How To Make Lanzhou Hand-Pulled Noodles?
we wanted to show you how to make Lanzhou-style Lamian.
This’s a noodle that, despite its ubiquity throughout China, seems to perpetually shrouded in an air of mystery.
See, the Lanzhou style of hand-pulled noodles are alkaline noodles, which are renowned for their texture and bite, but also infamously more difficult to hand pull.
To get there takes a lot of technique and some special ingredients, but with a bit of practice can be executed with materials available basically anywhere in the world.
But on that note, unfortunately, it is true that lamian uses some special flour.
This is a common brand of flour that’s used in Lamian noodle shops.
There’s three main differences this has with your bog standard AP.
First, as I just said, it’s higher gluten– 12.2% protein to be exact.
How To Make Lanzhou Hand-Pulled Noodles?
Second, it’s fresher – this bag was actually produced on February 15th this year.
And lastly, and most importantly, it’s extremely finely milled.
So while visually the Lamian flour on the right looks a lot different than the all-purpose on the left, the difference becomes
especially pronounced when we hydrate them.
Just take a look at what happens when we add water – the all-purpose clumps very easily, and not all the water is absorbed.
Meanwhile, when we add the same amount of water to the flour on the right, it evenly hydrates and forms these fine shreds referred to in lamian-making as suizi.
So it’s true that Lanzhou Lamian needs this special finely milled lamian flour or else it’s not going to get elastic enough to
So I guess case closed?
No Lamian flour, no lamian, so I guess we should just close the book on this one.
But not so fast. See, there is a flour that’s available in the West that seems to meet all of these criteria.
It’s high gluten. It’s relatively fresh. It’s finely milled.
And it’s made to produce a product where both the strength and extensibility of the dough are key.
I’m talking, of course, about Pizza Flour.
And to keep things relatively standardized, for this recipe we specifically chose to use an imported pizza flour that’s popular among home bakers in the West: Caputo’s Chef Pizza Flour, which you can find available online throughout the world.
But unfortunately, flour isn’t the only special ingredient you’ll need to make Lamian.
Not from lack of trying, it seems close to impossible to make a stretchy alkaline noodle without this stuff, Penghui.
Now, I know that for some of you those words just sent shivers down your spine.
See, traditionally Penghui was made from the yellow ash of the Halogeton Arachnoideus plant, and unfortunately the stuff’s aggressively unavailable outside of China.
The stuff is like magic though – mix a bit with water, and your dough’ll become soft like puddy.
But before we throw in the towel yet again while basically, all lamian shops use this kind of bagged Penghui, this stuff isn’t actually the ash of Halogeton Arachnoideus plant, either.
See, given how much Lanzhou Lamian is consumed in China, you could imagine that there just wasn’t enough ash to go around.
So in 1989 researchers at the Lanzhou University in Gansu developed this stuff – a mix of additives also labeled Penghui.
There’s no ash involved, what you’re looking at is a mix of 50% salt, easy enough, 45% sodium carbonate, which’s basically what you get if you bake some baking soda for an hour, 4% sodium triphosphate, an emulsifier that’s totally available on Amazon I promise, and 1% sodium metabisulfite, a reducer that’s also sometimes used in winemaking and also completely available online.
Frustratingly though, after a number of tests it became obvious that this wasn’t just a matter of mixing these all together and
calling it a day.
So after reaching out to some people that know more than us about food science, we learned that in an industrial setting the ingredients would usually get dried out and then thoroughly mixed in hoppers.
So with that in mind, let’s try and mimic that, and make some homemade Penghui.
So first measure out 100 grams of not-iodized salt, 90 grams of sodium carbonate, 8 grams of your sodium triphosphate, and 2.5 grams or about ¾ of a teaspoon of the sodium metabisulfite.
Now, unless you’re lucky enough to be working with some pure NaCl powder, you’ll first need to thoroughly pound your salt.
