My nemesis: Translucent Dough


Not all attempts at making dumplings are successful.

The instigating event for this dumpling adventure was a class I attended, taught by Terri Dien and Mia Chambers of “Dear Martini” (  They taught a group of us to make delicious dumplings, including beautiful and succulent har gow.  I was SO intrigued by the skin–a mixture of wheat starch, tapioca starch, and boiling water.   So when dear friends came for dinner a few months ago, I decided to make homemade har gow.

Mistake # 1:  purchase shrimp from my local grocery store instead of the Asian market. They’re just not as fresh.

Mistake # 2: not tasting the canned bamboo shoots before adding to the mix.  I’ve eaten bamboo shoots my whole life, and never noticed this problem before, but these canned bamboo shoots had an unpleasant bitter/plastic taste.

Mistake #3:  I’m not exactly sure what happened, but the outside wrapper did not cook, even though I steamed them for awhile.  I think  this was because I used a different pot to put the bamboo steamer on instead of my wok, which cradles the steamer. 

The expectation?  Beautiful and tasty shrimp shining through a pearly translucent wrapper.  The actual result:  chemical tasting shrimp filling inside a white, starchy/mealy uncooked dough.  SO BAD we had to spit it out and throw the whole thing away. I’ve not brought myself to try again, but I will soon.  Maybe even this week. I am sorry I do not have photos of this failure.

A month later I did face my fear and attempt the wheat starch dough again.   I made “Chao Zhou Fen Guo”–this recipe is from Andrea Nguyen’s dumpling cookbook.  I summarize below; she gives much more detailed instructions.

Wheat Starch Dough:

1 cup wheat starch

1/2 cup tapioca starch

1/8 tsp salt

1 cup boiling water

4 tsp canola oil

The recipe calls for mixing by hand. But I dumped the starches and salt in my Kitchenaid mixer, turned it on low, then slowly poured in the water, then the oil.  This makes a fabulous dough that has a firm, malleable texture.    Knead it for a couple of minutes, then I cut it in three pieces and formed each into a log. The dough is so simple to make, and really JUST SO FUN to knead and form and cut.  Cover with plastic wrap and let it rest for a few minutes.  Cut each log into 8 pieces, then roll each piece between 2 squares of parchment paper into a thin round disc.  Now that I have a tortilla press, next time I  will use the press; this dough will take well to the press as there is no elasticity to it.  The lack of elasticity also makes them FAR LESS FORGIVING when wrapping.  There is no stretching of this dough, it pulls apart, so I had to use less filling. [This is giving me anxiety about the future, when I next try to make har gow.  How will I stuff plenty of shrimp into such an unyielding vessel?]


Note the wheat starch and tapioca starch packaging in the upper right of the photo.


1/2 tsp sugar

1/4 tsp white pepper

2 tsp oyster sauce

1 tsp soy sauce

1 tbsp Shaoxing rice wine

1 tbsp water

1 clove garlic, minced

1 1/2 tbsp chopped dried shrimp (I used fresh because I don’t like the texture of the shells)

1/4 pound ground pork (I used more)

2 dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked, stemmed, and chopped

1/2 cup finely diced jicama (I substituted water chestnuts)

2 tbsp chopped peanuts

1/1/2 tsp cornstarch dissolved in 1 tbsp water

2 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro

Brown the garlic, dried shrimp and ground pork, then add mushrooms, jicama, peanuts.  In a separate bowl, mix sugar, pepper, oyster sauce, soy sauce, rice wine, water.  Add this seasoning sauce to pork mixture and cook, adding cornstarch mixture to thicken.  Turn off heat and stir in cilantro.  Allow filling to cool completely before wrapping.

I attempted to make a pretty dumpling, but found there is ZERO elasticity to this dough, and I’m an over-stuffer, so the wrappers kept breaking. I ended up making a few ugly half moons that I steamed. I had a little more success creating the same dumpling but round, I just pinched it into a ball and turned it over, smooth side up. These I pan fried.  This time, the dough DID cook and turn translucent.  The taste?  Not my favorite, the filling was flavorful but I don’t think I like nuts in dumpling fillings as they lose their crunch and add an mealy texture that I’m not fond of.  And the dough was a bit tough and chewy for me.  They were passable, which I suppose is a step up from spit it out and throw it away.

The only redeeming factor is that when I last purchased these on Clement street, I recall thinking—this wrap is kind of rubbery and tough.

I will have to keep at this until I master it.


Ugly steamed dumplings. Note in the far right dumpling I made a hole in the wrapper when sealing; the lack of elasticity causes me consternation. 


Pan fried Fen Guo.  Not the most attractive thing I’ve ever made.  And Yes, I DO want my food to look pretty.


One thought on “My nemesis: Translucent Dough

  1. I found this dough to be lacking in elasticity too. Had to make my wrappers a little larger and be careful when filling them. I use quite a few of the recipes in this book, and I’m happy with most of them, but I’ll be experimenting with this one to try to improve on it.

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