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Chinese noodle dough?

IPlayWithFood's picture
IPlayWithFood

Chinese noodle dough?

In Chinese traditional food there exists this thing called 拉面, which translates to "pulled noodles". According to this website (http://www.tinyurbankitchen.com/art-of-hand-pulled-noodles-noodle/), the noodle dough used in Beijing consists of only 特精粉 (high gluten flour), salt and water. I assumed (and have been told) that the high-gluten term is used to refer to any flour with a high protein/gluten content (of which most bread flours are), and so having failed to source anything of that particular description from a couple of Asian supermarkets which I have checked out, I attempted making this with bread flour.

Using the recipe (167g/100ml/5g salt) I kneaded the dough for an hour straight, let it rest for an hour (or longer), and started pulling and twisting it as the video suggested. After a good half an hour (or more) of that pulling, twisting, and rolling, I can (if I am meticulous about making sure the dough stretches evenly) get the dough to stretch to my entire armspan length, but any more than that and it starts tearing - if I try to do what the video shows and pull the dough out a second time after twisting it back together without adhering the pulled strands, it breaks.

Is the science of this correct - would any flour be able to be kneaded to the extent that the dough can be stretched out multiple times (the noodle strands are maybe 1mm in diameter) without the addition of anything other than water and salt? I have heard in other forums that actually high gluten flours might not be as ideal because you are trying to destroy the gluten (rather than develop it) to get the dough into a putty-like consistency which doesn't resist and tear when pulled, and so I figured the people on this forum might have a better idea as to the science behind this!

I know in another part of China (Lanzhou) the noodle-makers add a highly alkalinic substance (蓬灰, I think it's called) which is akin to lye water, but I am not sure where on earth I would source that from so I was hoping flour-water-salt might be enough, but clearly not!

Justanoldguy's picture
Justanoldguy

You can create a strong alkaline solution with pickling lime or calcium hydroxide if food grade lye isn't available.

IPlayWithFood's picture
IPlayWithFood

Hmm, what exactly does the alkaline solution do, though? I'm trying to understand the science behind this to figure out what I'm doing wrong. I've tried the lanzhou method by kneading breadflour, salt and water together, then after you form the dough add alkali (I baked baking soda in the oven at 150C for 45min) dissolved in water, then smear the surface with oil, knead that into the dough and start pulling and the dough does seem more cohesive, but the gluten still seems to resist pulling, and tears the dough after a while.

HansB's picture
HansB

When I make ramen noodles I add the baked baking soda to the water before mixing the dough.

 

Here is a recipe for pulled noodles: http://www.thegastrognome.com/2015/02/13/bang-bang-biang-make-amazing-chinese-noodles-hour/

IPlayWithFood's picture
IPlayWithFood

This one doesn't seem to add any alkali though. The only difference between that and the recipe I'm using seems to be that she adds wheat gluten to bring the protein content of the flour up to 15%, but I'm using one which is 13.8%; surely 1.2% shouldn't make too much of a difference? But I don't seem to be able to stop my doughs from 1. stretching out unevenly (the middle bit is always bunched up) and 2. tearing (at the points where the dough does stretch out).

dabrownman's picture
dabrownman

for noodle making.  If using bread flour as a base flour, you need to add Vital Wheat Gluten to it to get it up to High Gluten standards.  Then all should be well when it comes to noodle making if you get the hydration right - which is the most important thing after high gluten and alkali water.

Happy noodle making

IPlayWithFood's picture
IPlayWithFood

Thanks for the tips - so what amount of protein content is necessary? I have Canadian very strong flour coming in which measures 14.9% protein - would that be sufficient? And am I shooting for a higher or lower hydration?

dabrownman's picture
dabrownman

of them combine with water to make gluten.  Durum has the highest protein - over 15% but the gluten forming proteins are much less than spring hard white wheat grown in the Pacific Northwest that is used for High Gluten flour at 13% protein - it  has abundant gluten forming proteins but less overall protein content.  Protein amount doesn't mean that much when it comes to gluten forming ability.

IPlayWithFood's picture
IPlayWithFood

Ah, yes, this was what I had suspected all along but don't seem to be able to get a clear answer because even the instructional videos in Chinese simply equate high-gluten with high-protein! What I wonder then is what sort of flour they use in China.. is there any way of telling the gluten content of a flour, in that case?

dabrownman's picture
dabrownman

and has the largest stockpile of wheat 260 million metric tons.  It imported only 4 million metric tons last year and exported only .8 million tons.  Since most of it is used for noodles, most of its stockpile is likely high gluten.

No miller I know of, says what the gluten producing protein content is of their flour.

IPlayWithFood's picture
IPlayWithFood

Actually, I was thinking about it. Wouldn't a higher gluten content in a flour actually make it more elastic rather than extensible, and hence be a bad idea for pulled noodles, because it would resist the pulling (which is very much what I find happening in my case)?

