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Xiao long bao - would I be crazy to try to make them?

I love xiao long bao/soup dumplings. But I live too far away from a source to eat them regularly. I've seen recipes for them and am tempted. I'm looking for advice from those who do cook or have cooked them. Is this just too much work? Is the soup gelatin even remotely, easily achievable? If I substitute wonton wrappers, have I ruined them? Certainly the XLB dumpling isn't the same consistency. How hard IS it to make the dumpling? Almost 20 years ago, I made the dumpling for har gao and it was tedious and I wasn't pleased with the result. If I DO make them, do they freeze well? I'm willing to devote lots of time to this if y'all think I could pull it off. BTW, I'm NOT Chinese :)

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  1. I think the most difficult part of making Xiao long bao is the gelatinized filling. The dough is very basic and the sauce (if you like the vinegar/ginger variety) is a snap.
    They are not a lot o work, but they do take a bit of time. DON'T use wonton skins. That'd be disasterous.
    Here are a couple of links that might help you get the job done:
    http://the-cooking-of-joy.blogspot.co...
    http://steamykitchen.com/88-xiao-long...
    You will need something to use as a steamer. But a colander will do in a pinch.
    Yes, they do freeze well. You can even purchase them frozen in some super markets.
    But I wouldn't freeze them after they're cooked. I'd freeze them raw then thaw them at refrigerator temperature before cooking.

    1 Reply
    1. re: todao

      Thanks. I'd seen the steamykitchen one but not the cooking of joy (isn't that a great name?) The dough really does seem straightforward. And, no, I wouldn't cook before freezing. I have a two-story (!) bamboo steamer but it's rather small. Been meaning to pick up a larger one anyway.

    2. I remember there were a few threads some years ago. Just in case they're helpful:

      http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/279497
      http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/279485
      http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/275737

      I'm sure there's more lurking about.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Caitlin McGrath

        These are ALL very helpful. Thanks as usual, Caitlin.

      2. I've made them using the Anita Lo recipe published in either Bon Appetit or Gourmet in the last few years. They are not as glorious as the ones from specialized vendors, but they are still worth the effort.

        Making the gelatinized filling was not the issue, the issue was getting enough of the filling into the dumpling to get a significant amount of broth inside. I have never been happy with the amount of broth I can get into the dumpling. But they were still very tasty.

        I cheat and use a premade dumpling wrapper. It is not as much of a disaster as Todao claims, it is serviceable. But if you can make your own, go for it! Maybe have some dumpling wrappers as a back up. My issue is that I really love the very thin dumpling skins, and I think they are a real art to master. I know I have no chance of mastering them. So I just make do with premade wrappers.

        I have frozen them, and as Todao suggests, it is best to freeze them raw. But I don't bother to defrost them before i cook them, I just cook them frozen. The frozen dumplings have even less soup in them than the fresh ones, I couldn't even tell they were soup dumplings. They are still tasty, just not as special.

        You should go for it! It is very satisfying to see row after row of lovely dumplings. I limit my expectations, I don't expect them to be as good as the commercial ones. But they are still yummy to eat, and fun to prepare.

        1. Definitely make them. Not that hard at all, and like most things, you get better the more times you make them.

          Don't use wonton wrappers. Part of the charm of XLB is the wrapper. Make them by hand -- you wont' regret it. Making the wrappers (next to the folding and pleating of the baos) might the most challenging part in making XLB.

          Yes, they freeze well -- very well, in fact. Freeze them raw.

          Good luck.

          1 Reply
          1. re: ipsedixit

            After you make them you can get these three to come over and eat them! Fast! There is actually more than one YouTube video about xiao long bao eating contests

            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=svapzD...

          2. Its funny -- one person says the filling is the most difficult part, another says getting enough filling into the dumpling is the most difficult part, and in my two tries at making them, it was the wrappers that were the most difficult part. In my attempts I've had no trouble getting the broth to gel (cooking some pig skin with the chicken broth infuses it with lots of gelatin)... And not much trouble dicing it to put it in the skins... But both times the skins have leaked, such that no soup is left at the end of steaming. If you succeed, please let me know!

