Roasted Pork Belly Bao

I impulse-bought a steamer and it’s finally time to use it.

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The bao (buns) here are more like sliders rather than the enclosed packages you’ll see more often in dim sum restaurants. In this recipe roasted pork belly is used, rather than the fattier, softer braised pork belly which I usually get in Singapore (kong bak bao/扣肉包). Still tasty! Just in a different way.

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I thought this was a really good recipe for bao and will definitely use it again for future attempts. So soft! So tender! So fluffy!

I think this was because of the almost scary amounts of animal fat that went into the buns. Sorry, vegetarians. I’m sure you all can use shortening or something instead.

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My balls of dough with the marginalised runt of the litter.

pork belly bao process

And here’s a picture of a lonely bao getting shaped.

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And then after you steam the buns any small imperfections you make disappear as they poof up to steamy, fluffy goodness.

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I guess bao are kind of like Asian burgers? In that they’re both carbohydrate vehicles of fillings which common destination is your mouth. Except bao’s steamed.

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Garnish with some slightly crunchy cucumber pickles to lighten up the flavour (and provide some greens for your diet you unhealthy pig). Usually I eat these types of buns with some Chinese cabbage (生菜) or pickled vegetables (梅菜) but cucumbers are a lot easier to come by in London. The sweetness of the hoisin sauce and the savouriness of the scallions also complements the salty-sweet umami of the pork belly to deliver one heck of a fat-filled bite-sized package to your mouth.

Pork Belly Buns Bao (2)

Pork Belly Buns Bao (1)

I got the recipe from from here, which adapted the recipe from the Momofuku cookbook, which y’know, is famous for their pork bao. The recipe was a little lacking though – should definitely have read the comments before starting. For one thing the pork belly turned out wayyy too salty. Turns out you’re supposed to wash the brine off the meat first before you roast it.

Also, David Chang (of Momofuku) later posted the pork belly recipe on lucky peach with DIFFERENT TIMINGS. WHO DO I TRUST. Ended up listing temperatures and timings somewhere in the middle below, but go with your gut man.

In the recipe below I also changed when to add the fat into the bao (see notes), and made the cucumber pickle more sweet because again, I thought it was too salty. I also converted some of the ingredients to grams.

Ingredients

Pork belly (makes 12 portions, each portion being a palm sized bao)

  • 6 pieces sliced skinless pork belly, about 600g in total
  • 1/8 cup salt
  • 1/8 cup sugar
  • Some freshly ground black pepper

Steamed buns (makes about 22, halve if you want to have the exact(ish) number of buns but they freeze easily and it’s difficult to halve this recipe due to the tiny amounts of some ingredients so I made the full 22)

  • 6g yeast (about 1/2 tbsp)
  • 270g bread flour (about 2 cups)
  • 38g sugar (3 tbsp)
  • 3 tbsp skimmed dry milk powder
  • 1/2 tbsp salt
  • 1/4 rounded tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 177g water (about 3/4 cups)
  • 40g rendered pork fat/shortening/oil in the liquid state, room/body temperature (see notes)
  • Vegetable oil to oil surfaces

To assemble

  • Hoisin sauce (you use about 2 tsp per bao so 24 tsp I guess?)
  • About 6 stalks scallions, cut diagonally for a e s t h e t i c s
  • 1 long cucumber, cut into 1/8-inch slices (yes, I know that the cucumber in my pictures are a lot thicker than that but I don’t have a mandolin give me a break)
  • 3 tbsp sugar
  • 1/2 tbsp salt

Method

Pork belly

  1. Place the pork belly in a roasting pan that holds it snugly, fat side up.
  2. In a bowl, combine the salt and sugar. Rub the mixture all over the pork. Grind some black pepper all over the pork and rub that in too.
  3. Cover the pork with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight (no longer than 24h).
  4. The next morning (or whatever), preheat the oven to 230°C (450°F).
  5. Discard any liquid that has accumulated in the pan. Give the meat a wash to get rid of the excess salt.
  6. Place the meat back in the pan, making sure the meat fits snugly. It’s important that it’s snug so it stays moist (I think)! Use a ramekin or some other oven-safe thing to crowd the pork belly if your pan is too big.
  7. Put the pork belly in the oven for about 40 mins, basting it with the rendered fat halfway through, until the meat is golden brown.
  8. Turn the oven temperature down to 120°C (250°F) and cook until pork is tender, about an hour more.
  9. Let the pork belly cool to room temperature before wrapping it tightly in cling film and refrigerating it, so it’s easier to cut to size.
  10. To reheat the pork belly, brown it again in oil or warm it up in a little water in a covered pan.

