Introduction: Vegan G.F. Char Siu Bao

About: Tinkerer in all things

If I'm completely honest, this instructable was based on a completely incorrect assumption. I've been meaning to create a vegan form of these fantastic little blobs for ages, and when I saw the gluten-free contest I figured it was the perfect opportunity, since they use gluten-free rice flour anyway right? It turns out they do not. It also turns out that basically everything I knew about bread, baking or flour all had to be thrown out and relearned through weeks of frustrating experimentation. The result, though maybe not perfect, has all the things I remember loving about fresh ones from the chinese bakery and totally makes it all worth it.

I've put the filling and bun in different steps, so if you're GF but not vegan, just jam some char siu from the chinese butchers in. Or if you're vegan but not GF, then find a regular wheat-flour recipe and just use the filling from this.

I'm also sure that some steps in this could be done a lot better. If you have any tips or tricks please don't hesitate to comment and give everyone else a hand. Now let's get cooking;

Step 1: The Filling

We need to get this out of the way first so we'll have it ready to jam into our dough in step 2. This is a pretty rough step since it was the easiest part of the recipe and I kinda winged the measurements, so I recommend adjusting to taste.

Pretty rough ingredients:

  • 1 Can green jackfruit in brine
  • 1/4 Cup hoisin sauce
  • Tbsp vegetable/peanut oil
  • 2 Tsp crushed garlic
  • 2 Tsp crushed ginger
  • 2 Shallots (spring onions)
  • 1Tsp chinese 5-spice
  • 1/4 Cabbage (chinese or wombok are best but any will work)
  • 2-3 Tbsp brown sugar
  • 2 Tbsp rice wine vinegar
  • Red food colouring (optional)

First thing is to get as much liquid out of the jackfruit as possible, for this I use a couple of old cut-up tshirts layered over the fruit and pressed between two chopping boards for a few minutes (also works for tofu).
With our jackfruit less saturated, throw it in a bowl and shred into strips with two forks. Add the hoisin sauce, 1 Tbsp vinegar and oil to make a marinade which we need to leave in the fridge for a couple hours

Once out of the fridge, heat some more oil in a pan and add chopped shallots, garlic, ginger and 5 spice until everything smells fantastic. Add the marinated fruit with the food colouring and stir everything together, cooking for 5-10 minutes. Throw in the cabbage (chopped into small strips), brown sugar and remaining vinegar, taste here and adjust. Stir again and cook until cabbage shrinks down and jackfruit is firmer. Set aside to cool while we start the dough.

Step 2: The Bun

This dough took so many attempts to get right that I almost gave up. A couple of the steps in particular sound superfluous or odd, but seriously just go along with it if you don't want sandy playdough or a science experiment.

You will need:

  • 1 Cup rice flour
  • 1 Cup glutinous rice flour (doesn't contain gluten, just behaves similarly)
  • 2 Tbsp starch (I used potato starch but others should work)
  • 2 Tbsp powdered or icing sugar
  • 1/4 Tsp Xanthan gum (I really could not get it to work without this, but another gum might work)
  • 2 Tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 Tsp Yeast
  • Soy milk (Studies recommend soy milk for gluten-free dough)
  1. Warm about half a cup of soy milk in the microwave for around 30 seconds, making sure it's not too hot for the yeast. Add the yeast and wait 5-10 minutes for it to start eating the sucrose in the milk and frothing. If it doesn't start bubbling and get a nice froth throw it out and try again, your yeast is probably dead.
  2. While waiting on the yeast, measure out all the dry ingredients into a large bowl and combine.
  3. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the yeast-milk and oil, start mixing.
  4. Continue mixing and adding a tablespoon or so of milk at a time to the mix until the dough starts to come together into a sticky ball. It should want to stick to itself more than the bowl.
  5. Oil a work surface and your hands before tearing off a handful of dough and rolling out into a circle a bit bigger than your palm. Put a blob of your filling in the center and fold it up into a little parcel, crimping the top closed with your fingertips.
  6. Place the buns on some lettuce/cabbage leaves or baking paper and leave in a warm, damp place to rise for at least 45 minutes. I put a mug full of very hot water into the biggest saucepan I have and surrounded it with my buns before sealing in plastic wrap and placing in a warm oven.

A couple of notes:

Don't use any rice flour with "shortbread" on the packet somewhere. This will give you a foul grainy sludge of a dough. Try and get the type from the image if possible, or some from an Asian grocer.

Most gluten-free dough will only rise once. If you allow a sticky dough like this to rise before trying to shape it into buns, the consistency turns into a frustrating crumbly mess and it doesn't end well.

Don't add too much starch, from what I can tell it prevents the steam from cooking through the bun and leaves the insides grainy and uncooked.

Powdered or icing sugar is mainly used because it keeps the buns the whitest, if you don't care about the color other sugars should work fine.

I found a couple of studies that discovered soy milk helped gluten-free dough to rise. Cheaper non-light brands will work better since they tend to be thicker and have a higher sugar content.

Xanthan gum is a thickening agent that provides a lattice for the yeast to fill with CO2. Without a gum or similar agent the yeast simply escapes the dough, leaving it flat and sad.

Step 3: The Result

When the buns look like they've puffed up a bit (they won't get huge but it should be noticeable), it's finally time to cook. A bamboo steamer is the best way but any steamer should do the trick, my first couple tries used a metal sieve over a pan but a decent bamboo one should be under $10.

Keep the buns rising while you put a half full saucepan that fits your steamer on to boil. When that's just about ready, transfer your buns still on their little beds into the layers of the steamer and fit over the top of the pan. If you don't have enough room, just leave the rest to keep rising while you steam.

Steam for 12 minutes and remove the steamer from the heat. Be very careful of the steam escaping as you do this, oven mitts or a towel are recommended, let sit until only warm.

Now after hours of waiting it's finally time to eat, serve warm and enjoy!

If you refrigerate or freeze leftovers, warm them again either in a steamer for a couple of minutes or in a covered bowl in the microwave with a splash of water.

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