            2 Replies
            1. re: fearlessemily

              Yes, everyone seems to have a hangup on this. And, yes, the dumplings getting and staying sealed??? Argh :)

              1. re: fearlessemily

                I have the most trouble with skins, too. I guess you can start out by making them kind of thick. Also, you probably do this already, but my mom puts them on little squares of parchment paper and into the steaming basket immediately. No sitting around on the counter so they have to be moved twice. I also find that for whatever reason, it helps when we steam smaller batches at a time.

              2. Nope, not at all crazy. Mom made these once every few weeks when we were growing up. We didn't live even remotely close to a xiao long bao place back then, either.

                It's a production, though -- and I would be SO deeply impressed with you if you tried it! I wish I lived near you and could come by to help.... (er help eat ;).

                Good luck! I hope to hear more about this project.

                2 Replies
                1. re: cimui

                  Well, I guess I better do it. I was surprised that the dough is so simple to make --- not to deal with. And I know the pleating will be a PITA. I'll have to see how busy my life is in the next few weeks. You have NO idea how tiring it is being retired :) And only those who help get to help eat :)

                  Thanks all. Any more suggestions feel free to weigh in. And when I'm ready to do it, I'm sure I'll have more questions.

                  1. re: c oliver

                    You have conquered raviolis... you can do this! Not so very different. At the end of the day, your feet will be sore, your back will ache and you will be filled with pride as you review the sheet pans covered in dumplings. [Now, you know the first dumplings will be far less beautiful than the last ones.]

                    But, to offer a bit of advise. You might want to try some wontons and/or non-soup dumplings first to practice different sealing techniques. That is of course, if you like eating those two items.

                    p.s. no you aren't crazy. Just a little off-center.

                2. Alright, XLB-fans. Today's the big day. I made the gelatin and the filling yesterday. I'm rereading everything before I start the dumplings. I DID buy gyozo wrappers just in case :) Chicken me. I'll report back later --- maybe after a cocktail (or two) ! Fingers crossed.

                  5 Replies
                  1. re: c oliver

                    Can't wait to read how it comes out! Take photos, if you can, please!

                    ~TDQ

                    1. re: The Dairy Queen

                      The dough came together as easy as was described in the recipe I used. I'll refer to that later. It's resting now and so am I. I can't tell you how dough-phobic I am. The rolling out and cutting should be fine. It's the pleating that freaks me out. I suppose I can pinch them together if all else fails. Eeeeeekkkkkk! Thanks for the support, TDQ. I need it :)

                    2. re: c oliver

                      Great!

                      Use a bamboo steamer if you've got one. Also remember, to line the bottom of your steamer tray with some nappa cabbage to prevent sticking.

                      Happy eating!

                      1. re: ipsedixit

                        I had a small bamboo steamer but bought a larger one with two layers when in SF. And bought Napa cabbage yesterday. Now if I can just pleat the dang things :)

                        1. re: c oliver

                          Right now, as a first-timer, I would just worry about making them and making sure they hold together without worrying about pleating per se.

                          Once you've got the hang of it, then worry about cosmetic issues like pleating, size, etc.

                          Good luck!

                    3. Here they are uncooked! I took this picture in case they blow up when I steam them :) The pleating was actually quite easy certainly due to the elasticity of the dough. More later.

                       
                      6 Replies
                      1. re: c oliver

                        Nice c oliver! Good luck with the steaming (and eating) phase.

                        1. re: c oliver

                          These look great. I bet they even taste better.

                            1. re: c oliver

                              You never take the easy road, and the results always look wonderful!

                              1. re: smtucker

                                Oh, wow, I'm humbled by that. Putting off cooking :) I prefer to just look at them! Thanks, smtucker. You always bring joy to things.

                                1. re: c oliver

                                  So, steam one of them.... carefully timing the procedure. Pull it the one jewel out of the steamer and put it in the center of a special plate. Let the sole dumpling cool just a bit, eat, enjoy and then you can cook the rest without fear. Before consuming, more photos are needed of course.

