
    I should try the water roux version. Thank you for sharing this recipe.

  3. Hi Sunflower,

    Someone has told me to add distilled (clear) vinegar to the water to help the buns stay white? Not tried that one but I was overjoyed to discover See Woo Supermarket in Soho does a bao flour. It's a Thai brand I think called Purple Orchid. It does have a sachet of yeast and a recipe but I've never followed it as I've found a recipe which usess baking powder as the raising agent and the resulting buns (with the Thai flour) is white and fluffy! Not as fluffy and white as the restaurants though!

  4. Hi Plumleaf

    Not seen you for a while.
    I have bought bleached flour from my local Chinese supermarket. It's called Pak Choi flour. Still have some in the cupboard.

  5. Hi sunflower,

    I have seen Pak Choi brand flour, however it says wheatstarch. Is it usable in this recipe? Because my understanding of flour and starch are not interchangable. Please advise and would you post a picture of Pak Choi flour, thank you! Oh, I made ma lai goh using your recipe, it was very nice indeed!

    Louise M

  6. Hi Louise

    Is this the pak choi flour you have seen?

    I have never use this before. It's very confusing. In English it is wheat starch but in Chinese it's wheat flour. Far as I know wheat flour is not wheat starch. Wheat starch is gluten free.

    Wheat starch is not suitable for bau (bun), it's for pastry like har gau (shrimp dumpling).

    The 'pak choi' bleached flour I bought is not packaged by manufacturer. It is packed in simple cleared plastic bag with just a simple label put on by the local supermarket.

  7. Hi Sunflower,

    That's the pak choi wheat starch/ flour I bought from London China Town literally a week ago. And I was thinking "YAY I finally found bau flour" Maybe I just have to try it to see whether it's flour or starch =.='

    May I just ask where did you get your flour from? I'm dragging my 18 months old to London again this week, hopefully will find some bau flour, be it Water Lily or Blue Key brands....

    Thank you for your info and speedy respond.


  8. Don't waste ingredients. Give the flour a test. Take a few tbsp mix with little water to form a dough if it stretches it's flour if it does not stretch and break easily it's starch.

    If it is starch use is as steamed dumpling pastry like har gau.

    The bleached flour I got is from P'boro. I think this store got their supplies from See Woo, try their stores in Chinatown Lisle street.

    Or ask any big Chinese supermarket in Chinatown for steamed bau flour, they might have something similar.

  9. I have given it a test and it's flour and I have made some buns, just waiting to see the results in about 30 minutes.


  10. Hi Sunflower,

    The dough turned out really nice, very easy to work with, very soft. It's easy to pleat as it's very soft. When it's cooked, the buns are light and fluffy and look white (not the sickly yellow tint). Thanks for your advise! Very much appreciated and I can stop hogging your blog.


  11. Good to know it works. Thank you for telling me. I now know what that flour is now.

    Keep hogging my blog anytime. Love reading comments. If I can help I will try.

  12. Hi SunflowerFoodGalore
    I wud like to try out ur Char Siu pau recipe using water roux. Ur recipe used plain flour, can I use HongKong flour which is the same as pau flour instead as this type of flour is easily available in Singapore. And if I use HongKong/pau flour, what is the proportions?

    Thank you.

    Priscilla Poh

  13. Hi Priscilla

    Use about the same amount of water with any flour. Add the last few tbsp of water slowly and stop when a soft but not too sticky dough is formed.

    I has amended the recipe slightly.

  14. Thanks sunflower for the swift response. Will try ur recipe with water roux and let u know in due course.

    Priscilla Poh

  15. Good Morning Sunflower
    I just like to confirm with you that for the part (c), do I mix the yeast with the room temp water or must the water be lukewarm?

    Thank you.

    Priscilla Poh

  16. Hi you can use either lukewarm or just room temp. water. Lukewarm works faster for the yeast to work.

  17. Hi Sunflower
    This afternoon at 4 pm I started on ur pau recipe but somehow the dough did not raise to 1.5 in size even after 4 hrs! I m just wondering what was wrong? I measured 0.7 tsp yeast and added to lukewarm water but no reaction (0.7 tsp meant 3/4 tsp, am I right?) or better still if u cud give me in gram meansurement.
    I am quite disheartened that dough did not raise so I continue to keep dough inside my oven and hopefully by tomorrow morning it did rise otherwise I will have to discard dough.

    Cud u tell me what went wrong. For ur info, at step (4) of ur dough method, u mentioned that to give it a quick knead till dough is smooth. During this part, I suspected I did not quite knead the dough till smooth. But somehow 10 mins into resting the dough, I somehow felt uneasy and took out the dough from the oven and started to give it a few kneading second time and then I covered it and put dough back to the oven. Up till 11 pm in the night, I still see not much rising.

    Just could not figure out what is wrong.

    If the dough did rise by tomorrow, Sunflower, do u think I can use the dough. Will dough turn bad? I did not want to keep dough overnight in the fridge cos I am afraid keeping it cold will not raise.

    Priscilla Poh

  18. Hi Priscilla

    By S'pore time this is passed midnight. Hope you are still up to read the reply.

    Did you use dried active yeast (normally in tin, large granules) instead of instant yeast (very fine granules). Instant yeast works a lot faster. Dried active yeast need to dissolve in water before adding to flour.

    Did the dough rise at all? If yes don't worry about 1.5 times, if it has risen somewhat after 2 hours it is ok to use. Go ahead and wrap it, leave to rest for about 20 minutes, then steam.

    If this past your bedtime, put the dough in the fridge, no problem. Use it tomorrow. If yeast dough is left at room temp overnight, it will have a strong yeasty smell.

    Yeast dough will rise much better by steaming than baking.

    Don't worry should work even if you use active dried yeast.

    To test if your yeast is active. Sprinkle a tsp of yeast on 1/2 - 3/4 cup of room temp or lukewarm water. Leave it to rest. The yeast will absorb the water and gradually looks frothy, this will take about 15 minutes to 30 minutes. This works for either active dried yeast or instant yeast. If the yeast does not look frothy after one hour your yeast may be useless.

  19. Hi Sunflower

    This morning at 6 am I noticed the dough did raise. I divided dough and filled the buns and steamed them.
    The results were total flop. The buns were not fluffy at all. The skin tasted dense. Much as I suspected, while handling the buns, I felt they were sticky and after steamed, the dough tasted more like chinese steamed kueh to me rather than the fluffy traditional Chinese steamed buns.

    I used instant yeast and yeast was perfectly active.

    I think I shud keep to the one I adapted from Chistine recipes which is the straight dough method. I had used her recipe before with much success.

    I would like to take this opportunity to say thank you to you for ur much patience in answering my queries and many helps rendered to me. U are indeed very helpful as u responded to my queries so swiftly. I really appreciate ur down to earth character and mentality and u are really a very approacheable food blogger.

    Thank you and God bless u and ur family.

    Priscilla Poh

  20. This is not the same dough as traditional char siu bau. Sorry it did not work for you. Don't know what went wrong can't give you any more advice.


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