This here seems to suggest alkalis are added only for their effect on the noodles when cooked, not before.. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0733521014001684

Edit: this here (http://www.lukerymarz.com/noodles/ingredients.html) states that "Asian made flours have a lot less gluten, which makes them good for hand-pulled noodles.", though I have also seen other websites saying more gluten is what is needed..

dabrownman's picture
dabrownman

Next up in our noodle-making afternoon, Albala picked up a ball of dough that had been resting on the counter, covered in plastic wrap, since I arrived. It was the dough for hand-pulled noodles—the kind that can be found in far eastern Europe and northern China. These noodles all come from the same family of lamian noodles believed to be spread by the Mongols “when they conquered everything in 1344,” Albala explained.

It all starts with the flour. And this time, not quirky konjac flour, but traditional white wheat flour.

White wheat flour is made from ground-up wheat berries, minus the outer husk, germ, and bran. As food scientist Kelly Connelly later explained, this flour contains two proteins, called glutenin and gliadin, that, when hydrated, form a loose network called gluten. This is what gives structure to loaves of bread, muffins and cookies, and, of course, some of the world’s most popular noodles: Italian pastas, Japanese ramen noodles, and Chinese hand-pulled noodles. Gluten forms as soon as wheat flour is hydrated, during the mixing process, so wheat-flour dough has structure before it is cooked. (Wheat starch, on the other hand, is what’s left when the gluten is removed. Starches—whether from wheat, potatoes, or corn—provide structure to a noodle by becoming hydrated and then gelatinizing with heat. Without gluten, starch noodles lack structure until they are cooked.)

The hand-pulled noodle recipe calls simply for high protein (and therefore high gluten) bread flour—the better to strengthen the noodle for stretching—that forms a dough with water and a little salt.

Albala had woken up early and made and kneaded the dough, so that it could rest for at least six hours. This resting period further prepares the dough for stretching because, during this time, natural enzymes present in the wheat flour begin to break down some of the gluten proteins, allowing the gluten network to relax.

While the recipes for making hand-pulled noodle dough are all basically the same around the world, regional differences can be seen especially in how the noodles are shaped. “There is one place in China where it’s just one long noodle coiled up in a basket and a guy just pulls it out and throws it in the pot,” said Albala. This long, continuous coil is meant to represent the beginning and end of one long, continuous life. Noodle as metaphor, and one reason hand-pulled noodles are popular around the new year.

 

Albala demonstrated how to pull and twist the softball-size mound, with the goal of shaping it into a continually thinner and longer noodle. He only pulled it a few feet in length before it broke into pieces, which he continued to lengthen and stretch into individual noodles.

Once the dough began to take on a slightly rough texture from the pulling, he mixed together a large bowl of water with less than a twelfth of a teaspoon of alkaline liquid made by the brand Koon Chun, which is widely used for noodle making and available in Asian grocery stores. He lightly dipped his hands into the bowl before he shaped the noodle, allowing the thin surface-coating of alkali to make the noodle both stronger and just a bit more slippery.

Why alkali? Alkali interact with the gluten proteins to make the noodle firmer. “This is not that well understood, but apparently the bonding between gluten molecules becomes stronger under alkaline conditions,” wrote food scientist and writer Harold McGee in his treatise on alkalinity in noodles for the magazine Lucky Peach. However, too much of an alkali can turn a noodle from uniquely pleasant to caustic or odoriferous.

Albala does note that alkalis need to be used carefully, as they can affect the taste of the noodle, making it soapy. “The flavor of alkaline noodles is really distinctive, and that’s as big a mystery as anything,” McGee wrote. “It’s a little bitter, but mostly it’s a soapy kind of feeling.”

Albala dipped his hands into the alkaline water and pulled, eventually ending up with rows of thick, rough-looking—but, he assured me, perfectly edible—noodles that he placed one at a time in the boiling water. He and his son once pulled a single noodle to almost 200 feet, Albala said. He worked on his form by watching hours of videos in Russian, but added that there are many different ways to shape these noodles—in China some wrap them around chopsticks, while other noodle masters look like they are jumping around the room.

“Once, I saw a lady in Bratislava doing this on the street,” he said, referring to his method. “Little bits, stretching and ripping them in half, just like we did. And I was standing there staring in amazement, and the woman was like, ‘Are you going to buy some or not? What’s the big deal? I’m making noodles, you idiot!’ ” He laughed.

“They were delicious,” he added.

