Monday, 11 January 2016

Rainbow Piggy Mini Char Siew Bao (naturally coloured!)

Rainbow piggy mini char siew bao! Natural colouring used to create the rainbow hues!

These piggies are really curious to see what they look like on the insides :p

A close-up view of what they are looking at...

I made rainbow piggy mini char siew baos two years ago. Check out the post over here.

This is my very first cute bao for a party although it's not the first time I have gotten a request to make cute baos for parties. I have shied away from making baos other than for home consumption as unlike chiffon cakes, macarons or cookies, baos (steamed buns) have to be eaten piping hot from the steamer or you won't be able to appreciate the goodness of it. People have been requesting for it as not everyone likes sweet stuff all the time at parties and something savoury (but cute) would be a welcome addition.

So why did I agree to making a batch of 20 mini char siew baos for a party? Because a dear kind lady didn't mind resteaming the frozen baos at the party to serve it piping hot. She also didn't mind being my guinea pig even though I had several months of hiatus from bao making. Having said that, I am still excited about making cute baos as they were my first love in the creative "baking" arena.

I won't blame you if you don't want to make char siew bao from scratch as it is a lot of work. But I can assure you that the results will be amazing and as my elder kid puts it, "Mama, can we not have store-bought char siew bao anymore? These taste so much better!" You may use char siew from your favourite roasted meats stall to cut down the amount of work you need to do. Remember to steal get some char siew sauce from them too for making the bao filling.

Recipe for char siew (adapted from here)
450g skinless pork belly, cut into 2 long strips (only small sections of pork belly was available when I was shopping so mine were in a few pieces. I used about 350g)
2 tbs finely chopped garlic (I used about 1.5 tbs)

Char Siew sauce
2 pieces of Chinese fermented red beancurd
1 tbs maltose/honey (I used maltose)
1 tbs Chinese Shaoxing wine (I used 2 tsp Shaoxing wine and 1 tsp Chinese rose wine)
1 tbs light soy sauce (I used 20ml or 1 tbs + 1 tsp)
1 tbs oyster sauce
1 tsp dark soy sauce
1 tsp Chinese five spice powder
1/4 tsp white pepper
100g sugar (I used 90g)

1. Mix all char siew sauce ingredients, add garlic and pork belly and marinate overnight in fridge. I placed the ingredients inside a ziplock bag. I didn't use all the sauce to marinate but reserved about 1/4-1/3 cup (strain out the chopped garlic with a sieve) for making the char siew filling.

2. Preheat oven to 200°C, place pork belly on greased wire rack and bake for 15 minutes. My pieces were small so I baked for 10 minutes only.

3. Remove from oven and turn the pork belly over. Brush some char siew sauce over and place pork belly back in oven for another 15 minutes or until cooked. I baked mine for another 10 minutes, then upped the heat to maximum for a couple of minutes, turning the pork belly once to char the surface a little. There was a bit of smoke when I opened the oven but the aroma was amazing!

Recipe for char siew bao filling (adapted from here)
Ingredients (makes about 24 mini baos):
250g char siew, finely chopped
3-4 tbs char siew sauce*
1/3-1/2 tsp five spice powder
2 small onions, finely chopped (about 2-3 tbs)
1 tbs cooking oil
2tbs cornflour
200ml water

* you may replace with 1 tbs oyster sauce, 1 tbs light sauce and 2 tbs honey.

1. Fry onion until softened in a saucepan.

2. Add all other ingredients in (A). Fry for 1-2 minutes.

3. Make cornflour slurry by mixing ingredients in (B), stir and pour into (A).

4. Simmer until thickened, stirring now and then. Do a taste test and see if you need to adjust the level of sweetness, saltiness and aromatic flavours to your liking.

My elder kid who is a meat lover gave this a thumbs up! It does taste pretty close to the kind of char siew you get in Malaysia as the recipe claimed :).

Portion into balls of 11g for mini baos. I usually portion 20g for my regular baos. Cling wrap each portion and freeze it until you are ready to assemble the baos.

If you are an expert at wrapping gooey filling with lots of small chopped up bits, you may simply spoon the filling onto the dough to wrap. I am hopeless at wrapping such fillings so I freeze the meat with some gravy in the shape of a ball and wrap the frozen ball with dough. This makes it much easier to wrap, plus you can pack more gravy in without much struggle :).

Before I share the recipe for making the bao skin, here are the natural sources of colouring I used.

I use a combination of powdered and liquid natural colouring to create a paste that is easier to incorporate into the bao dough than either of them alone. I used Queen's natural pink and yellow powder, carrot, broccoli and purple sweet potato powders (bought from Akari at Anchorpoint), and Queen's natural liquid food colouring. Here are the powders, 1tsp each...

