Siopao (Filipino Sweet Steamed Buns)

Siopao has to be one of my ultimate favourite Filipino snacks. It is essentially the Filipino adaptation of the Chinese barbecue pork bun (“char siu bao”). It consists of a sweet bread-like dough filled with a saucy barbecue or hoisin-style meat. The bun is steamed in a Chinese bamboo steamer resulting in a light and fluffy white bun that is slightly glossy on the outside.

Siopao (pronounced “sio-pau“) is a popular Filipino street food. It is typically filled with pork, although there are other variations with minced chicken and mixed meats and salted duck egg as fillings. In my version I use shredded chicken. Siopao can be enjoyed pretty much any time of the day – from breakfast to a heavy snack to a light lunch. In the Philippines it is often requested as a snack by kids on their way home from school. My fussy child absolutely loves to eat siopao when she gets home from school.

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Siopao Recipe

Makes: 10 buns
Preparation Time: 1 hour
Leavening Time: 2 hours
Cooking Time: 1 hour

INGREDIENTS

For the buns:

  • 400 g plain flour
  • 70 g sugar
  • 7 g fast acting yeast
  • 0.5 tbsp baking powder
  • 160 ml milk lukewarm
  • 80 ml water lukewarm
  • 3 tbsp butter cubed and at room temperature

For the filling:

  • 625 g chicken diced
  • 4 cloves garlic minced
  • 4 stalks spring onion white part finely chopped
  • 1.5 tsp five spice
  • 2 tbsp hoisin sauce
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp brown sugar
  • 0.5 tsp ground black pepper
  • 120 ml water
  • corn flour slurry (2 tbsp corn flour mixed with 80 ml water)

Additional:

  • 1-2 tbsp cooking oil for oiling the bowl and the dough
  • cornflour for flouring your work surface
  • half a small cup of water for sealing the buns
  • 10 flattened out cupcake cases
  • 1 tbsp white vinegar (used during steaming)

METHOD

  1. Prepare the dough for the buns. In a large bowl add the flour, sugar, yeast and baking powder and mix well.
  2. Add the milk and water and use a wooden spoon to start to bring the ingredients together into a dough.
  3. Mix in the butter and knead the dough using a dough hook for around 6 minutes or manually for about 10 minutes.
  4. Remove the dough from the bowl, oil the bowl and then add the dough back to the bowl. Turn the dough over to ensure it is slightly oiled all over.
  5. Cover the bowl with clingfilm and cover with a clean tea towel. Leave the dough to rise for around 90 minutes.
  6. Next prepare the filling. Sautee the garlic and spring onions for 3 minutes. Add in the chicken, five spice, hoisin sauce, soy sauce, sugar, pepper and water. Simmer on a low-medium heat with the lid off until the sauce has reduced, around 15-20 minutes, mixing every 5 minutes to ensure that the sauce doesn’t dry out.
  7. Add the cornflour slurry and mix well until the sauce has thickened. Remove from the heat, use two forks to shred the meat, and then leave it to cool.
  8. Once the dough has risen divide it into 10 equal sized pieces. Use cornflour to flour your surface and roll each piece into a ball. Place the balls back in the bowl and cover with a damp clean tea towel.
  9. Working with one of the dough balls at a time roll the ball into a circle around 15 cm in diameter.
  10. Spoon some of the meat filling onto the centre of the dough circle. Dab your little finger into the water and moisten a 1 cm thick circle at the edge of the dough.
  11. Seal the bun by pulling opposite sides of the dough circle around the meat towards the centre of the circle and squeezing them together. I usually squeeze together eight opposing sides.
  12. You can then roll the bun in your hands slightly to even it out if needed. Place the bun seam side down on the cupcake case.
  13. Repeat steps 9 to 12 for each of the dough balls and until all the meat filling is used up. Place the buns on a large baking tray, cover loosely with cling film and then a tea towel and leave to leaven for a further 30 minutes.
  14. Next pour 1 litre of water and the tablespoon of vinegar into a deep frying pan or a saucepan and bring to a simmer on a medium heat. I use my favourite 28 cm Anolon Sauté Pan for this, click here for more details.
  15. Place the buns into a wooden steamer ensuring that there is 1-2 cm between each of the buns and the sides to allow them to expand as they cook. Steam the buns for 20 minutes. I use my BestCool Bamboo Steamer for this. It is a two tier steamer roughly 25 cm in diameter – one tier can comfortably hold two or three buns, so I steam the buns in two batches.
  16. Carefully remove the buns from the steamer and place them on a baking tray to cool for 5 minutes. Serve the buns while they are hot, remember to peel off the cupcake cases first.

NOTES

  • You can use either chicken breast or thigh fillets in this recipe. If you want a more even texture then use chicken breast as it is easier to shred. I personally prefer chicken thigh fillets as the meat is more succulent.
  • The vinegar is added to the steaming water to stop the buns from becoming overly yellow in colour as they are cooked.
  • These can be made as appetizers by dividing the dough and the filling by 20 to make smaller size buns. These are also more kid friendly.
  • Tip: To get even sized buns you can weigh the risen dough, divide the weight by 10 or 20 (or however many buns you wish to produce) and then make sure that each of the pieces of dough in step 8 are this weight. Similarly you can weigh out the filling too.