XIAN BING

Chinese Handpie

Yield: 9 pies
Time: 2 hours 15 minutes

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Growing up, my favorite foods were char siu baos, and any pillowy-soft pocket-shaped snack. These handpies have a savory filling encased in a vaguely sweet, starchy blanket that embody total comfort for me. They remind me of home.

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Ingredients

PASTRY DOUGH

450g all-purpose flour, plus 2 tbsp
24g neutral oil plus 4 tbsp
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp dietary alkali or baking soda
230g water
4 tbsp oil
sesame seeds

 

FILLING

300g ground beef, or:
300g minced veggie filling consisting of:
king trumpet mushrooms
shiitake mushrooms
shrimp
Chinese chives
pickled mustard stems
rehydrated dried shrimp

1 tsp coriander
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp fennel
1 tsp clove
1 tsp star anise
1 tbsp red Sichuan peppercorns
1 tbsp green Sichuan peppercorns
5 red chili peppers*
4g salt
10g grated ginger
4 cloves garlic, minced
½ tsp cornstarch
4 scallions
vegetable oil, as needed
Optional: Shaoxing wine

*I recommend facing heaven chili peppers

Instructions

PASTRY DOUGH

1. Combine the oil and flour, using your hands to make sure the oil is evenly dispersed in the flour. In a separate bowl, mix 2 tablespoons flour with 4 tablespoons oil to make a slurry. Set aside.

2. Stir to combine salt, dietary alkali or baking soda, and water. Knead the dough gradually with your hands.

3. Let dough rest for 20 minutes to relax the gluten. Then knead until smooth.

4. Divide into 9 equal pieces. Roll each into a log, and press down to flatten using your palm. Use a rolling pin to roll the dough into long rectangles.

5. Place the rectangles along the inside of a bowl, sealing each piece by coating in oil. Rest for 2 hours covered.

FILLING

1. Gather all the spices and toast in a wok or pan. Grind spices, sift, and set aside. You may have extra spice mix left over which can be saved for another project.

2. If using meat, combine spices, sauces, and meat in a bowl with some oil, and set aside. If using mushroom and shrimp, mince all ingredients very fine. In a wok, heat oil over high flame, and sauté the garlic and ginger. Then add the mushrooms, stirring until browned. Add more oil if needed.

3. Add shaoxing wine, pouring over the sides of the wok. Gradually add all other ingredients to fry.

4. Season with soy sauce and the spice mixture, adding cornstarch to help the mixture come together. Add salt and sugar to taste. Set aside.

ROLLING & COOKING

1. After dough has rested 2 hours, take one piece and stretch flat.

2. Spread a spoonful of filling at one end, topping generously with scallions. Carefully lift the two end-corners of the dough and cross over the filling, tucking in. (Watch video for demonstration!)

3. Coat the tail-end of the dough with oil and flour slurry. Hold the mound of wrapped filling, and gently pull to stretch the tail thin without tearing. Roll the mound of filling onto itself several times, and remove excess dough that may build up on the corners of the roll to avoid a thick center after cooking.

4. When the tail of dough is six inches, use a knife to slice the tail into thin noodle-like strips. Continue to wrap dough strips around the filling until the whole tail is used up.

5. Rest dough cocoons for 10 minutes, letting the dough relax. Then roll cocoons in a bowl of sesame seeds.

6. Holding each cocoon vertically, use your palm to press down gently, flattening the dough into a spiraling bun. If a wider circumference is desired, set aside to rest, and then flatten a second time.

7. Once they are rested, pour a generous amount of oil in a skillet over medium heat. This should feel like frying but not quite. Don’t be tempted to raise the temperature or you might burn them.

Enjoy with chili oil.

Recipe by Bettina Yung

“When I was young, my mother would bring home pink boxes from a Hong Kong bakery brimming with curry puffs, baked chicken baos, and lo mai gai–sticky rice lotus leaf wraps. These days I feel lucky to live in Chinatown, where Fay Da bakery is still open for business in the wake of Covid-19 and I can enjoy the Chinese snacks of my childhood. Nostalgia for these treats is what inspired me to make my own bing.

There are several versions of this savory pancake, but the defining quality is its resemblance to cong you bing, or scallion pancakes. Its distinctive layers come from slicing the ends of the dough into strips, and coating them with an oil slurry to create extra flakiness. To substitute a pescatarian filling for the usual beef or pork handpies, I mixed king trumpet and shiitake mushrooms, shrimp, and a variety of spices. As for the chilis, I recommend milder varieties, like the facing heaven chili.”

BETTINA YUNG is a human living in NYC hosting pop-up dinners and food events. She exercises the act of cooking to rediscover, preserve, and connect to her Chinese American roots—a process that is constantly changing. Follow her on Instagram.

April 5, 2020. Illustration by Eutalia de la Paz.

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