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Jun 21, 2012 05:55 AM

Shaobing - weird way to make flaky crust

So I kept looking for articles on "su bing" (how Shanghai bun in Matawan ,NJ spells it), especially on wikipedia, my preferred encyclopedia. Eventually I found it's usually written "Shaobing", and found out more about it.

To describe what it is (don't get me wrong, I've been eating them at Shanghai Bun, so I know what they're like, I just wanted to know more details about it), it's a kind of filled pastry, with a flaky crust. Can be filled with a peanut mixture, or radish, or other things. At Shanghai Bun the peanut mix is delicious, a wonderful peanutty thing that's somewhere between sweet and savoury. The radish su bing there has a nice soft texture inside.

Anyway, what I found interesting looking up online is how they make the pastry flaky. Flakiness in pastry is made by layers of fat smushed into the dough, the fat prevents the dough from sticking to itself in those spots, and so you get sort of layered pastry, and the fat crisps those places too, so in aggregate you get flakiness.

Normally this is done by cutting in a solid fat into a flour mixture, then rolling the duogh, keeping everything cold.

However, all the recipes for shaobing describe a process that makes sense that it would work, but it's different. basically, you make a roux, and then spread that on a sheet of dough you roll out. Then you fold and roll out again the sheet of dough, to make the layers. Similar to how croissants are made, but with a liquid, vegetable oil roux.
So reading about this, it makes sense that it would work. You've got the fat, you've got the layers, it's just the use of roux is interesting. I'm thinking one advantage of roux is that it's sort of "sticky", because it's got flour in it, it helps stick the dough together better.

Just one of those funny things.

Thoughts...? Anyone heard of this before?

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  1. That is a standard technique called lamination, used to create flaky layered pastries. Basically alternating layers of water-moistened dough (d├ętrempe) and fat-moistened dough (beurrage). When the water in the d├ętrempe vaporizes during the cooking process, the steam leavens the dough and leaves behind separate layers of pastry enriched with your cooking fat.

    2 Replies
    1. re: JungMann

      ... or in other word, puff pastry.

      1. re: ipsedixit

        Or mung bean cake dough in my case.

    2. all makes sense if you can get it to work, but......I've never managed to get home-made shaobing to have the "right" texture. Usually mine are drier and tougher than they should be. Don't know if it is me (probably), the recipes I've tried (several mostly from Chinese cookbooks) or my oven.

      Anyway, if you find a recipe that works well, please share!

      3 Replies
      1. re: qianning

        I know what you mean by drier/tougher/crunchier. Especially looking at some of the pics in the recipes.

        Haven't made the stuff myself but off the top of my head I would suggest:

        Recipes I saw used yeast-leavened dough

        Plus I would suggest folding and rolling many many times, to create many small layers. That, plus make thick "buns" or whatever, that is, don't make flat, thin pieces, you get too much crust. And maybe try washing the dough with egg wash or oil to keep the crust softer when you bake.

        And you know what? Maybe part of it is the restaurants use pre-made dough, like kept in the freezer, made at a factory. I'm pretty sure you can buy this stuff at some asian markets, just like you can buy pre-made dumplings.
        In general I find it hard to believe that the food in cantonese places is all made by scratch right before I'm served it, dim sum or otherwise. It's way too good and fast at the same time, it'd be hard to believe they aren't steaming frozen buns or using pre-made doughs or something. Then again as my uncle describes half the staff probably lives downstairs in the building and work all day long...

        1. re: peanuttree

          Interesting tips. In truth I haven't tried making shaobing in a while, I just buy the frozen stuff (you are right most Asian/Chinese groceries have some in the frozen section), it's ok, better than my attempts in truth, but no where near the shaobing I used to eat for breakfast every morning as a student in Taichung. The fresh made version done right, which hasn't usually been the case when I've had it at restaurants in the Boston area, is wonderful.

          1. re: peanuttree

            Chinese are clearly using two different types of dough - same principle that JungMann described above to create the flaky layers. It is important to not over-work leavened dough.

        2. In Chinese baking I've seen it referred to as using Flour Dough and Lard Dough. Essentially a Flour Dough is plain flour, lard, sugar, salt and water while the Lard Dough is made of cake flour and lard only. After separately kneading each and allowing the Flour Dough to set for 20 minutes, the two can be wrapped. The Lard Dough does not need to set.

          I am not sure this will give you the proper Shaobing consistency but start here:

          FLOUR DOUGH:
          2 Cups Plain Flour
          1/2 cup Lard or shortening
          1/2 cup Water
          1 Tbl. of Sugar
          1 tsp. of Salt

          LARD DOUGH:
          1 1/2 cup Cake Flour
          1/3 cup Lard or shortening

          1. If you did this, and there's no reason why it would not work, you would get a pie crust that is similar to, if not the same as, puff pastry.

            This texture is different from a traditional pie crust.

            1. Aren't su bing more like puff pastry and round, and shao bing flaky but rectangular? A bit breadier? I too have problems making shao bing the exact texture I want. Below, su bing with pork at the Tian Chu in Taipei.

              8 Replies
                1. re: buttertart

                  I thought so too BT (i.e. shaobing vs. su bing). In my mind, except for the layered effect, Shaobing isn't much like puff pastry, it is, at least as I understand it, much, much leaner and slightly more bread like, and almost always rectangular. And, unusual for Chinese breads, it is often made with some part while wheat flour, no?

                  And gosh, does that picture make me want to be in Taipei (or Taichung)

                  1. re: qianning

                    I was thinking cong you bing when I posted my instructions above, not shaobing.I didn't realize shaobing was laminated. It always seems much more bready to me.

                    1. re: qianning

                      Meee toooo...want to be there bad. Really, really bad.
                      The shao bing you get here are not like the one I remember from Taipei, which were rather more like squashed (non-butter) croissants. The commercial ones in the US are like squashed Wonder bread. I got some Wei-chuan brand ones to see if better than the other commercial ones, haven't tried them but they don't look much different.

                    2. re: buttertart

                      Yes, there's a textrual difference between su bing and shao bing, but the difference lies more in the wet ingredients (lard for the former, and an oil-based roux for the latter) than in the technique in how to make either.

                      Because both su bing and shao bing are made by folding the dough, and then rolling it out, and repeating.

                      But regardless, would you really want your pie crust to have the texture of shao bing?

                      1. re: ipsedixit

                        definitely would not want my pie crust, or puff pastry, to have the texture of shaobing!

                        1. re: qianning


                          Because a good pie crust generally has the texture in-between a croissant and a biscuit.

                          1. re: ipsedixit

                            To me the best pie crust is flaky, but also brown and crisp!