Full disclosure from the outset – this is not a step-by step-tutorial on how to roll and wrap dumplings/ potstickers. There are already plenty of great blogs, videos and tutorials out there that cover the subject very well. Instead, this is an exploration of the inner workings of the dough itself, to help you get the most out of it and fine-tune it to your liking.
Phew! Now that’s out of the way, here’s everything you ever wanted to know about making dumpling wrappers.
[Psst…just looking for the recipe? Click here…]
So, dumplings must be magic… I mean, how else do you explain their near-supernatural ability to simultaneously cram comfort, taste and sheer awesomeness into one small package?
And that means everyone loves dumplings (oh, I’m sure some people say they don’t, but obviously they can’t be trusted and therefore I’m not counting them). But it’s probably important to clarify at this stage that the word “dumpling” encompasses an almost endless range of varying styles, shapes and fillings. So for the purposes of this exercise, I’m going to focus mainly on those that developed from Chinese roots, often referred to as potstickers or gyoza – a thin circular flour and water wrapper folded around a filling and either boiled, steamed or fried.
Dumpling wrappers can be made from a wide range of flours and starches to provide different textures and strengths. By far the most popular would be a wrapper made simply from wheat flour and water, and sometimes salt.
Sounds simple, but before you can make great dumplings, you need to be able to make a great dumpling wrapper. No matter what you choose to fill your dumplings with, the foundation of any dumpling is the wrapper – you want something that has the right balance between chewy and tender, and one that isn’t going to fall apart, tear or get soggy.
But here’s the thing – within that idea, you can make an argument for different types of flour, hot water and cold water, a combination of different flours, so what makes for the best wrapper? The good news is that with a little knowledge, you can customise the dough as you see fit.
1. Flour Power
Most recipes you see will call for plain/ all-purpose wheat flour, but does it matter what flour you use?
I tried out three variations using strong bread flour, plain (all-purpose) flour and cake flour, which each have different levels of gluten protein. As a general rule, bread or strong flour can have a protein content as high as 13%, while cake flour has somewhere between 8 – 10%. Plain flour falls somewhere in the middle, hence its all-purpose designation. A higher protein content is desirable in breads for added structure and density, but not so much in things like cakes which require lightness.
So what does that mean for dumplings? Well, you can vary the texture and density of the wrapper simply by using a different type of flour – bread flour will produce a chewier wrapper, while using cake flour produces a softer texture.
However, while the differences are noticeable if you’re looking for them, in practice they aren’t all that great. Plain flour produces a more than satisfactory wrapper, but if you think you’d like a bit more bite, have a play around with bread flour in the mix.
This boils down to the amount of water used and the water temperature.
As a general rule, most dumpling recipes will have you start with a ratio of two parts flour to one part water – I find that a percentage of 55 – 60% water to flour by weight is my preferred ratio, but this will depend on the flour you’re using and other factors like humidity. Too much water and you’ll get a sticky dough that’s hard to handle, too little and it’ll be dry and lack the stretch needed to work properly.
So what about water temperature then? Here’s the bottom line…using boiling or at least very hot water serves to essentially break down some of the proteins in the flour which limits the formation of gluten – this makes the dough less elastic, but more tender. This also makes the resulting dough easier to handle and roll out, as it lacks a bit of the elasticity and spring of a dough made with cold water.
I have seen references where a cold water dough is used for boiled dumplings, presumably as the full gluten structure makes it better suited to the rigors of boiling, as opposed to hot water doughs which are used more for steaming or panfrying.
To be honest, I tend to just use a hot water dough for everything, as I find it easier to work with.
Some recipes include salt, others don’t. This is partly for flavour, but salt in high enough concentrations can create more elasticity in the dough. With a high enough salt content, the effects are not so noticeable when the wrapper is freshly cooked, but it does seem to toughen up as it cools. However, this is only noticeable at higher concentrations (Harold McGee cites a ratio of about 2% of the total weight for this to happen), so a pinch of salt added to your dough should be perfectly fine.
4. Adding starch
While dumpling dough at its simplest is just flour and water, some recipes suggest adding different flours or starches which have the potential to change the texture of the final product.
Common additions include wheat starch, tapioca starch or glutinous rice flour. These add a chewiness to the cooked wrapper. Adding these to the mix also means that there’s less gluten formation in the dough, making it slightly less elastic and easier to work with (it becomes almost a bit like plasticine).
Personally, I like to use about 15 – 20% tapioca starch which gives the wrapper a nice chew without it being tough.
Glutinous rice flour is an interesting addition – it also adds chew to the wrapper, but in a softer way. It almost borders on a gummy texture to me (if you’ve eaten mochi before, there’s a slightly sticky, mochi-type quality to it).
Here’s my personal favourite recipe for making dumpling wrappers, but by all means play around with the recipe to make it your own. Depending on how large you make your wrappers, you can get anywhere between 24 – 32 dumplings.