                        2. XLB Morning After Report :)

                          Okay, for a first timer, I would declare them good, leaning towards almost very good. There were some issues that I'm hoping y'all can help with. First of all, here's the recipe I used:

                          http://steamykitchen.com/88-xiao-long...

                          I had a difficult time getting chicken parts. Where we live is just too civilized (and a very small Asian population) to actually remind people that chicken have those other "parts." But I finally got one small package of chicken necks and used a turkey wing. There were no problems with that. The gelatinized broth did have a thin layer of fat after refrigerating (I did this over two days which I recommend) but that was easy to remove with the edge of a knife blade. My "soup" wasn't as clear as the picture above but I didn't do any skimming cause I just didn't care :) The filling sans soup was straightforward. The dough came together great and I'm such a scaredy cat about any form of dough. I weighed the flour rather than measuring as directed and added the boiling water first and the cold water and the oil afterwards. The dough rolled out great and the pleating was a breeze. The dough was beautifully elastic which was the key there, I'm sure. And they didn't "explode" in the steamer. Okay, now the problems. We both felt, after cooking, that the wrapper was too thick although I'm not sure I could have rolled it much thinner without compromising its ability to stay together. We live at over 6000' elevation. Does anyone have an opinion as to whether the flour to liquid ratio should be any different? Also, for our taste, it didn't have nearly enough "soup." The recipe calls for 3" diameter wrapper. They were pretty small but I've generally preferred the smaller ones. The recipe also has you cut up the gelatin into small dice really and then mix in with the rest of the filling. I did that but looking at it, there were definitely two separate components in that bowl. Should have taken a picture but didn't. Working with such a small dumpling, I felt like it was too hard to get enough of the soup into it. I watched the Nguyen video from SF and the chef's mixture looked fully incorporated. How do y'all do this part?

                          I'm probably missing something in my description so holler if you need more info. I feel like I'm on the right tract and there were definitely good enough to make again. And worth the work which is pretty considerable. I also have some leftover filling and gelatin so might be willing to make a partial recipe of dough and give it another try. BTW, could that gelatin be frozen?

                          Thanks to all and I'll look forward to any and all advice and opinions.

                          4 Replies
                          1. re: c oliver

                            Wow! They are beautiful. I am impressed and inspired!

                            ~TDQ

                            1. re: c oliver

                              Those are Gorgeous, CO. Very well done, you!

                              1. re: c oliver

                                I have no advice as to how to make the dough thinner but I can tell you that is the hardest part of making great XLB. It is the difference between good XLB and great XLB. There are many restaurants that haven't gotten it right so I wouldn't be too hard on myself if I couldn't make them perfectly. The one's in your photos look just as good as some I've been served in restaurants.

                                1. re: c oliver

                                  Hi Oliver,

                                  Regarding the thickness of the dough. You just have to practice and with enough practice you achieve that "thiness" you desire. This is true with all kinds of Chinese wrappers, e.g. wontons, dumplings, XLB, etc.

                                  Regarding the filling. After dicing up the gelatin, I usually add an egg yolk to help it bind a bit, then I mix it with the filling. Even after mixing, you should still be able to discern the gelatin cubes (although they should be quite small, the physical integrity of the gelatin cubes should still be intact -- probably about half the size of a Jelly Belly jelly bean.)

                                  In any event, it sounds like your first attempt was a great success!

                                2. Are these the little dumplings that were made in "Eat Drink Man Woman" (the movie)?
                                  I'm very impressed too, by the way.

                                  19 Replies
                                  1. re: blue room

                                    Your xlb look beautiful!
                                    I made these about a year ago and also had difficulty with the skins too - I wanted them to be thinner, but if I did roll them out more, they would get a little hole in them when I steamed them.
                                    I used the steamykitchen recipe, but I modified it so that I would be sure to get lots of broth in the dumplings. I did not mix my gelatin into the filling. I cut my gelatin dice quite large and I put a piece of it into each xlb with some filling. That worked really well and I would do it that way again.
                                    I am motivated by your thread to try these again as they were delicious. I froze them and had them on cold winter nights last year.