And when the noodles came out of the boiling water a few minutes later, they were, in fact, quite good. The flavor was similar to traditional wheat noodles, but with a chewiness and a slight slipperiness to them.

https://www.cooksillustrated.com/science/781-articles/feature/feeling-the-pull

IPlayWithFood's picture
IPlayWithFood

Thanks for that! What I find confusing is that I have read many iterations of that explanation before, just don't know how the science actually functions. The explanation for gluten is "Gluten forms as soon as wheat flour is hydrated, during the mixing process, so wheat-flour dough has structure before it is cooked" - but there is no link to extensibility or elasticity. The explanation given for the use of alkali isn't much better - "“This is not that well understood, but apparently..." The article also mentions that a resting period is important (and indeed I have read the same in other places), but then you have videos like this (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sDjdW6odGCg) where the chef goes from knead (1:43) to pull (3:03) within 1:20, with no discernible cuts to the video suggesting that a different pre-kneaded dough was used..

Too many contradictions abound on the internet and so many instructional videos (even those in Chinese) are filled with esoteric traditional techniques which all seem to be the secret..

I will try again with strong Canadian bread flour when it comes which supposedly has a high gluten content (despite people with the videos I linked to above claiming that they even cut their AP flour with cake flour to lower the gluten content), with fingers crossed! Have tried this so far with Bapao Wheat flour (from China, with a 8% protein content which I suppose might suggest it has less gluten, though it is a tenuous link), Tesco value flour and Sainsbury's bread flour (both from UK) with no discernible difference, with or without alkali, which is why I think the issue must be with my lack of technique.

dabrownman's picture
dabrownman

You would think that GH would make the dough too elastic to stretch out thin but when rested overnight in the fridge and most of the next day it is plenty extensible enough to stretch right out but strong enough not to tear.  Using low gluten AP flour or adding cake flour to it for pizza or noodles is just plain silly.

IPlayWithFood's picture
IPlayWithFood

Forgive me for pushing you on this, I hope you are enjoying this discussion as much as I am! Am new to breadbaking and dough in general (but I think I have done a fair bit of reading), so do feel free to correct my misimpressions and mistakes wherever they lie (:

My experience with high gluten doughs is that when stretched after resting, it quickly reestablishes its tensile strength - that is why when stretching and folding sourdough, one builds in half-hour (or more) periods of rest for every set of stretch and folds, to give the now-elastic gluten time to relax again so it can regain its elasticity, and be stretched and folded another time. By that same measure, wouldn't that mean that even after I've allowed dough to rest, the moment I start pulling at it the gluten bonds re-form and make my life difficult again? Which was my experience when I tried making the noodles with the 13.8% protein bread flour (though I am obviously unsure of the gluten content); the first pull was alright, the next few not so much.

dabrownman's picture
dabrownman

try an 8 hour rest in the fridge and let the dough warm up to room temperature on the counter.  Then form m the pizza which will be very elastic and easy - hardly elastic at all - but strong and won't tear. When  making noodles do the same thing but have a bowl of alkali water near to put your fingers in to coat the noodles as you pull.  The alkali water will make the noodles strong so you can pull them out thin but not make them elastic.

IPlayWithFood's picture
IPlayWithFood

Have tried - the first pull was great, then I twirled it around and tried to pull it a second time and the gluten pulled back with full force..

IPlayWithFood's picture
IPlayWithFood

Update, if anyone is following this or comes across this while searching futilely for the secret to 拉面: so I found this forum post where a very very determined guy sussed out and tried every single method known to man. I have finally found something that works for me, and I can report that it takes no more than flour and water.

It dawned upon me that the one time I have found dough to be infinitely stretchable was when I had left it to autolyse so long that all the gluten had just broken down. So I chucked regular 10% protein AP flour together with water last night and left it on the countertop, and today when pulling it I found that indeed, it could be pulled exactly like how every noodle master in every video ever seems to be pulling it! At the same time the dough was 60% hydrated and sticking to everything, but with some liberal flouring (which didn't seem to affect the elasticity too much) it became easier to handle.

In that vein, I think actually what the alkaline water does is that it should be mixed into the dough, and it breaks down the gluten immediately as bottleny has pointed out below, hence allowing people to skip the autolyse step.

I'm sure there might be a way of doing this with high gluten flour, but even the strongest Canadian flour I could find didn't seem to be able to cut it for me - and I actually think some Asian flours are pretty soft (going down to 8% protein, though I know there isn't a direct link to gluten content).

bottleny's picture
bottleny

In this wiki article, "Alkaline Pasta", it talks about Lan Zhau hand-pulled noodles from China:

Proper texture requires the addition of an alkaline ingredient called peng derived from certain ashes. Ash contains potassium carbonate, which makes the noodle dough softer and more tender by inhibiting the development of gluten.

Including a link to NYT article, "The Long Pull of Noodle Making".

 

joe_n's picture
joe_n

Find this in Asian markets.

AlexTheCook's picture
AlexTheCook

never tried it