Which,if I’m being honest here, is sucky and annoying.
You’ll pound it, think it’s powdery enough, then strain through a fine-mesh sieve and realize that you’ve still got a lot more pounding to go.
Doing the same with the sodium carbonate, sodium triphosphate, and sodium metabisulfite is a lot easier, but still an important step to make sure everything’s nice and powdery.
Then just sift everything together and sift it all again for good measure.
Now, to mimic those hoppers used in an industrial setting, we’ll be using a stand mixer with the paddle attachment on speed three keeping that going for at least thirty minutes.
Now, at a factory they’d also dry everything out with desiccants, chemicals that help absorb moisture.
So we’ll be keeping our homemade penghui together with one of these boxes that’re meant for drying out cupboards, which’s
mostly made from Calcium Chloride.
But some of those silica gel packs should also work too so long as you’re certain they’re food safe.
So after that time, toss your homemade Penghui in a ziplock bag together with your desiccant of choice and store in a cool,
dry place away from sunlight.
Now, we do have to be completely honest here.
Even after all that, the homemade penghui basically worked, but not quite as well as the bag itself.
So we’ll raise our bat signal to any of you out there that know more about chemistry than us, but because it was close we will just charge forward here showing you the results with both the bagged and homemade penghui.
But no matter which direction you go the fundamental process here is totally the same.
So here we’re using that pizza flour, 250 grams worth, and we’ll give that a sift to remove any clumps.
Then in a separate bowl, thoroughly dissolve 2 grams or about half a teaspoon of salt into 120 grams of ice water.
The reason for using ice water is that your lamian dough should ideally be about 28 centigrade and never exceed 30 during the whole process.
Now, as you can see, Steph’s adding the water here bit by bit and incorporating it by rubbing the flour between her thumb and
the back of her fingers.
This technique is called maozhuashou or ‘cat claw’ in Lamian making, and I’ll help us arrive at those ‘suizi’ we were talking about earlier.
So once all that water’s incorporated and you no longer have any dry flour on the bottom of your bowl knead that all together for about a minute.
And while Lamian shops’ll usually move straight on to the next step at this point we’ll make thing easier to knead by letting that
rest for about a half an hour.
So half an hour later now, liberally oil your hands to make sure that things don’t dry out.
Here we’re using Sichuan caiziyou,but any dense oil would also work ok.
So now just punch it down, and stretch it out.
Now using the bottom of the palm of your hand, press down on the dough with force, keeping your elbow straight, then pull the dough up about an inch or two.
Then repeat – press, curl up and do the same move all the way down the dough.
Now just do that all again either one one or two times until everything’s shaped everything into a round log.
Then fold the dough in half, and press down. Now, we’ll need to really go nuts pressing this totally flat again.
So first punch it flat, then rotate the dough, cross your hands, and press down mustering all the force you can.
Then to make sure everything’s even, cross your hands in the other direction, and press down on the dough in the same way.
Now rotate back,and repeat.
What we’re doing here is not only developing the gluten network of the dough but also aligning the gluten strands.
This’s a similar idea to the stretch and fold technique in breadmaking with bread though you’re aiming for the gluten to get a sort of criss cross pattern, while here we want it to be one long rope.
This kneading technique is referred to as making a suanpanzi, or “abacus string“.
But fair warning, getting there takes a bit of elbow grease.
At some Lamian schools in China, the final test is to make a batch of noodles – from the initial mixing to the final pulling – in 20 minutes flat.
And of those 20 minutes, probably 17 or 18 of them are spent doing this step right here.
Take your time with it. This took about a half-hour of kneading for us, but if you’re first starting out it’s totally normal to knead for 40 or even 50 minutes.
So, if you find yourself getting a bit tired, absolutely tag-team any available friends or husbands to help out. And definitely remind
them to keep everything thoroughly oiled.
If you do this right, you can actually make hand-pulled noodles using just this dough although of course we haven’t added any
of the dreaded alkaline yet.
