Steamed Custard Buns

Remember the steamed piggy buns from my Brooklyn Half post?

When I was a little kid, I hated bread. I thought it was the boring and cheap Chinese breakfast item. I always looked more forward to steamed rice noodle rolls, usually stuffed with roast pork or plain with a hoisin peanut butter sauce. Then suddenly, at some point at the end of high school/beginning of college, I started liking loving bread. Any kind, you name it – whole grain, potato buns, challah, rye, pumpernickel, focaccia. One of my favorite breads today are Chinese bakery buns, both steamed and baked. They’re warm and comforting, and can be full of surprises depending on the flavor hidden inside.

Today, I’m sharing with you a recipe from Jessica Gavin who’s developed a recipe for steamed custard buns. Her post has a lot of great step by step photos so please visit her website for more details.


While my steamed buns came out well, I still need to work on the dough. It was too wet compared to what Jessica’s recipe described. Perhaps I didn’t knead it long enough. The gluten still developed since the bread held its shape and tasted like bread, but it was flatter than I liked and not as fully risen. Also because it was wet, the bun was hard to shape the way Jessica shows.

Because the bread dough is a yeast based one, rising time is required so be prepared to make this a whole day project.

Start by proofing the yeast with some warm water and sugar. Add the yeast mixture to some warm milk, butter, and some more sugar. Once combined add it to the flour to create the dough.


While the dough is resting, make the custard filling. All it takes is some cornstarch, sugar, eggs, and milk. Jessica’s recipe calls for custard powder but I didn’t have any so I just added a teaspoon of vanilla for flavor. Whisk on medium heat until it thickens into a pudding consistency. Once it cools to room temperature, put it in the refrigerator to firm up.


After the dough has risen to double the amount, punch it down and add in the baking powder/water mixture. Knead it until it is smooth and firm. Let it rest about 30 minutes.

Divide the dough into equal pieces, using your hands to break it up. Roll each piece into a disk and place a tablespoon of filling in the middle. Gather the edges and pleat to wrap the bun wrapper around the filling. Place on a piece of parchment paper.


Heat a steamer or wok with water on high heat. Steam buns for 10-15 minutes on high heat. Turn off heat and let it rest for 5 minutes. Do not remove cover until after this 5 minute rest period.


Enjoy when hot, but be careful and don’t burn yourself!

Chinese Steamed Custard Buns

adapted from Jessica Gavin

Bun Dough
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • ¼ cup warm water (105°F)
  • 2 ¼ teaspoon active dry yeast
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoon butter
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup whole milk, warm (105°F)
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder mixed with 1 ½ tablespoon water
Custard Filling-
  • 40 g cornstarch
  • 120 g granulated sugar
  • 400 ml whole milk
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 4 large eggs, slightly beaten

Custard Filling:

  1. Combine cornstarch and sugar in a medium saucepan.
  2. Add in milk, and stir mixture over low heat for 1 minute until mixed, then gradually add the beaten egg. Increase the heat to medium; the mixture should start to boil gently. Constantly whisk until thickened; the texture should be similar to a very thick pudding and may be slightly lumpy. Stir in the butter until fully incorporated.
  3. Let custard filling cool and set aside until ready to use. Place in refrigerator if desired.
  1. Dissolve sugar in warm water, sprinkle yeast over; let stand 2-3 minutes, and then stir to mix well. Let set until it starts to foam, 10 minutes.
  2. Sift flour and make well in the center. Whisk together the butter, sugar, yeast mixture, and milk.
  3. Combine liquid mixture with the flour; gradually incorporate the flour into the liquid to make dough.
  4. Knead the dough for 10 minutes on medium speed.
  5. Use the oil to grease the outside of the dough; cover and let rest in warm area 1 ½ hours or until double in size.
  6. Punch dough down and flatten out to about ¾ inch thick. Spread the baking powder mixture evenly on the dough (this acts as a stabilizer). Roll dough up and knead about 10 minutes, or until smooth.
  7. Cover and let rest 30 minutes.
Dough Breaking-
  1. Divide the dough into four equal parts. Roll one part by hand to form a rope approximately 9 inches long and 1¼ inch in diameter.
  2. Mark into 6 equal parts, 1 ½ inch long.
  3. Holding the dough with one hand, grip at the first mark with the thumb and index finger of the other hand and tear away briskly to break off a small dough piece. Continue breaking until you have 24 pieces.
  1. Flatten each piece of dough with your palm.
  2. Place about 1 tablespoon of filling in the center of each dough round, flat side up.
  3. Wrap dough around filling.
  4. Let buns rest, covered for at least 30 minutes.
  1. Steam on high heat for 10-15 minutes. Do not uncover the steamer any time during the steaming. Turn off heat and rest for 5 minutes. Uncover and enjoy!



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