Char siu soh – Chinese puff pastry wrapped around a minced char siu filling – is a great addition to bento boxes, school lunches and picnics. The pastry is flaky and delicate, but sturdy enough to be picked up and eaten out of the hand, and the sweet-savoury flavour appeals to children and adults alike. Char siu soh (Chinese barbecued pork pastries) Chinese puff pastry is similar to French puff pastry, but traditionally made with lard instead of butter, which makes the Chinese version even flakier. Unfortunately, many chefs now substitute shortening. You can use either commercial or home-made lard in the pastry dough. The commercial lard, sold in supermarkets, is hydrogenated and therefore firmer at room temperature than home-made lard. Pastry dough made with home-made lard will be softer than that made with the commercial stuff, but not so soft that it’s difficult to handle. Lard is easy to make: cut pork fat (start with at least a kilo) into small cubes and put them into a heavy pan with about 60ml of water. Heat over a medium flame until the water simmers, then turn the heat to very low and cook until the fat renders out, stirring often. As the liquid fat renders out, ladle it through a fine sieve into clean jars or containers – it will solidify when chilled and keeps for at least six months in the fridge. Of course, you can use commercial puff pastry instead of making your own, although the char siu soh won’t be quite as delicious. You will need about 800 grams of commercial puff pastry. To enhance the filling’s char siu taste, I add a little of the glaze or drippings that some siu mei (roast meat) shops add when they are packaging up the meat in a container or greaseproof paper. Chinese rose wine ( mei kuei lu chiew ), infused with rose petals, is commonly used for barbecued pork and is also good in this filling. If you can’t find it, substitute rice wine. For the water dough: 260 grams plain (all-purpose) flour, plus extra for dusting 30 grams lard, chilled 140ml warm (40 degrees Celsius) water For the oil paste: 160 grams plain (all-purpose) flour 180 grams lard, chilled For the char siu filling: 60 grams onion, peeled 300 grams char siu 20ml soy sauce 10ml Chinese rose wine or rice wine 5 grams granulated sugar ¼ tsp fine sea salt 10 grams char siu glaze/drippings (optional) 15 grams cornstarch 10ml cooking oil 1 egg, at room temperature, for glazing Black and white sesame seeds, for sprinkling 1 Make the water dough. Put the flour in a bowl and add the lard. With your fingertips, work the lard into the flour until it’s the size of small peas. 2 Add the water and mix together to form a smooth, cohesive dough that’s neither sticky nor dry. If necessary, drizzle in a little more water. Weigh the dough, then divide it into two equal pieces. Shape them into balls, place on the work surface, then cover each piece with a bowl. 3 Make the oil paste. Put the flour in a bowl and add the lard. With your fingertips, work the lard into the flour until it is completely incorporated. The paste will be sticky. Divide it into two equal portions. 4 On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the water dough into a circle about 15cm in diameter. 5 Place the oil paste in the centre of the water dough. Draw up the sides of the dough to fully encase the paste, pinching the seams of the dough. Repeat with the remaining water dough and oil paste. 6 Place one piece of dough on a lightly floured work surface and dust it with more flour. Roll the dough into a rectangle measuring 15cm x 30cm, using just enough flour to prevent sticking. Fold the dough into thirds, to make a rectangle of 15cm x 10cm. Place the dough on a tray, cover with cling film, then chill. Repeat with the other piece of dough. Refrigerate for 20 minutes. 7 Put one of the pieces of dough on a floured work surface, with one short edge facing you. Roll out the dough 15cm x 30cm, then fold into thirds. Repeat with the second piece of dough, cover with cling film, then refrigerate for 20 minutes. 8 Roll out the pieces of dough into 20cm x 40cm rectangles. Starting at the short end, roll the dough into a tight cylinder. Refrigerate for 30 minutes. 9 Roll out each piece of dough into a 15cm x 30cm rectangle. Fold into thirds, place on a tray and cover with cling film. Refrigerate while making the filling. 10 Finely mince the onion and cut the char siu into small cubes. 11 Put the soy sauce in a bowl with the rose or rice wine, sugar, salt, char siu glaze or drippings and 30ml of warm water. Stir until the sugar is dissolved. 12 Put the cornstarch in another bowl and add 30ml of water. 13 Heat a wok over a medium flame. Add the oil and then the onion and stir for about a minute, or until the onion is slightly softened. 14 Add the char siu and stir-fry until hot, then stir in the soy sauce mixture. 15 Stir the cornstarch and water, then pour into the wok, mixing constantly. Simmer, stirring often, for about 30 seconds, or until the sauce coats the meat. If the mixture seems dry, add about 30ml of hot water and simmer again. The mixture should be moist, but without excess water. Cool the meat mixture to room temperature, then separate into two even portions. 16 Take a piece of dough out of the fridge and roll into a strip that’s slightly larger than 45cm x 22cm, sprinkling flour as necessary on the work surface and dough. 17 Trim the edges off the dough to create a 45cm x 22cm rectangle, then cut it in half lengthwise into two 45cm x 11cm strips. 18 Place eight portions of filling at even intervals along each strip of dough, about 8mm from the near edge and leaving space at each end. Use almost all of one portion of filling for two strips of dough (16 pastries), but do not overstuff them. 19 Lift the far edge of each strip of pastry over the filling so it aligns with the near edge and press gently so the layers adhere. Press gently between each portion of filling, stretching the top layer of dough down to the bottom layer. 20 Use a large knife to cut between each mound of filling, to separate each strip into eight individual pastries. Press the three cut edges of each pastry with the tines of the fork, to decorate the edges and help the dough adhere. 21 Place the filled pastries on a baking tray lined with parchment paper, then refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. Repeat with the remaining dough and filling. 22 Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius. Whisk the egg and lightly brush the egg over each pastry, then sprinkle with the black and white sesame seeds. 23 Bake at 200 degrees for 10 minutes, then lower the heat to 180 degrees. Bake for five to 10 minutes, or until the pastries are golden brown, fragrant and firm to the touch. Check the bottoms to make sure they are browned. 24 Cool to room temperature, then eat immediately, or pack into lunchboxes or picnic baskets. Refrigerate the leftovers. To reheat, bake in a preheated 180-degree oven for five minutes. Makes 32.