Steamed buns

  1. Stir together the yeast, flour, sugar, milk powder, salt, baking powder, and baking soda. Then add in 177g of water and knead until soft and elastic.
  2. Add in the fat and knead the fat into the dough. It might seem like too much fat at first but woah let me tell you dough can really tolerate a lot of fat. Makes you think about how much fat is in the bread you usually eat. Fat.
  3. Knead until the dough is super soft and elastic. Then cover with clingfilm and let it rise until doubled in size, about 1 hour 15 mins.
  4. When the dough is doubled in size, punch the dough down. Weigh out 25g portions of dough and shape each portion into a ball. Set each portion down on an oiled baking sheet.
  5. Cover the balls with oiled cling film and let them rise for 30 mins. While they are rising, cut out 22 pieces (or however many dough balls you got) of 10x10cm (or 4″) squares of baking paper.
  6. After 30 mins, use an oiled rolling pin to roll each ball into a 10cm long oval (or 4″, you don’t have to be too exact).
  7. Brush the top lightly with some vegetable oil, and place an oiled chopstick horizontally across the centre of the oval. Fold the oval over itself to form a bun. Gently pull out the chopstick, leaving the bun folded, and transfer the bun to a square of baking paper (see notes about giving your buns an overbite).
  8. Cover the buns with oiled clingfilm and let them rest for 45 mins.
  9. Set a steamer on top of a saucepan of water at a rolling boil. Working in batches so you don’t crowd the steamer, steam the buns on the parchment squares for 10 mins.
  10. To freeze the buns, allow them to cool to room temperature and freeze for up to 2 months. Reheat them in a steamer for 2-3 mins until warmed all the way through.

To assemble

  1. To make a quick cucumber pickle, combine the sliced cucumbers with 3 tbsp sugar and 1/2 tbsp salt in a bowl and toss to coat. Let it sit for 5-10 mins. Before use, dab the cucumber slices on some paper towels to get rid of some excess fluid.
  2. Open a warm bun and spread about 2 tsp of hoisin sauce on the inside (see notes).
  3. Add a piece of pork belly, a couple of slices of cucumber pickle, and some sliced scallions.

Notes

  • I kneaded the fat into the dough after kneading the flour and water together (as compared to the original recipe which just kneads everything together in one step) because I found that doing it this way usually results in softer, fluffier bread (or in this case bao).
  • I definitely did not get enough rendered fat out of the pork belly to put in the bao as some iterations of this recipe claimed to be able to achieve, so I’d suggest buying some lard or shortening to top up. I got about 10g of rendered fat, and topped up with some tallow and rendered lamb fat that my housemate had lying around in the fridge, as well as some vegetable oil. Make sure to melt your fat down to liquid first, and cool to body temperature before using in your bao.
  • I found that when shaping the bao it might be better to give the bao a bit of an overbite (ie the top half hanging over the bottom like this) just so it can stretch over your fillings better at the end.
  • If, like me, you have a bit of a sweet tooth (or if your pork belly turns out too salty) mix some honey into your hoisin sauce to spread on the bun.
  • I think my pork belly turned out a little too black so I’ve reduced the timings listed in the recipe above (probably because I’m using less meat and my pork belly was already sliced).
  • Overall though I still prefer steamed baos with braised pork belly rather than roasted pork belly. I subsequently made a batch of braised pork belly with this recipe and was really pleased with how it tasted with the bao. Here’s a pic (I ate it with some shiitake mushrooms that were stewing together with the pork).

Braised Pork Bun Bao

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Walnut Bread Rolls with Cream Cheese Filling

A classic staple of bakeries in Singapore.

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It starts with a basic enriched dough.

