Chinese Steamed Custard Buns – Recipe

Steamed custard buns are one of my favourite dim sum staples. You can keep your dumplings, char siu bao and chicken feet- just give me 奶黄包 lai wong bao custard buns (or, I guess, 'nǎi huáng bāo' in Mandarin, although dim sum has Cantonese origins).

I used actual bao (pau) flour rather than the regular plain flour that I used for my chicken baozi recipe because I wanted the pure white look- after all, the white bun and the yellow custard inside is meant to emulate an egg. Pretty nifty, huh? This is also why I didn't shape them with pleats like the savoury buns, and just kept them smooth and round as they traditionally look.

The custard is made first, and it's a firm custard so you can roll it into a ball for the filling and wrap a flat disc of bao dough around it to parcel it up,. The custard looks kind of lumpy and solid, but actually it's really creamy and soft, especially when these buns are served warm and fresh from the steamer. I was really happy with how there turned out- they even had the delicate bread 'skin' that's so much fun to peel: another thing that makes it egg-like!

Again, like the dough for the chicken bao, if you don't have a machine with dough hooks to do the work for you, you'll have to knead by hand for 15 minutes-no cheating! It's a really good workout for your arms, if it's any consolation.

Note: you'll have four 'naked' custard balls left over as the dough recipe makes eight, while the custard makes 12 balls for filling. You can do one of either two things: 1) freeze them or refrigerate them for future use, or 2) blink and find them all mysteriously disappeared once the rest of the family find out that there are spares.

Let's get bao-zy! (See what I did there?)

Ingredients for Custard Filling (NB: Makes double the amount you need / enough filling for 16 large buns, halve custard ingredients if you only want eight buns):

1 whole egg
4 egg yolks
100g custard powder
85g caster sugar
1 can full fat coconut milk
55g melted unsalted butter
A good pinch of salt
6tbsp Sweet Freedom/ agave nectar/ brown rice syrup/ maple syrup

Ingredients for Bao Dough (NB: Makes enough for eight buns):

500g bao flour
100g caster sugar
1tsp instant (fast action) yeast
1tsp baking powder
240ml warm water (you may or may not need to add an extra 10ml if your dough is too dry)
1tbsp shortening (like Trex or Crisco- or even lard, if you like), melted


1) To make the custard filling, whisk all ingredients except for the 6tbsp of your chosen syrup together in a bowl with a balloon whisk until well incorporated. Pour the mixture into a greased pan and steam in your steamer for 20 minutes until the custard is set.

2) Scoop the set custard into a large bowl, add the syrup and mix thoroughly until smooth

3) Shape the custard into 16 large balls (or eight if you halved the custard ingredients to make eight buns) with your hands when cool enough to handle (after about 5 minutes), cover loosely with clingfilm and leave to cool to room temperature. If you've made 16, pop half of them in a freezer bag and freeze for another time.

4) To make the bao dough, mix all the ingredients together in the bowl (I didn't bother dissolving the yeast in the water this time), mix until the dough comes together and is smooth, and turn out onto a clean work surface to knead for 15 minutes

5) Pop your kneaded dough back into the bowl, grease the top with a little flavourless vegetable oil to stop it from drying out, and cover with clingfilm. Leave for about 45 minutes or until the dough has doubled in size

6) Split your dough into eight, roll each piece into a rough ball, and cover loosely with clingfilm to rest for ten minutes

7) Roll each dough piece into a circle and pop a cooled custard ball into the centre, like this:

8) Gather the edges together up into the centre and pinch to seal the edges, flip the ball over and shape into a smoother structure

9) Pop each ball onto a square (or circle) of baking parchment, making sure that the parchment is large enough to allow for expanding dough

10) Heat the steamer (in my case I brought the water in the wok to a simmer and then switched it off), pop the buns in and leave them to proof for a final 5 minutes

11) Turn the heat on and steam your custard buns for 20 minutes. If like me you need to do this in a couple of batches, pop the raw baozi in the fridge while they wait to help stop them from over proofing.

12) Serve fresh from the steamer, break open with your bare hands to admire the golden centre, and enjoy!


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