Chinese Sweet Coconut Buns Recipe

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We immigrated to the United States when I was four years old, which is FOURTY FOUR YEARS AGO. Growing up Chinese in the midwest was no easy feat, especially for my Mom. She didn’t know but a few words of English, in a strange land where we were just one of two Asian families in the entire city. Not only did she have to navigate daily life with just a dictionary and a list of everyday phrases on paper (we didn’t have Google Translate back then), but he was mother to a me and my baby brother. 

Food quickly became both currency and language. Mom’s Shrimp Fried Rice, Famous Egg Rolls, Handmade Potstickers, and Steamed Buns were thank-you gifts and a the perfect conduit to learn the English language. Forty years ago, our neighbor, Alice, taught Mom how to make Apple Pie from the fresh apples in the backyard. In return, Mom would teach Alice how to make Chinese Shrimp Stir Fry and other Asian style recipes. 

This recipe is a true collaboration between Alice, who has since passed away, and Mom. The sweet bun dough is Alice’s tried and true recipe that Mom has modified slightly for Chinese-style baked buns. Mom has taken many cooking classes in Hong Kong, and prefers Alice’s simple sweet dough recipe, which produces a delicate, soft bun.

The Hong Kong style bun recipe that Mom learned in cooking school is multi-step, requires fermentation, and isn’t worth the time or effort, especially with the power of the Ankarsrum mixer that does the kneading for her (more on that a little later.) 

Alice’s recipe is still our go-to method, even after forty-some years. 

Video for Chinese Sweet Baked Buns

 

 

Chinese Sweet Basic Dough Recipe

For the Chinese Sweet Dough recipe, you’ll need:

  • white granulated sugar
  • active dry yeast
  • powdered dry milk
  • softened butter
  • eggs
  • bread flour
  • egg wash

This dough is a simple dough, mix and knead until smooth. Let rise for 1 hour in a warm spot (or until doubled in size). While the dough rises, it’s a good time to make the fillings.

Chinese Sweet Coconut Filling

We’re making two versions of Chinese baked buns. This first one is with a sweet coconut filling. The coconut that we are using is called DESSICATED coconut – which is unsweetened coconut flakes. It should be sugar-free, and only one ingredient….dried coconut (you can purchase on Amazon). This filling only takes a few minutes to make. 

For the Sweet Coconut Filling, you’ll need:

  • softened butter
  • white granulated sugar
  • dessicated, unsweetened coconut flakes
  • powdered dry milk
  • all-purpose flour

This coconut filling is just mixed by hand with a fork, or you can use the mixer. Don’t over-mix…just enough for the mixture to come together. Form 16 equal-sized balls (or ovals)

Ground Beef Filling for Chinese Buns

For the Ground Beef Filling, you’ll need:

  • ground beef
  • soy sauce
  • cornstarch
  • ground coriander
  • onion

The filling gets stir-fried in a wok. Here’s a tip: cook the ground beef first in the wok. Drain as much oil as you can after cooking – too much oil in the filling will make the buns soggy and mushy. Once the ground beef is cooked though (and drained), then we’ll cook the chopped onion. We’ll add the cooked ground beef back into the wok towards the end. Let the ground beef mixture cool completely before using.

Forming the buns

Once the dough has risen, and the filling is ready, it’s time to divide the dough and form the buns. The recipe will make 32 buns in total, so with a scale, measure out 1 ounce pieces of dough and form into tight, round balls, tucking the edges under. Keep all the dough covered to prevent drying out. 

Once all the dough has been measured and formed into balls, start back with the first ball you formed. With a rolling pin, roll out the dough — we are making ROUND buns with the ground beef filling, and OVAL buns with the sweet coconut filling. 

Take a look at the video for step by step instructions on how to roll out and form the buns. Mom’s special method involves slapping the dough against the counter to smooth out the dough and pop any air bubbles. 

Let the buns rise for 20 minutes, then brush on double layer of egg wash (extra shiny buns!) and sprinkle on sesame seeds, if desired.

Bake 375F for 20 minutes. 

Chinese Baked Buns

5 from 2 votes
Course Appetizer, Breakfast, Dessert, dinner
Cuisine Chinese
Servings 32 buns

Ingredients
  

Chinese Sweet Bun Dough

  • 2 cups warm water
  • 1/2 cup white granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon active dry yeast
  • 1/2 cup powdered dry milk
  • 1/2 cup softened butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 6 1/2 cups bread flour
  • 2 eggs + 2 tablespoons water for the egg wash

Coconut Filling

  • 6 ounces softened butter
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2/3 cup desiccated unsweetened coconut flakes
  • 1/2 cup powdered dry milk
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour

Ground Beef Filling

  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 small onion chopped
  • 4 tablespoons water
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch

Instructions
 

Make your bun dough:

  • Add the water, sugar and yeast to the mixing bowl and let sit for 5 minutes, until the mixture is foamy. Turn on the mixer on low speed and add in the powdered dry milk, softened butter, eggs, and salt. Let mix for 2 minutes. Add in about half of the flour. Add the rest of the flour as needed to form a slightly sticky dough. Knead until smooth and elastic, about 6 minutes.
  • Transfer the dough to a large oiled bowl, turning to coat. Cover and let rise at room temperature for 1 hour, or until doubled in size.
  • Turn the dough out of the bowl to a lightly floured surface. Roll into a long log, and divide dough into 32 equal portions, about 1 ounce each. Form each piece into a tight round ball, tucking the edges under and pinching the seam closed. Place seam side down. Keep all pieces covered as you go.
  • Beginning with the first ball you made (use the balls in order), use a small rolling pin to roll out the balls to 4-5" round (or oval, if making oval shaped). Place spoonful of desired filling on top, and pinch/pleat to close. Place bun on a parchment lined cookie sheet, and cover. Let rise for 20 minutes in a warm spot.
  • Heat oven to 375F. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg and water.
  • Brush each bun with the egg wash. Repeat so each bun has double layer. Optional: sprinkle sesame seeds on top. Bake 20 minutes, until buns are golden brown. Let cool on wire rack.

Make your coconut filling:

  • In a large bowl, mix together all of the ingredients until well combined. You may need to use your hands to lightly mix and "knead." Shape into 16 oval-shaped balls. Cover until ready to use.

Make your ground beef filling:

  • In a large bowl, mix to combine the ground beef, soy sauce, sugar, cornstarch, black pepper, ground coriander, and salt. Marinate for 10 minutes, up to overnight in refrigerator.
  • Heat a wok or large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the ground beef and cook for 6-7 minutes, until browned. Tilt the pan to let the fat settle to one side. Spoon out the ground beef, leaving as much fat in the pan as possible. Discard the fat, leaving about 1 tablespoon to cook the onion.
  • Return pan to medium-high heat. When hot, add the onion and cook for 5 minutes, until softened. Return the cooked ground beef to the pan.
Keyword baked buns, chinese buns, chinese new year
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

4 Comments

  1. Yum! These look amazing, I’m definitely going to have to try this one!

    Reply
  2. 5 stars
    These buns were delicious. I made double the coconut filling because I wanted just the coconut buns. The buns were so soft and yummy. One of my favorite recipes to make. Thank-you for sharing!!!

    Reply
  3. 5 stars
    My buns turned out soft and beautiful. This is the recipe I’ve been looking for! When I measured out 32 balls at 1 oz each, there was a LOT of dough leftover which confused me. I thought the dough was for either the coconut filling OR the beef filling, but not both. Looking forward to making this again.

    Reply
  4. Your Mom is pretty amazing to start a new life! I love Chinese buns so I will have to try this recipe! Thank you for sharing.

    Reply

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