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You add some chopped toasted walnuts, which by the way makes the dough a loooot trickier to work with. But so worth it.

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Decorate with the prettiest walnuts of the batch on top, just to signpost that yes, this bread does indeed contain walnuts.

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The classic flattened disc shape of the bread is achieved by placing a lightweight pan on top of the bread as it bakes in the oven.

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And you get a surprise tangy cream cheese filling in the middle. Yeah check out that awkward wrist bending.

I got the base recipe from here, but used walnuts instead of cranberries, changed the method a little, used a different recipe for the lemon curd, and changed the shape of the bread entirely.

Ingredients (makes 9 buns)

Lemon curd (do this first)

  • 4 egg yolks
  • 68g sugar
  • Juice and zest from 2 lemons
  • 38g unsalted butter
  • 2 tsp cornflour

Dough

  • 250g strong white bread flour
  • 50g plain flour
  • 5g instant dried yeast
  • 1 egg + another egg for the egg wash (so…2 eggs)
  • 50g sugar
  • 130ml milk
  • 40g salted butter, softened (or unsalted butter with a pinch of salt)
  • About 200g walnuts

Filling

  • 200g cream cheese (softened)
  • 60g icing sugar
  • 4 tbsp lemon curd (chilled)

Method

Lemon curd

  1. Mix the yolks with the sugar vigorously. Then add the rest of the ingredients and mix.
  2. Microwave on medium-high for 1.5 mins. Stir.
  3. Repeat on medium or medium-high at 1 mins interval, stirring every time after you heat until the curd is thick.
  4. Sieve the curd into a container and chill.

Bread

  1. Mix the flour, yeast and sugar together and mix.
  2. Create a well in the middle and gradually stir in milk until well blended.
  3. Add an egg and mix.
  4. Knead well until soft and elastic.
  5. Knead in the butter until (even more) elastic.
  6. Cover with floured cling film and let rise until doubled in size, about an hour (see notes).
  7. To make the filling, mix the cream cheese, icing sugar, and 4 tbsp of the chilled lemon curd together. Chill the filling.
  8. Meanwhile, reserve 9 of your best looking walnuts for decoration later. Roughly chop up the rest of the walnuts and toast the walnut pieces at 180°C for about 10 mins or until aromatic. Let walnuts cool.
  9. After the dough has doubled in size, knead in the chopped toasted walnuts until well incorporated. Divide the dough into 9 pieces. Cover and let rise for 20 mins or until slightly expanded in size.
  10. Flatten each dough ball out, and place about 1/2 tbsp of filling in each bun. Seal the edges and place each dough ball seam side down on a lined baking sheet.
  11. Cover and let each dough ball double in size again, about half an hour.
  12. Egg wash the dough balls and decorate with the pretty walnuts that you reserved earlier.
  13. Place a piece of baking paper and then a lightweight baking pan on top of the dough balls. Bake at 200°C for about 10 mins, or until browned.

Notes

  • The times given for proofing the dough are a rough guide, since it is very dependent on temperature. Follow the visual cues (ie doubled in size) rather than the exact timing.
  • Make sure to seal the edges well or the filling will leak out. However given that the walnuts themselves sometimes create an opening in the dough for the filling to leak out, a little bit of leakage is unavoidable (unless you chop up the walnuts finer, but I prefer the texture of chunky walnuts).
  • A variation which I’ve tried before is to replace the walnuts with dried cranberries. Also nice.

 

Caramelised Banana Cake

This recipe yields a suuuper soft and moist cake rich in banana flavour. AND you can make it even when your banana isn’t the ripest.

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Sometimes I just want to make banana cake NOW and not wait for my bananas to go super ripe. So what I did was stick them in the oven so they go from a bright yellow…

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…to a weird black. It looks gross but dude the banana flesh is so soft and sweet. You get such an intense banana flavour as well. I used to just eat the baked banana flesh with a scoop of ice cream.

But persevere and resist temptation because we’re going to add the banana flesh to a kick-ass cake.

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When I say cream the butter and sugar together, I really mean cream it. I used a hand mixer and probably creamed it for a good 10 mins.

