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BBQ pork pineapple buns (char siu po lo bao)

My favorite dim sum on this Earth. Everything but the filling is based on Mandy’s recipe, but adapted to be made by hand, without a stand mixer, and with two or three very minor tweaks. Also, pineapple buns have no pineapple in them.

Scale

Ingredients

Instructions

  1. First, make the pineapple crust. In a large bowl, cream the unsalted butter until pale and creamy, approximately 3 minutes. Add the egg yolk and coconut cream, and beat the mixture until thick and velvety, another couple of min. Add the cake flour, powdered sugar, custard powder, baking soda and baking powder, and mix until everything comes together into a dough. It will seem dry at first but will come together into a dough that resembles shortbread, but a bit stickier. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, at least 1 hour.
  2. Next, make the dough. First, you’ll need to make tangzhong, a roux-like paste that’s key in giving Asian baked goods their soft, pillowy consistency. Combine the 1/3 cup water, 1 1/2 tbsp flour, and 1/8 tsp salt in a small pan and whisk until no lumps remain. Turn the heat to medium-low and stir continuously until the mixture thickens to the point where lines remain when stirred. Set aside and let cool.
  3. In a medium bowl, combine the whole milk, sweetened condensed milk, and coconut cream. Bring the mixture to room temperature or slightly lukewarm, either by heating in a pot or microwaving for just 15 seconds or so. Sprinkle the yeast over top and let sit for a few minutes.
  4. In a separate, large bowl, mix together bread flour and sugar, then add the roux, yeast mixture, and the large egg white. Knead the dough for about five minutes, or until it comes together and becomes silky and elastic. If the dough is too sticky, add more flour, one tablespoon at a time, until dough is moist but smooth and silky, and does not stick to your hands.
  5. Next, add the softened unsalted butter in 3 additions, kneading after each addition. Only add the next addition when the previous one has been evenly kneaded into the dough. Once all the butter’s incorporated, continue to knead vigorously for about 7-8 minutes more. I found this dough to be just a joy to knead — it’s quite messy just after the butter’s been added, but should come together into a silky smooth dough that is soft and easy to work with.
  6. Cover the bowl with plastic-wrap or damp towels, and let it proof at a warm place until well doubled, at least one hour.
  7. While it’s proofing, prepare the filling. Finely dice the pork, then heat oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the pork, along with the rest of the ingredients except the cornstarch and water (sugar, salt, white pepper, soy sauce, hoisin sauce, oyster sauce, and rice wine) and cook briefly, until ingredients combine. Turn the heat to medium-low, then add the cornstarch mixture and continue to stir until the pork mixture thickens and can be mounded. Let cool until dough finishes proofing.
  8. When the dough has doubled, scrape the proofed dough onto a working surface (no need to flour), punch the air out, and divide into about 16 pieces. (I cut it into squares for ease of use.) Roll one piece out (keeping the others covered with a damp towel or plastic wrap) and place about a tablespoon of filling in the center. Pleat however you like, just make sure it’s sealed, then place it seam down on a parchment- or Silpat-lined baking sheet, at least 3 inches away from the next bun. At this point, the buns should technically proof again, but I find that preparing the other buns and the crusts give plenty of time for the second rise.
  9. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Next, you’ll need to prepare the crust dough. You can either roll out the dough and cut out circles, or pinch off small balls of dough and roll them into circles. Either way, it helps to do this while the dough is cold, and between two pieces of parchment paper — it keeps the crust dough intact. Place a circle of dough over each bun, pressing down gently to contour the crust around the dough. The circle does not need to cover the entire bun.
  10. When they’re all capped with their crust hats, bake for 16-18 min, or until golden-brown and puffed. Enjoy warm.

Notes

If you can’t find coconut cream, you can use regular coconut milk — because coconut milk separates, just take care not to stir or shake up the milk when you open the car, and skim the thickened part at the top off for use.