My Learning Journey: Chinese Pastry, October 2023

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In October at New Oriental Culinary School, we conducted a month-long course on Chinese pastry. When you think of Chinese pastry, what do you think of? Steamed buns with a filling (bāozi), steamed buns (mántou), dumplings (jiǎozi)? Yes, these are the basic types of Chinese pastry that we need to learn. 

Pumpkin Sesame Balls (mántou). Image credit: Chen Jing for My Chinese Home Kitchen, 2023.

I am a southerner, born in Guangxi. I grew up there. In the South, our staple food is rice, not wheat. In southern Chinese restaurants, rice noodles (mǐfěn 米粉) are more common than wheat noodles (miàntiáo 面条). So this month’s pastry course is a new challenge for me.

When my classmates are at home, maybe they will help when their family is making buns or dumplings. Oh, maybe that’s a skill learned from experience. Most people in the north make those basic Chinese pastries. For me, working with wheat flour was a new and challenging experience. The buns I made at the beginning were so ugly that you didn’t want to eat them. But when it comes to manual skills, there are no shortcuts, and my classmates taught me some techniques. My eyes say I can, but my hands can’t. That’s really my challenge. 

Beginner's bāozi
Beginners Buns (bāozi). Image credit: Chen Jing for My Chinese Home Kitchen, 2023.

We use a medium-gluten flour for Chinese pastry

In Chinese pastry, wheat flour is the most common raw material. In China, we classify wheat flour according to the protein content in it.

  • We have high-gluten flour, used to make bread.
  • All-purpose flour has a medium gluten content and this is commonly used in Chinese pastry. We have been using all-purpose flour all month long in our pastry course.
  • Cake flour is a low-gluten flour, which is often used in Western-style pastries and cakes.
  • Finally, there is gluten-free flour, which is a healthier flour and can be chosen by some people who are allergic to wheat gluten. 

The basic process for making Chinese pastry dough

In our course, the making of steamed buns and dumplings starts with making the dough first, and then rolling the dough into long and uniform strips. Using our hands, we divide the long dough roll into smaller pieces, depending on the size of the buns or dumplings we want. For dumplings, these dough pieces are flattened with the hand, into a disc shape, then pressed repeatedly with a rolling pin. Finally, it will become the dumpling wrapper we want, which is slightly thicker in the middle and slightly thinner at the edges. We put the prepared filling in the middle of the dough. Then we fold them into dumplings and crimp the edge. We use frying, boiling, or steaming methods to cook them into delicious Chinese pastries.

Different dough-making techniques

Dough for boiled dumplings (jiǎozi) is made by combining the wheat flour with cold water. Dough for steamed dumplings (zhēng jiǎo) is made by combining flour and hot water. Adding yeast and baking powder can make the dough fluffier, for filled, steamed buns (bāozi) and fried dough twists (máhuā). Adding some lard to the flour will make the finished product crispy. In Chinese pastry, there are a variety of combinations, and each pastry has its own recipe. At the same time, you can also make a variety of interesting and beautiful Chinese pastries with your own hands. 

More to come

Prior to October, I had never worked with wheat flour dough, yet I have begun to learn to make buns and dumplings, and more complicated pastries. So, as long as you want to learn and study hard, you can always acquire new skills.  

If you are interested in Chinese pastries, please let me know. I’m going to show you some basic Chinese pastry-making processes in future articles. This is also a way for me to show you my learning results. Even though I am a novice at pastry-making, I am willing to share so we can learn together.  

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