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You get a cake with a really good, even flat top. And this is probably one of the softest banana cake I ever had, really like the ones I find in the neighbourhood bakeries in Singapore.

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I couldn’t get a picture of the crumb of the big cake shown because the cake was a gift. But I did make a super mini cake with the leftover batter (shown above) just to give you an indication of how the crumb should look like.

I gave the big cake to my friend the next day and it tasted just as good as the mini cake fresh out of the oven! I also got more compliments the next day on the cake, not sure if it was because this cake tastes better if you leave it overnight, or if the crowd on the second day was just easily impressed.

The recipe’s from here, only thing I did different was roast the bananas first.

Ingredients

  • 4 bananas
  • 250g butter
  • 180g sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 4 tbsp milk
  • 220g plain flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder

Method

  1. Bake the bananas at 220°C for 15 mins, or until bananas turn black and the flesh is tender.
  2. Remove the banana flesh from the skin, and let the flesh drain and cool in a colander to get rid of as much liquid as possible.
  3. In a large bowl cream the butter and sugar until it’s super light and fluffy. Like REALLY light and fluffy. It should change colour to a really pale yellow.
  4. Mix in the eggs one at a time, beating well between each addition.
  5. Mix in the vanilla and milk a little at a time, beating well between each addition.
  6. Mash up the drained banana flesh. Measure out 1 1/2 cups of banana (which was all of my bananas) and mix well into the batter.
  7. In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, baking soda, and baking powder.
  8. Sieve in the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients in thirds, mixing well between each addition. Don’t overmix the batter though.
  9. Pour into a buttered and lined dish of your choice and bake at 160°C for about an hour or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Baking time will depend on the dish you choose so just keep an eye on it.
  10. Let cake cool in the pan.

Notes

  • I used 1 more banana than in the original recipe because the roasting process does shrink them a bit. The roasting process also releases a lot of liquid from the bananas so make sure to drain well before using.
  • Creaming the mixture helps incorporate air and apparently creates the initial structure of the batter so you can add loads of other stuff and your batter won’t collapse. I’ve always underestimated when to stop beating, but creaming your butter and sugar well really does make a difference.
  • If your cake is browning too quickly cover the cake with some foil. This didn’t happen to me though.

Min Jiang Kueh (Fluffy Chinese Pancakes)

The pancake of many names.

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This pancake’s a traditional snack in Singapore. It’s called 面煎粿, which if you pronounce it in Mandarin is “mian jian guo”. But no one calls it that, it’s usually called “mee chiang kueh”, “bee chiang kueh”, “min chiang kueh”, or as how my family pronounces it, “min jiang kueh”. I think the pronunciation depends on which dialect group your family belongs to.

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This pancake can either be the moist and fluffy variety, as shown here, or the ultra crispy variety which I actually prefer. Usually it’s filled with a sweet and crunchy peanut filling, but I decided to go savoury here with a cheese and pork floss filling.

If you don’t know what pork floss is, it’s like a dried meat product that’s both sweet and savoury at the same time. Kind of like meaty candy floss? Sounds weird, but everyone I’ve given some to has loved it. It has a Wikipedia page, check it out.

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I also tried putting some smooth peanut butter in (probably overfilled it there), which was good, but the traditional crushed peanuts filling was definitely better.

I got the recipe from here. That website also has instructions on how to make the traditional crushed peanut filling. If you want to try making the crispy variety try this recipe.

Ingredients

  • 130g plain flour
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • ½ tsp instant yeast
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 160ml water (lukewarm)

Method

  1. Mix all the ingredients in a bowl until smooth.
  2. Cover and let sit for 30 mins.
  3. Oil a pan and use a paper towel to soak up excess oil and make sure the surface is evenly oiled.
  4. Heat the pan over low-medium heat. When the pan is hot, add a ladle of batter to the pan. Cover and cook for 4 mins.
  5. When the surface is bubbly and the sides are dry (just like a normal pancake), add your filling of choice on top of the pancake. Cover and cook for 2-3 more mins.
  6. Fold the pancake into half and serve.

Notes

  • The water has to be lukewarm. I completely missed this note and I think that’s why my pancake wasn’t as fluffy as it’s supposed to be. Still pretty fluffy though.