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Apr 22, 2010 04:25 PM

Hand-Pulled Noodles / La Mian dough -- a REAL RECIPE

I am losing sleep over this... I can NOT find a dough that stretches properly. The best-looking one so far was from -- it seems to work for him. It was way way WAY too elastic for me. Kneaded it forever too (past the bread stage, as he says). I will give that one a second try soon, but for now....

I have a bottle of lye water (Koon Chun brand), aka sodium bicarbonate / potassium carbonate (as a replacement for kan sui


I will buy ANY flour I need to. Every recipe I've found either isn't detailed enough, doesn't include baking soda or lye water or kan sui, or describes how to stretch but not how to make the dough.


Sorry for the caps, but I think my head is going to explode if I don't find a recipe for this dough!

Stretchy, soft, the real thing for hand-pulled noodles....

I do have access to NYC's Chinatown, for ingredients, and for the real thing. Can anybody help with a proven recipe????

I will be eternally grateful to anybody who can help. Even if you know a restaurant in NYC willing to part with their recipe, that would be better than nothing!

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  1. I have never made these, but there is a recipe for them in Florence Lin's book on Chinese noodles and breads, I believe. It's a great book but seems to be out of print (available at considerable cost on Abebooks). Will check and post.

    1. If you have already have lye water and kansui (as a substitute for 速溶蓬灰) then you're halfway there. If you can get the genuine article, 速溶蓬灰, I would highly recommend it, but I've never seen the stuff outside of China, Taiwan or Hong Kong.

      For the flour, any type of high gluten flour will suffice. Just water and high gluten flour and knead the sh!t out of it.

      4 Replies
      1. re: ipsedixit

        ah, if only it were that easy. I think the proportions have a lot to do with it, and how long you knead. I ended up with rock hard bread dough last time. And then something that got very loose and stretchy on the first pulled, but tightened up immediately. If i knead it forEVER will it eventually turn out right? I kneaded for like 45 minutes and no luck....

        A real recipe would be an absolute godsend

        1. re: iprobeattoomuch

          It's not just kneading, but resting the dough that is key.

          I don't use exact proporations when making the dough. There are too many variables involved.

          But I generally start off with a big bowl of cake flour (or high gluten flour), then add a bit of sodium bicarbonate, then mix and start adding the lye water a bit at time until the dough forms. Use as little water as possible to form a ball of dough.

          Then knead for at least 15 minutes, then let the dough rest covered. Then knead some more and let it rest again. Then test it out and see how the dough feels in your hands -- pliable? sticky? wet? You want to achieve a dough that is elastic (soft and easy to play with) and smooth.

          Too much or too little kneading will produce bad results. It's impossible to describe unless you have someone showing you, or until you've done it many many times -- or in my case, until you've failed at doing it many many times.

          Once you have the dough right, then it's time to start rolling, pulling, twisting, etc. and repeating until you get strands of noodles.

          You simply cannot use a definitive set of measurements or time frames because how the dough will form (or the amount of kneading and resting required) wil depend on the flour you use, the ambient temperature you're working in, how strong you are, etc.

          Good luck.

          1. re: ipsedixit

            Cake flour and high gluten (Bread) flour are polar opposites. ???

            1. re: Old E.

              Sorry, meant to say BREAD flour.

      2. I was planning to try this last year when I injured my shoulder and needed surgery. Since recovery, I haven't had as much time to experiment in the kitchen as I would like. But this summer, I plan to try my hand at the noodes. I have a "heretical" suggestion or question. Bread dough can be kneaded in a food processor fitted with the steel blade. It takes about 45 seconds. The dough as it comes out of the processor does not feel fully kneaded, as the chemical bonds between gluten chains are still forming, but the final results are excellent. Would a similar whirl in a food processor, followed by a rest, simplify the keanding prior to pulling?

        4 Replies
        1. re: Father Kitchen

          Heretical might be too strong a word.

          But when it comes to making noodles, or dumpling wrappers or baos, I always knead by hand. It just has to "feel" right and with a food processor you'll never develop that rapport with the dough. Sure, you can take the dough out and rub it around to see if it is tacky or too sticky, but what happens if you over knead it in the machine? It's hard to add more water and flour, though not impossible -- you still lose that tactile sensation that's necessary to judge when the dough is ready to be cut, rolled, pulled and twisted.

          But that's just me, though ...