Now, you’ll know you’re getting to the endpoint once small bubbles start to form in your dough as you press it down, like this.
Another sign is if you tear the dough, it should form a smooth hole like the one on the right, not jagged like the hole on the left.
So once you’ve gotten to that point, you’ll be ready to add your penghui.
Bagged version up first, so take two grams of your penghui and mix that with ten grams of water. Dissolve it thoroughly, then press down on the dough in the same way as before to make sure it’s completely flat.
Wet your hands with a bit of the penghui, then apply it to the top of dough.
Now fold the dough in thirds, then in thirds again in the other direction flatten it out, then continue.
This folding method is called Sandie liangbao or ‘three folds, two wraps’ and it’s to ensure that you don’t get any penghui water spilling out the sides.
That said if you’re patient about adding in the penghui water bit by bit feel free to just continue to use the same ‘making the abacus string’ method we used for kneading, adding the penghui when flat.
Once you’re finished incorporating the penghui, you’re good to prepare the dough for pulling.
So now for this step, it’s absolutely critical that both your hands and the dough are thoroughly oiled at all times – treat your dough as if it was dry cracking skin that needed moisturizer.
So just fold the dough in half, roll it into about a foot and a half log and it’s time for a step called ‘latiao shunjing’ or ‘gluten combing’.
The classic sight at lamian shops in China is to pull the dough about arms length, then twist everything together, slam it on the
table, and repeat.
This does two things – it strengthens and stretches the gluten network,while also giving you a test of sorts to see if the dough’s ready.
Another approach to gluten combing, and the one we prefer, is to pull the dough to about arm’s length, fold it in half, press the dough flat and stretch it out.
Fold it again, stick the dough to the top, flatten it again, and stretch it out.
You’ll know your dough is good to pull if you can repeat this process five or six times without the dough breaking.
If it breaks on you, no problem go back, add a bit more penghui, knead a bit longer, then try again.
This guy was good though, so fold it back, and roll it into a foot and a half log.
Cut off the uneven ends, then slice it in half and this is good to pull.
So now thoroughly flour your work surface,getting a small mound in the middle, and roll your half log to about a foot or so long.
Then just grab the ends and pull out to arm’s length. Now bring it back, nestling one end between your index and middle finger and the other between your middle and ring.
Now, every time you pull, dip the middle of the dough in your little flour mountain, loop your other hand inside, gently pull from both sides and repeat.
When pulling, we’d strongly suggest moving slowly and deliberately never lifting the noodles more than ten centimeters off your workstation.
I know the lamian masters can pump these out and put on a show.
You are not a lamian master, and neither are we.
This is a game of using your hands to apply force evenly you’ll need five pulls to get to a basic ‘normal thin’ lamian, but here Steph did six pulls to get a ‘hair thin’ lamian, which’s the max thinness you’ll usually see at most noodle shops.
So now tear off the pile of dough at the end,and immediately toss these into boiling water to cook.
Now for the homemade penghui, things seemed to go swimmingly at first.
The dough looks and feels like it does with penghui. One pull, two pulls, three pulls, four pulls but on the fifth pull we start to see a bit of breaking.
It’s not really the end of the world because it’s only a couple of pieces though, so we can take our three broken thick boys and just pull those out individually.
Unfortunately though, at this point a sixth pull is out of the question, so the max we could get with the homemade penghui is those ‘normal thin’ noodles – which to be totally honest, are my preferred thickness anyhow.
So, these are the noodles that you would see at the famous Lamian noodle shops.
There’s alkaline and needs a ton of practice and technique.
But meanwhile, in the north, there’s another category of pulled noodles that are called ‘chenmian’.
They are non-alkaline uses long rest to facilitate the dough pulling motion and it’s often pulled noodle by noodle.
And of course, very soon we’ll also want to show you how to make that more day-to-day.
homecooking version of pulled noodles.
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