                                    1. re: tartetatin

                                      tartetatin--how did you handle the defrosting and cooking of the dumplings that had been frozen?

                                      ~TDQ

                                      1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                        I froze the dumplings on parchment paper on a cookie sheet overnight and then stored them in double zip lock bags.

                                        I did not defrost them before steaming. I steamed them in a wooden steamer on either a piece of napa cabbage or other green or I cut out a circle of parchment to fill the steamer and brushed it with a little oil. It is important not to crowd the dumplings in the steamer as sometimes they will break apart or spring a leak if you have to pull them apart.

                                        I think I steamed the them for about 13 - 15 minutes. They worked out quite well.

                                        1. re: tartetatin

                                          I'm curious how to know when they're done other than an arbitrary figure. And does cooking longer make the wrapper better or worse?

                                          1. re: c oliver

                                            hmmm... good question. I steam them for 15 minutes as that was a recommendation from a cook/chef in Montreal a few years ago.

                                            They have never tasted undercooked to me at 15 minutes. I have also never cooked them for more than about 18 minutes, so I am not sure if cooking them longer would change the quality.

                                            1. re: tartetatin

                                              Yeah. I think I did 15 or less. Certainly the filling gets plenty done. I'd wondered if I would have been more pleased with the wrapper if cooked for a different time. But it's sounding like it's a common problem and I just need to keep rolling, rolling, rolling :) Hmm, just had another thought. Does the wrapper absorb any of the soup? Sheesh, you'd think this was something that really mattered :)

                                              1. re: c oliver

                                                I wish I could say that longer cooking would make a difference for my dumplings, I think that my issue was thickness. I really want to work on getting the wrapper thinner.
                                                I once saw a cooking show with Martin Yan (Canadian show) and a guest chef making Har Gow. The guest chef didn't roll the dough, but made each piece into a ball, flattened it and then smooshed it into a circle on the cutting board while thinning -and he did this with a meat cleaver!! I know this dough is made with a different kind of flour, but I think it might be the way to go. I am going to try this method, perhaps in combination with rolling and see how it works.
                                                I don't think that the wrapper would absorb any of the soup, though if you steamed it for a really long time, the dough might soften so much that there could be some absorption.
                                                You're right, it is most likely just us chowish types who appreciate this level of detail:)

                                                1. re: tartetatin

                                                  I made it into a ball, then flattened with my hand and then rolled it. Dr. Fujisaka :) makes some Asian dumplings with a tortilla press. I just bought one so maybe I'll try that. At least we've had the correct ones; now we just have to replicate that. Sooooo easy.

                                                  1. re: c oliver

                                                    A tortilla press! That is a great idea. I have one, so I am going to try that too.

                                                    1. re: tartetatin

                                                      alanbarnes also posted that he takes a zipping bag and cuts down the side. Put the dough between those layers and presses. He said it was much sturdier than wax paper or plastic wrap. Haven't tried it yet.

                                                      1. re: c oliver

                                                        I wouldn't use a press. Rolling the dough creates a certain gluten texture that you don't get by pressing.

                                                        Pincho dough, form into ball, press, then roll and roll and roll.

                                                        1. re: ipsedixit

                                                          I was thinking of a combination of rolling to activate the gluten and then pressing for the thinness factor. What do you think?

                                                          1. re: tartetatin

                                                            One of the problems with pressing (versus rolling) is that the dough when pressed has a stronger tendency to shrink or pull back, which increases the chances of your XLB either falling apart or breaking open during the steaming process.

                                                            1. re: fmed

                                                              Yup, exactly.

                                                              Pinch dough, form into ball, press, then roll and roll and roll ...

                                                              1. re: fmed

                                                                Thanks for that. I forgot to mention that my dough wouldn't roll out in my hands or on the board. You know, forming the long piece that you then pinch from. So maybe there was a problem with the dough although it was SO easy to work with. I DO live at 6000' and I know that baking can be problematic and needs adjustments of the ingredients at times. And he wasn't rolling very much at all so I DO wonder if it's the dough that's the critical part and not the rolling or thiness.