          1. re: Father Kitchen

            iprobeattoomuch, take heart and don't give up. It's not just in the recipe. I had just posted about some hand-pulled "flat noodles", where no lye, nor that special ash, nor baking soda is used, but they did use egg white. I think it's good to get to know your dough better (don't be afraid to look into other areas, see below). Instead of waiting for instruction on what to do, also look for what the dough look and feel like. In NY's Chinatown, If you want to look at the dough up close I think the hand pulled noodle restaurant on Doyer street is one where you can watch. They told me that the hand-pulled dough and the hand-shaved dough are made differently. Both are offered there, so you can gain some sense for the difference.

            There are Chinese websites where they talk about the water temperature being different according to the weather's temperature and humidity, and about how the protein's gluten-forming is affected...etc. Everything seem at once detailed and yet un-specifiable. There are right way and wrong way to knead dough if you're looking for pliability. Kneading it to death counters the pull-ability. The dough may recoop after some resting, but all that muscling isn't constructive. Though, you can always use the dough that seized for knife-cut noodles, or even dumpling skins.

            Father Kitchen, I'm starting to think in the direction that your bread baking experience is taking. There's something about how the dough look and feel so similar: the shiny and almost seeming water-logged texture. Not so much the using of the food processor, but of letting the gluten form.

            1. re: HLing

              Of course, in the end nothing replaces the tactile aspect. But for those who are physically limited or limited in time, sometimes using mechanical aids brings something into the realm of possibilities. There is a restaurant in DC's Chinatown where noodles are sometimes made in a window. I've only been able to observe twice. But I kept thinking, I can do that. Now that my shoulder is stronger, I hope to. And, of course, if you can't pull noodles, there are other ways to make noodles that are tasty. But no noodle seems as special as La Mian. I'm going to on the road for the better part of the next six weeks. But when I get back, it should be noodle time.

              1. re: Father Kitchen

                Chef Tomm has a video blog with a nice demonstration of machine mixing using cake flour in a countertop mixer. He spends a serious amount of time showing us the technique of hand pulling the noodle dough into wonderful skeins of fresh noodles. He has us mixing in the mixer for 10 -12 minutes on speed 4 using the beater and not the dough hook. Could spell an early death for your mixer but the noodles look wonderful.

          2. I'm not sure if you're the same person who started a thread about a similar topic on "that other food forum" recently... I don't claim to be a noodle master, or even someone who can pull noodles successfully, but I am pretty sure that the method of handling and experience with working with (and adjusting) the dough, is really more important than the recipe (I agree that the recipe on the site you quote seems to be a bit too "wet"). Some types of pulled noodles are made without an alkaline solution, whereas other types are made with it (depending on the region -- see link below). Flour type will also be important. I found a Korean flour (not sure what type of wheat, but it's got pictures of noodles and dumpling wrappers on the front) -- it feels a lot "softer" and more pillowy than dough made with a heavier proportion of bread flour. I'm not quite sure why cake flour is usually mixed in - I think it's because Asian flours are usually lower in protein and gluten than bread flour. We usually use a mix of all-purpose and bread flour for noodles.

            I would suggest continuing to practice with the recipes you can find until you develop more comfort working with the dough. In this video, you can see the dough being made. Even with the dough that was kneaded and prepared by the "expert", the host manages to break a strand.

            I found this link helpful as well:

            In other words, an alkaline solution isn't essential to make hand-pulled noodles (though it will make a chewier noodle texture). In my limited experience, it does make the dough feel a bit "stretchier", though.

            I would also suggest that rolling out the dough very thin, and cutting it into thin strips (shou gan mian vs. shou la mian) can give great results with a good texture and 'Q'; it's a lot easier to pull off at home. I am hoping to spend some time getting the hang of pulling noodles, but in the meantime, I'm pretty happy with the results this way.

            1 Reply
            1. re: will47

              Chef Kin Jing Mark starts with a very wet dough to make his "Dragon Hair" noodles. Note his use of lots of bench flour between each stretch to keep the noodles separated and dry them out as he stretches them. All the noodle masters hand pull with rapid movements and sometimes bang the noodles on the table very hard to help relax the dough between pulls. Perhaps cake flour noodles are easier to make and have less chew than high gluten flour noodles but the high gluten doughs will not play along without noodle relaxer or high pH alkali's added to the dough. I have managed 5 pulls with bleached H&R flour so far. It's a relaxing changeup from pizza therapy and ravioli making. Harold McGee sez to use baked out baking soda instead of lye water for safety and ease of buying. Essentially sodium carbonate or washing soda after driving off the extra CO2 from cheap baking soda. Haven't tried this trick yet

            2. On the latest episode of DDD, hand-pull noodles was featured. If I recall correctly, the recipe included 2 to 1 all purpose flour to pastry flour, lye water...