Xiao Long Bao (XLB): A Comedy of Errors

I had a really hard time deciding what to title this post. It was between:

“Xiao Long Bao: A Comedy of Errors



Nobody wants to read about the emo woes of the cook who can’t. Instead, I will bring some (if any?) comedic light to the horrid event otherwise known as “the day Alice  & Annie attempted to make xiao long bao.” Plus, there are a lot of errors. Hopefully, these errors will help you perfect the recipe, help shed some light on what we did wrong, or just make you laugh.

Error #1: Thinking: “Other people have attempted and succeeded at these soup buns, so how hard could it be?”

We used The Steamy Kitchen’s recipe for 40 dumplings and adapted it for 100 dumplings. We were delighted to find out that all the ingredients cost us under $25 for 100 dumplings. Our thoughts: “Why pay for Din Tai Fung’s delicious xiao long bao’s, priced at $8 per 10 dumplings, when we can make them ourselves for much cheaper!?

It has many components (Soup | Gelatin | Filling | Dough), but we surged ahead.

The Soup

4 qt. of water
4 lb. chicken bones (2 pounds of cut leg and 2 drumsticks)
4 oz. Virginia Smithfield ham
1 lb.  pork belly
1 in. piece of ginger, sliced
4 green onions, cut into 3″ pieces
4 large garlic cloves, smashed
4 teaspoons of Chinese rice wine (michiu)
1 tsp. salt

Wash pork thoroughly. Place all ingredients in a large stockpot and bring to boil. Immediately, turn to low and simmer for 2 hours. Skim surface of impurities constantly to keep soup clean and clear. Strain and discard solids. The XLB recipe only uses 4 cups of broth.

Error #2: In response to the ‘original’ recipe (loosely adapted above), we should have read the last sentence. Had we known it was only using ‘4 cups of broth’ per 40 dumplings then we probably would not have needed to DOUBLE the recipe/ingredients. FAIL.

At least the stock turned out perfectly, and now I have plenty of stock frozen away for some future noodle soup. Yay!

The Broth Gelatin
1 tbs. of unflavored gelatin (or agar-agar)

Place 4 cups of the broth back in the pot, turn on the heat. When just about to boil again, turn heat off and add the agar-agar or gelatin. Whisk for 2 minutes until all powder is dissolved. Pour broth into an 8×8 baking dish (We used small tupperware because we wanted to speed up the setting time in the freezer.) Refrigerate until set, about 3-4 hours. (Impatient to get cooking, we only froze for 2 hrs.)

Error #3: Speeding up of gel instead of letting set for 3-4 hours. As you can see (on left), our gelatin became a bit ‘frosty’ due to our ‘freezing.’ Day 2’s gelatin (on right) turned out much better; clearly we should have let it set!

The Filling
2 lb ground pork
6 stalks green onion, finely minced
4 tsp. sugar
4 tbs. soy sauce
2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. white pepper
1 tsp. fresh ginger, grated
2 tsp. Chinese rice wine (michiu)
1/2  tsp. sesame oil

Mix all ingredients. Add in 1 1/2 broth gelatin that is already set. (break the gelatin into 1/4″ pieces” to mix to filling.

Error #4: Prepping the filling WAY too early, so there was no ‘broth gelatin’ to add into the mixture until much later. (2 hours later, to be exact). Not sure how this affected the filling much, but I just have a hunch it did.

Error #5: Guessing at where the rest of the gelatin is supposed to go. Doesn’t seem like we put it in the right place (twss).

The Dough
800 grams of all-purpose flour (6.25 cups for us ‘Americans’ as my Canadian bf says)
1.5 c. boiling hot water
1/2 c. cold water
2 tbs. cooking oil

Making the Dough: Put 90% of the flour in a large bowl. Pour about a third of the hot water in the flour. Use a pair of chopsticks to stir vigorously. Add more hot water. Stir more. Add the last bit of the water and stir vigorously until the dough begins to form. Add the cold water and oil. Keep stirring vigorously with chopsticks. (This is quite a workout!) Stop when you can’t stir anymore.

