The Alchemy of Siopao

Remember the bowl of flour a few posts back?

Well after a few hours of punching, pounding and yeast-ing (not a word), it became this amazing mound of soft dough filled with an equally amazing meat filling –  it became…….dun dun dun: SIOPAO.

Siopao/Baozi/Salapao/Steamed Buns are exactly that: slightly sweet (sometimes bland) buns made of flour, yeast, with no eggs, filled with a typical meat mix either “asado” (a meat mix) or “bola-bola” (a meatball). It’s definitely Asian, with countries having their own spin to it. But the principles and technique remain the same.

Now this is a big milestone for me because IT’S MY FIRST TIME TO HANDLE YEAST and KNEAD DOUGH! Now I can conquer the world! (cue the evil laugh).

But seriously, this was a half-day affair. Dough with yeast needs time to rise, and that’s basically the bulk of the preparation. Now, I’m actually going to chronicle my second attempt at siopao. It took me another attempt to get it right because the first batch we (dad and I) did didn’t really rise as much as these guys right here.

The process was amazing. I mean, it was a science experiment of sorts, since it involved a lot of components that played their part in making the dough rise. Yeast in itself is a chemical, so it’s not to be taken lightly in all its frothy, “imma rise this dough” glory. Yeah, I’m dramatic that way

I took pictures at each step to guide anyone who wants to make it at home. The process might seem intimidating, but there’s always youtube to help you knead dough. You need to have patience and time on your hands if and when you want to make this. The result is really really really worth it. The dough rose, and was still soft.

I made the asado filling by cooking the pork in water and adding asado powder from McCormick. Now don’t give up on me! I found that the result was still underwhelming, so I broke the ingredients of asado down and added more of the components: soy sauce, five spice powder, bay leaves and sugar. You can easily make the asado filling by clicking here, here or here.

So from one amateur to another: Do It. Make siopao!

Siopao (makes 12 – 16 siopao pieces)

adapted from Food Magazine’s step by step cookbook

  • 1/3 cup + 1 tablespoon white sugar
  • 1 1/4 cups lukewarm water
  • 3 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 3 1/2 to 3 3/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup shortening
  • wax paper square
  1. In a measuring cup or medium sized bowl, dissolve 1 tbsp of sugar in lukewarm water. Blend in the yeast. I stirred it, but not too much. Let stand of at least 10 minutes or until mixture becomes frothy.
  2. Meanwhile in a large bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, salt and the 1/3 cup sugar. Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients and pour in the frothy yeast mixture. Add the shortening.
  3. With an electric (or stand) mixer with a dough hook, mix until soft dough forms. You can also use a wooden spoon.
  4. Turn out dough on a flat surface and knead until smooth and elastic. (tutorial here). Floured surface and hands are essential.
  5. Shape dough into a ball. Place in a greased bowl to prevent sticking. I used a pastry brush with shortening to grease the bowl. Cover the dough with a towel (not a hand or face towel; use something akin to a cotton shirt in texture). Let rise at room temperature for 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
  6. When the dough rises of doubles in volume, punch it in the middle with your first to release air.
  7. You can either flatten the dough on a flat surface or do what I did: shape the dough into a long roll about 20 inches and cut it into 12 – 16 equal portions.
  8. Flatten the dough. Then form the pieces into a ball.
  9. Flatten the balls again with your fingers. I flattened the discs to just about the diameter of my clenched fist. At this point I believed that flattening it aids to release the trapped air out of the dough because these it might cause the pre-steamed, formed siopao to poof down when agitated
  10. Place the dough on a flat surface and spoon filling in the middle of the flattened dough. Around 1 1/2 tablespoons.
  11. Close the dough by gathering the edges towards the center. Seal it by twisting it and lightly pinching the top. You can put it over the pre-cut waxed paper, sealed top pointing upwards (what we did) OR upside down, bottom up and the sealed part meeting the wax paper to prevent the seal from opening, according to my grandma. We didn’t do this and we might try it next time. 
  12. Let rise again for another 30 minutes or until dough doubles in volume. The dough will be softer after the second rising.
  13. Using a steamer, steam siopao over boiling water until dough becomes bigger and its color turns off-white, about 20 minutes. Makes 12 – 15 siopaos.

    Yeah we used three steamers simultaneously because we're hardcore like that

That’s basically it for the siopao! Now if you’re a fastfood condiment hoarder like my mom, you might have a lot of little ketchup sachets lying around so you can use that when eating the siopao or make an asado sauce or even eat it sans condiments. Whichever way, your patience will be rewarded with a heavy snack to keep you full the rest of the afternoon. That is, if you’re like me and you wolfed down siopao after siopao after siopao after siopao…