                                                                Let me take this opportunity to thank everyone for their help and support on this. XLB is one of my favorite things to eat so I'm definitely motivated to refine my technique to have more success.

                                                                1. re: c oliver

                                                                  Did you let the dough rest for a bit? The dough gets easier to work with with a some resting time ("autolyse"). In my own experiments with XLB and dumpling dough, about an hour does it.

                                                                  Good luck on your second attempt!

                                                                  1. re: fmed

                                                                    I rested and the dough did too for about 30 minutes. Because we keep our house so cold I put it in the oven with the light on. I got that advice with bread. Once I had it in little pieces it handled great. Next time I'll let it go longer.

                                                                  2. re: c oliver

                                                                    C Oliver, congrats on your intrepid XLB-making journey !

                                                                    On Chinese websites, the dough for XLB is much more involved (requiring some yeast and baking powder for one of two-part dough) and could partly explain the nature of the dough's workability.

                                                                    Basically, the dough recipe that YOU used will work, but won't be as good when the XLB has cooled where as the other type of dough will stay somewhat pliable. But of course, i can't image any leftover from such a task at home!

                                                                    Whichever dough recipe you use, you're right in that the dough condition itself is critical. The logic behind the pinch dough, form into ball, press, roll is to the best of my knowledge the following:
                                                                    a evenly weighted, or almost bottom-heavy dumpling is desired. Rolling it all as same thickness will work against you and give you a top heavy dumpling due to the multiple folds you will have gathered on top. then this means the bottom at this point will be lighter and weaker than the top, and then...leakage is sure to happen if the skin is uniformly thin.
                                                                    So, press the ball of dough flat with your hand, keep the center untouched (*unrolled so the pliability is retained) as you rotate and roll the outer edges of the circle to be thinner. Now when you do the famous 32-fold pinch :) , pulling and tucking on the base you'll still have a stable dumpling that after steaming will spread and settle into a nice stable, structurally sound rounded pyramid as the soups go where they want.

                                                                    * to me, pressing the dough with the palm of hand is less pressure than rolling with a pin. You need press for the center, and roll for the outer edges because you don't want uniform strength throughout one piece of the skin.

                                        2. I feel bad that I came late to this party.

                                          Your xiao long bao look wonderful! It took me a long, long time just to be able to pleat as well as you did your first time! Hey, I leave it up to the pros -- although I'm not allowed to make xiao long bao at our restaurant, I'm allowed to make homestyle dumplings, and won tons.

                                          I looked at the recipe you used. When doing the gelatine thing it is very, very hard to fill the thin-skinned dumplings enough with the filling mixture to get the dumplings to fill up with soup. I don't have the recipe, but the xiao long bao we make at our restaurant has a completely different kind of filling based on minced braised pork and coarsely chopped raw, fatty pork belly.

                                          The dough just gets easier and easier to handle the more times you allow it to rest -- and the more you work the gluten out. Working that dough for a long time (we use a huge mixer with a dough hook) is the key to making paper-thin skins.

                                          What kind of dipping sauce did you use?

                                          For xiao long bao, we use a mixture of 2 parts mushroom soy, 1 part white vinegar and a little sesame oil, with fresh ginger shreds placed in each dish.

                                          I must say I am completely and utterly impressed. Even though I've seen all sorts of dumplings made for years, I must tell you I would never attempt making xiao long bao at home -- so you're braver than I am.

                                          10 Replies
                                          1. re: shaogo

                                            I am SO blushing with pleasure at your kind words :) My husband would tell anyone that I was worked up into a tizzy just at the thought of that dough!

                                            I'm definitely going to try my mixer with dough hook next time. I just intuit (that's not really a verb, is it?) that it wasn't the rolling part but rather the dough itself. And the pleating was SO much easier than I thought it would be. It almost seemed like I had some type of "muscle memory" for that. I haven't sewed since childhood but it felt like something I'd done before.