Error #6: It’s a good thing neither of us are in science or math because we ended up  DOUBLING the above recipe even though we had already doubled the original recipe. RECIPE DOUBLING-FAIL. On the other hand, our dough was NICE (see below!)

Kneading the Dough: Dust counter with the remainder 80 grams of flour. Place dough on floured surface, use your hands to knead the dough for 8 -10 minutes, until it becomes soft, smooth and bounces back slowly when you poke with your finger. (Get ready for another workout!) Cover with plastic wrap and let it sit for 30 minutes.

Prepping the Dough for Filling: Divide the dough into 4 equal pieces. Take one piece (cover the remaining 3 pieces with plastic wrap) and roll it into a long log, about 1-1/4″ diameter. Using pastry scraper or knife, cut dough into pieces about the size of a golf ball. Roll one of the balls between your palms to get a nice, round, smooth ball. Using a rolling pin, roll it out flat. Use 3″ cookie cutter or improvise with my ghetto version of a cutter to cut out the dough circle. **Use extra flour as needed to dust.

Error #7, 8, 9, & 10: (More like…what DIDN’T we do wrong in this section?) Started dough-making too early, so some dried out. Didn’t flour enough in between wrapper stacks, so they stuck together and had to be re-rolled/cut/flattened. Not cutting perfect circles around to make the wrappers. Not paying attention to how many folds and how to fold each dumpling, so we had really thick tops, ugly pleats, and lop-sided buns. Not-flouring the plate and in between dumplings on the plate, so that when it got hot (and before steam-time) the dumplings stuck to each other and fell apart.

Basically, Day 1 was a MAD HOUSE:

Filling the Dough:

Fill with 1 tablespoon of filling, pinch pleat by following the slideshow above. Repeat with rest. Make sure that you cover any dough that you aren’t currently using and cover the dumplings with a towel to prevent drying.

Day 2’s attempts:

Error #11: WAIT, Come again? Add filling?  Where do we put the gelatin? WHERE? HOW MUCH?????????? AHHHHHHH. (With no answer available on any website, we guessed. Guessing is not suggested; however, we don’t have an answer for you.) Day 1: Filled with too little gelatin, and the soup dried out inside the wrapper. Day 2: Actually made and cut the dough correctly, and increased the filling with much more gelatin (a couple slices each); it was a bit better but still not perfect.

The Steaming

1 head of Napa cabbage, leaves separated

Fill steamer with 1 layer of Napa cabbage leaves. Steam over medium heat for 2 minutes to warm up the steamer and to soften cabbage. Place dumplings on the cabbage leaves, leaving 1 1/2″ space between each dumpling. Steam for 12 minutes. Eat orgasmically. (We were too grumps from failure to enjoy orgasmically, but we wish you xlb orgasms galore.)

Error #12: I think 12 minutes it too long? They look pretty good un-steamed. So when they are steamed, why are they flat? Why do they look so sad? They made us really sad too   )*:   …

Error #13: It’s  7pm, 24 hours have elapsed since our first xiao long bao attempt, and I just realized that we didn’t even buy nappa cabbage. No wonder it was so freaking hard to get the XLB to stay in the steamer. My cheap lettuce had too many curled edges.

Error #14: Thinking that we would use the leftover “doubled” dough for the next time we make XLB. I’m pretty sure I’ll never attempt this again. (Doubled dough, get ready to become green onion pancake next week)

Error #15: Thinking that I could possibly make Xiao Long Bao even close to that of Din Tai Fung’s. I will drive the 45 minutes and pay the overpriced fee for Din Tai Fung’s XLB. I shall never blasphemize (sp?) those delicious little buns of heaven again.

6 hours (on Day 1) and 2 hours (on Day 2) later, and this XLB making factory is closed.


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One response to “Xiao Long Bao (XLB): A Comedy of Errors

  1. Pingback: reality check: i am no baker | the perfect love affair:

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