hand-pulling hand-pulled noodles
I got it into my head that it would be fun to try to make hand-pulled noodles at home. There is a scarcity of information about this on the web, just occasional dough recipes accompanied by sketchy descriptions on the method and dire warnings about the difficulty of mastering this skill.
I gave it a try yesterday and confirmed the warnings.
Does anyone have any experience with this that could give me some pointers for improvements?
I managed to pull the dough out to thinner than udon-width, but only to 10 inch lengths and a single (whopping!) foot-and-a-halfer. I did this by gently and persistently twisting the folded strands around one another. This is decidedly not the proper method, and I resorted to it after trying and giving up on the folding, light twisting, swinging, slapping method I've seen followed or described elsewhere. I had a lot of trouble getting a uniform thinness this way and most of the noodles came out looking like squashed earthworms.
Also, even with a heavy oil coating, the strands stuck together half-way through so I dipped them in flour, as I've seen done. Why do some people use flour and some oil? Also does the type of oil matter? I used peanut oil instead of sesame; I thought sesame oil would impart too strong a flavor and saw peanut oil recommended elsewhere.
The noodles, cooked in a broth, came out tough- possibly because I replaced the recommended pastry flour with bread flour hoping to increase the protein content for more gluten formation at this practice stage. I'm not too worried about consistency at this point, just want to get the technique down, but would be curious to know how the type of flour affects the process. Does bread flour in fact make a more pullable dough?
Any advice on how I can do better? I'd love most to have a reliable recipe for the dough and detailed instructions on how to do the pulling. Tips, tricks and trade secrets for getting past the squashed worm stage would also be most welcome.
Thanks in advance.
I've never tried to pull noodles, but I've always been fascinated by the process. There was an article by Nancy Jenkins in The New York Times of 12 December 1984. The article title is "Chinese Noodle Maker Is a Throwback," and the noodle puller described is Kin Jing Mark, who at the time was teaching at Peter Kump's New York Cooking School. The recipe given is three cups of Hecker's flour, one and a half cups of cold water, a pinch of salt, and a pinch of bicarbonate of soda. It says Mr. Mark occasionally dips the noodles in water to keep them from sticking.
Florence Lin's Complete Book of Chinese Noodles, Dumplings and Breads has a recipe. Her ingredients are one cup of unsifted unbleached flour, two and a half cups of unsifted bread flour, one and a half cups of cold water (approximately), three teaspoons of baking powder, and one teaspoon of salt. Ms. Lin says to dip one's hands in water to prevent the dough sticking to the hands, and to dip the noodles in flour to keep them from sticking to each other.
I hope this is of some help.
re: Jim Washburn
I'll try to get a hold of your references and see what other clues they offer. I'm somewhat hesitant about the water dip - it seems that at my ridiculously slow working speed, the dough is likely to end up rather soggy. Maybe the cold water temperature or salt are making a difference; salt's supposed to help with gluten formation. I'll play around with it some. Thanks for the info.
Subbing bread flour for pastry flour was bound to give you serious trouble, especially for for a first effort. High gluten flour is always problematic in doughs that require a lot of manipulation.
The difference in protein in a single serving - a few grams at most - isn't really worth it IMHO, but if you want to try something else, consider finely ground durum wheat flour. Not the coarser semolina which needs major machinery to turn into dough, but finely ground flour. All gluten is protein, but not all protein is gluten. Durum wheat is high protein, but relatively low gluten.
In any event, pulling noodles takes a lot of practice whatever flour you're working with. I wouldn't start playing with flour that's going to be difficult to work with under the best of circumstances until you've had plenty of practice with the softer flour.
Ah- I mistakenly assumed higher gluten would help rather than hinder. But isn't it the gluten that holds the dough together in the first place while I'm pulling? Why is the softer dough easier? Would I be even better off using cake flour? (I'm happy to stick with pastry or cake flour as my misguided idea with the protein was to enhance the gluten links, not for nutritional purposes).
I can't explain it scientifically, but while gluten strengthens doughs, it also makes them less supple. It's what makes pastry dough harder to roll out by "bouncing back" when you use all-purpose flour (or heaven forbid bread flour.)
The problem with using cake flour is that it's not just lower in gluten, it's also ground finer, bleached more than even regular bleached flour and ends up more acidic than other flours. I don't know how those would affect the dough for noodle purposes. Personally, I would stick with the recipe as written until you feel like you're getting the hang of it. Experimenting with different flours and techniques will be more productive if you have a better sense what the dough "should" feel like and how it should behave in the first place.
FWIW, if you have trouble finding pastry flour or it's expensive, White Lily or another Southern biscuit-type flour is about the same in terms of texture and gluten content. Just be sure you don't get self-rising or you could end up with some really strange results. LOL
Thanks! All this helps a lot.
I had initially modified the recipe based on some comments I read on someone else's experience (plus I had bread flour on hand and not pastry flour), but you're right- it's best to develop my own baseline first .
I'll try by all means to avoid the self-rising flours. I can see it now: squashed bloated worms.