                                            Here's the dipping sauce which I thought was as good as any I've had:

                                            The Dipping Sauce (Combine and refrigerate)
                                            2 tablespoons of sambal (hot chili & garlic sauce)
                                            1/2 cup black vinegar
                                            1/2 cup soy sauce
                                            1 teaspoon sesame oil
                                            1 tablespoon of shaved ginger

                                            It's in the link also.

                                            Again, thanks for your generous words.

                                            1. re: c oliver

                                              So long as there's plenty of fresh ginger in the sauce, it's great. The black vinegar is a plus.

                                              I'm not trying to make you blush. There're a lot of labor-intensive foods I make but xiao long bao ain't one of them. When they came out looking as good as they did, I'm certain your sense of achievement was great. Then, the eating... did y'all have soup running down the side of your chin?

                                              Finally, the next time my chef makes xiao long bao, I'll shadow him and write down the recipe, using the fatty pork. For a non-Shanghai (he's Sichuan) guy he makes marvelous XLB. He adds lump crabmeat to the ones we eat for dinner. He told me today that the XLB with gelatin don't cook for as long as ours do. Ours steam for about eighteen minutes! It's a recipe worth sharing.

                                              XLB is a great way to eat. A complete meal in a steamer, really. I admire you for embracing a food that perplexes even some of my Chinese friends who cook.

                                              1. re: shaogo

                                                I forgot to mention that I didn't have black vinegar so used red. It was tasty nonetheless. I'd love that recipe. I bought 10# of pork belly when I was in SF over New Year's and have it in #ish packets in the freezer. Never met a pig part I didn't like.

                                                I had XLB for the first time two years ago and it was love at first bite and slurp. If I lived where I could get them in a restaurant I'd probably never have done this. But, ya know, it was pretty easy --- well, at least compared to the angst I'd built up in my mind :) It's why I'm anxious to improve it. If it hadn't been close, I'd have thrown in the towel, I'm sure.

                                                1. re: c oliver

                                                  When you made the gelatin, did you use the same parts of the chicken in the steamy kitchen recipe? and I'm wondering if I absolutely need the agar?

                                                  1. re: chef chicklet

                                                    I had problems getting the parts I needed so wound up with a small pack of chicken necks and a nice big turkey wing. I used Knox gelatin cause grocery didn't have agar. And I do think it's necessary. I find when I make stock, the amount of gelatin-icity (?) varies from batch to batch. This calls for "cubes." Although shaogo talks about fatty pork and perhaps no gelatin??? So I guess I haven't really answered you, cc :)

                                                    1. re: c oliver

                                                      I guess a cooks gotta do what a cooks gotta do.
                                                      Thanks for letting me know, can't wait to try this.

                                                2. re: shaogo

                                                  would you please share your recioe??? tia!

                                                  1. re: chef chicklet

                                                    chef,

                                                    I have to wait until my chef makes the dumplings; then I'll write down the recipe and share it with chowhound. I'm as fascinated by the different recipes as I think you may be...

                                                    1. re: shaogo

                                                      thank you, looking forward to your reply!

                                                      1. re: shaogo

                                                        Shaogo - Did you ever get to shadow your chef and get the recipe?

                                                1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                  Weird is right! I did see it just prior to making this. We were in SF over New Year's and a Chow-friend came and stayed with us for a couple of days. We went to that restaurant and had XLB. I don't agree with her that they were "perfect" but that can change from batch to batch. But the video definitely helped me with technique. I don't have a small rolling pin like that but I do have a muddler for drinks (!) and used that. I'm a real sponge when it comes to learning things so I was reading EVERYTHING before doing this.

                                                2. Wow, they look wonderful! I have neen stdying these for sometime now, and yes too chicken to try. I've found several recipes, saw Steamy Kitchens and wondered about it.I wasn't sure how much gelatin to acieve the luxurious brouth. I looked at and looked at many photos on flickr. I am so visual and need to see a photo along with a recipe.
                                                  Thanks for the photo and posting.