Taiwanese Black Pepper Buns

Crisp pan fried buns with a juicy pork filling with notes of black pepper and black vinegar.

five pan fried buns plated in a gray pan sprinkled with sesame seeds, julienned scallions and seared.

Why This Works

Pepper buns are a famous street food that originated in China’s Fujian province. These buns are actually not that challenging to make at home and they’re also very kid friendly! This is a multi-purpose recipe since the buns may be eaten fresh or frozen for a quick meal on your busiest weeknight.

Tips

How do I use yeast?

  • Yeast is critical to the success of this recipe because we’ll need it to create a sturdy bun dough which is working to lock in the juices of the filling adding unctuousness into every bite.
    • The reason why most bread recipes fail is because the yeast that was used was no longer alive. Yeast is an organism that eats flour and sugar, releasing gases that helps the dough rise. To test the yeast, mix the granules with a tablespoon of liquid (milk, water, or aromatic stock like we use here) and let it sit for 5 minutes. If it looks frothy and bubbly, it’s active. If the appearance does not change, this indicates that the organisms are no longer alive and therefore unusable because it will not help the dough rise. I prefer to use lukewarm liquid but be careful as yeast is killed if the temperature exceeds 115 F / 65 C. Most recipes will not include this step in the instructions but it’s a good habit to start.
    • When buying yeast, I always prefer the jars over individual envelopes because the former is more shelf stable and reliable.
    • Discard any yeast that has been sitting in your pantry for an unknown amount of time. Use yeast within 3 months of purchase.

Special Ingredients

  • What is Shaoxing Cooking Wine? Shaoxing wine also known as Shao-hsing or Shaohsing wine is a Chinese rice wine derived from fermenting glutinous rice, water, and wheat. It contains a very miniscule percentage of alcohol that evaporates when exposed to heat so its primary function is to add flavor. It is most similar to sherry. I love using it with chicken or pork as a way to purify any unpleasant funk of the protein while also adding fragrance.
  • What type of pork are needed for Chinese buns or dumplings? Ground pork is key since it has a high fat to protein ratio. The fat is essential to creating a juicy consistency. Using lean cuts of pork will yield buns that are dry and less appetizing.
7 steamed pork buns topped with sesame seeds and scallions on a plate

Taiwanese Black Pepper Buns

Crisp pan fried buns with a juicy pork filling with notes of black pepper and black vinegar.
Total Time 2 hrs 15 mins
Cuisine Chinese

Ingredients
  

Aromatic Stock

  • 4 scallions trimmed, rinsed, white section only
  • 1 2-3 inch knob of fresh ginger peeled
  • 4 cups filtered water
  • 1/3 cup Shaoxing cooking wine

Buns

  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp white granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp active dry yeast
  • 1-2 cups lukewarm aromatic stock
  • Filling
  • 1 lb 80/20 ground pork
  • 1 tsp five spice powder
  • 1 tbsp white granulated sugar
  • 1 tbsp ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp white pepper powder
  • 1 tbsp toasted sesame oil
  • 4 tbsp dark soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup aromatic stock

Garnish

  • 1 1/4 cup neutral oil divided
  • Remaining aromatic stock divided
  • 1/3 cup sesame seeds divided
  • 4 scallions rinsed, trimmed, green section julienned, divided

Instructions
 

  • Aromatic Stock | Add a pot over the stove on high heat. Bring to a boil, then immediately reduce to a simmer. Add in the scallions and ginger. Simmer for 30 minutes. Add in the shaoxing cooking wine. Then turn off the heat and cool until lukewarm.
  • Bun | While the stock is cooling, make the bun dough. Test the yeast before using it by mixing it with a tablespoon of lukewarm stock or water. Let it sit and if it looks frothy and bubbly, it’s active. If the appearance does not change it is no longer usable because the organisms have died. If so, buy new yeast!
  • Add flour, sugar, and yeast into a bowl. Incrementally add in aromatic stock and use your hand to squeeze the dough together. Continue until the dough comes together into a dough ball then stop. Knead the dough with your hands for 10-14 minutes. You may also add the dough to the bowl of a stand mixer with the dough hook attachment on medium speed for 5-8 minutes.
  • The dough should look shiny and supple without being too overly sticky. If the dough feels too sticky, add flour 1/2 tbsp at a time. Set the dough into an extra large glass or steel bowl, then cover with a lint free towel or a greased piece of Saran Wrap. The grease on one side is preventing the dough from sticking once it has risen. Transfer into a draft-free space to prevent the dough from drying out such as a microwave, oven with the pilot light on only, bookshelf, or pantry. Let the dough rise until doubled, 1-3 hours depending on your environment.
  • Filling | While the dough is rising, make the filling. add ground pork, five spice, sugar, black pepper, white pepper, sesame oil, dark soy sauce, and aromatic stock into a bowl. Mix until homogenous. Cover with Saran Wrap and chill in the fridge until ready for use allowing it to marinate.
  • Assemble | Once the dough has risen, unwrap the bowl, make a fist, punch the top of the dough gently pressing the air out. Transfer onto a lightly dusted surface and knead until smooth. Shape into a log and divide into 12 pieces. Store under a moistened towel while shaping. Using a rolling pin, roll each dough ball out into a circle 1/2 inch thick.
  • How to seal a steamed bun with filling | Place one piece of shaped dough into your palm. Add 3-4 tablespoons of filling into the center. Using your other hand, pinch at the edges of the dough with your index and middle fingers. Continue pleating until you run out of dough. With your index and thumb, make a twisting motion to seal the filling in, pull off any excess dough as needed. Steam with the buns pleated side up to prevent the juices of the filling from seeping out and making the buns soggy.
  • Cook | To a skillet over medium-high heat add 3/4 cup of oil. When the oil is shimmering, add 6 buns spaced at least 2 inches apart pleated side up. Partially cover (approx. 90% of the pan) with a lid, add half of the aromatic stock; this fosters steam while searing the bottoms. When you hear the sound of sizzling, this indicates that the water has been evaporated, remove the lid, top with half of the sesame seeds and half of the chopped scallions. Continue to sear for another 8-10 minutes. Using a wide spatula, remove the buns from the pan. Repeat until there are no buns remaining.
  • Storage | Enjoy same day using the microwave to refresh the pastry (10 seconds only). These buns also freeze beautifully. If freezing, space the buns out in a freezer bag to prevent them from sticking together and separate with sized pieces of parchment paper. Defrost, then microwave for 1-2 minutes until piping hot.

Notes

Shaoxing wine is aiding to purify the natural flavor of the protein while also adding fragrance and aroma.
Ground pork is key since it has a high fat to protein ratio. The fat is essential to creating a juicy consistency. Using lean cuts of pork will yield buns that are dry and less appetizing.
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