...and the pastes after adding the respective liquid food colouring. A little water is added for the vegetable based powders as they are able to absorb more moisture.

I added a tiny drop of artificial green liquid food colouring and a tiny pinch of artificial pink powder colouring as these two colours were very dull.

Recipe for bao skin (tried and tested, soft and fluffy! Adapted from Kenneth Goh's recipe)
280g Hong Kong bao flour + extra for dusting
35g cornflour
43g icing sugar
1/8 tsp salt
1 and 3/4 tsp instant dry yeast
1/5 tsp baking powder/double acting baking powder
1/10 tsp ammonium bicarbonate (optional)
157g + 1 tsp water
21g vegetable shortening/ vegetable oil

Food colouring:
Queen's natural powder food colouring (pink and yellow)
Vegetable powders (broccoli, carrot and purple sweet potato)
Queen's natural liquid food colouring (pink, yellow, green and purple)
Charcoal powder

1. Place the first 5 ingredients in a large bowl and mix well. Dissolve baking powder and ammonium bicarbonate in 1 tsp of water in a small bowl.

2. Pour the rest of the water into the flour mixture and stir with a wooden spoon until a dry dough forms. Stir the baking powder solution and gradually add to the dough, kneading it with the wooden spoon with each addition. Cover the bowl loosely with cling wrap for 15minutes to let the flour absorb the water.

3. Pour the dough onto a non-stick mat and gradually knead in the shortening. Continue kneading for another 15-20 minutes or until the dough becomes smooth and elastic, dusting with more flour if necessary such that the dough is not sticky. You may use a stand mixer or bread maker to do the job but I prefer kneading by hand as I can feel the texture of the dough as I go along.

4. Portion out about 110g of dough to colour it. Keep the rest of the dough in the fridge covered with cling wrap to rise slowly. I let mine rest in the fridge for about 2 hours as I worked on the coloured dough and other stuff. If you are making plain baos, simply let the dough rise at room temperature (28°C) in Singapore for about half an hour or about double in size. As I have many cute baos to make, I keep any resting dough in the fridge to avoid overproofing. Overproofed dough tastes awful. Portion 15-20g for each colour except black, which is 10g. Gradually add in the coloured pastes until desired shade is obtained. Remember to keep any resting portions of coloured dough wrapped in the fridge unless you are able to work really fast.

Rainbow dough!

5. Punch down the plain dough and knead a few times to expel trapped gas. Divide the plain dough into 16-17g portions for mini baos or 30g portions for regular sized ones with 20g filling.

6. Lightly dust your work surface with some flour. Flatten a ball of dough and place a lump of frozen char siew filling in the middle. Pinch seal the bao after wrapping the filling. Place the wrapped bao with sealed side down on a small square of baking paper.

7. Add on piggy ears and snout with coloured dough. Use a toothpick to poke holes for nostrils after sticking the snout on. Pinch tiny black balls of dough and stick on for eyes. Now this last bit is very fiddly work and I had to use tweezers. You may choose to dissolve some charcoal powder in egg yolk and paint on the eyes instead just before steaming, or use black sesame seeds (which I didn't have at this point in time). But I didn't want to be flustered what with so many pigs to make so I chose to test my fine motor skills instead. Remember to refrigerate assembled pigs in fridge until you are ready to proof one batch to avoid overproofing the earlier wrapped baos.

Assembled piggies! The yellow one was extra mini, made with leftover dough and filling

6. Proof the assembled baos for 30-40 minutes at room temperature until about 1.5x in size, either loosely covered with cling wrap or covered with steaming basket cover.

Getting ready for proofing and steaming!

7. Steam at high heat for 8 minutes, turn off heat with wok cover closed for 3minutes before removing the baos from steamer/wok. For regular sized baos, steam for 10-12 minutes and let the baos rest in the steamer for 3 minutes before opening the cover.

Serve it piping hot! If you are storing the baos, wait for them to cool completely before keeping them in airtight container in the freezer. To re-steam, steam frozen baos for 10-15 minutes, depending on size of baos. There is no need to defrost the baos. They should taste as good as freshly steamed.

Hubby and kids gave a thumbs up for the piggies! I made some for them too. Thank God for helping me to make good baos after such a long hiatus! The baos were very well received at the party in terms of looks and taste! Even Ah-ma couldn't resist taking pictures of the piggies before eating and giving a thumbs up!

With love,
Phay Shing


  1. Oh ! Think I'll hug and kiss these so cutie Rainbow Piggy Mini Char Siew Baos ... can't bear to 'chew' them up ... hee .. hee!

    1. Can kiss but cannot hug because too teeny lol! So glad that everyone loved these piggies