One of my all-time favorite cookbooks was written by one of my all-time favorite people: FlorenceLin’s Complete Book of Chinese Noodles, Dumplings and Breads. Now in her mid-nineties and living in upstate New York, Auntie Shen (that’s what we call her) is still as vibrant and funny and full of delight with the world as she’s always been.
I love her book because it is so reliable and so full of the things I adore eating. Very trailblazing for its time, her cookbook covers a lot more than just Cantonese cuisine, and instead travels over much of China in a quest for great things to cook and serve. So, if you have lived in places like the Mainland or Taiwan for any amount of time, or if you are a sophisticated diner, you will find many of your most beloved dishes in here.
Auntie Shen recalled her recipe for curry beef turnovers during one of our endless conversations about food. In between peals of laughter, she told me about how she made endless batches of these back when she lived in New York City, and Craig Claiborne even mentioned them when he wrote an interview with her. She included this recipe and the story in her Chinese Noodles cookbook, of course. What I want to mention right here is that the recipe right after that one is for her mushroom puffs. (Both of them are of course incredibly delicious.)
Over the years I’ve made some adjustments to these already perfect recipes in my search to make them more the way that I used to enjoy them in Taipei’s and Hong King’s dim sum parlors back in the day. No matter what else got tossed or added, I have always preserved one of Auntie Shen’s secret weapons: mashed potatoes.
Probably a holdover from these little turnovers’ ancestral roots as Indian samosas (after all, that’s what they are), the mashed potatoes insert a lovely creaminess into the mixture and also hold things together admirably while you are crimping the pastry together. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
This recipe makes 8 dozen, which seems like a lot, but I always double it, especially this time of the year when we find ourselves at so many parties, both here and at friends’ homes. That’s almost 200 little turnovers. I know. But they can be made over a day or a week, and they are vegetarian, which solves lots of guest preference problems right then and there, since just about anyone who can eat wheat can then enjoy them.
|The mushroom filling|
I freeze the puffs right after I shape them, and then dab them with an egg glaze before popping them in the oven a few minutes before the guests arrive. They end up being incredible holiday lifesavers, and they never fail to please.
Xiānggū yóusū jiăo 香菇油酥角
Makes 8 dozen
1½ ounces | 40 g dried black mushrooms
Water, as needed
1 medium | 150 g Yukon Gold potato
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 tablespoon finely minced ginger
|Cut out the rounds of dough|
1 medium | 150 g yellow onion, finely diced
3½ ounces | 100 g winter bamboo shoots, fresh or defrosted, finely diced
2 tablespoons Shaoxing rice wine
2 tablespoons regular soy sauce
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons finely minced yacai preserved vegetable or winter vegetable, optional
Freshly ground black pepper
½ cup | 60 g toasted sesame seeds
4 cups | 600 g all-purpose flour, plus extra for rolling out the dough
1 teaspoon sea salt
¾ cup | 115 g | 1½ sticks unsalted butter, chilled
¾ cup | 120 g white shortening, chilled
About ⅔ cup | 160 ml chilled water
1 large egg lightly beaten with 1 teaspoon water
|Marbles of filling|
1. Start this recipe at least 2 days ahead of time. First make the filling: Soak the mushrooms in cool water overnight. When they are fully plumped up, gently squeeze them dry, remove the stems, and chop the caps into a fine dice. Cut the peeled or unpeeled potato into 1-inch | 2 cm cubes, and boil the chunks until you can flake them with a fork. Drain the potato and mash it.
2. Set a wok over medium heat before adding the sesame oil and butter. When the fat starts to shimmer, add the garlic, ginger, and onion. Stir these around and cook them gently until the onions take on a golden tinge. Add the mushrooms, bamboo shoots, rice wine, soy sauce, sugar, optional yacai, and lots of freshly ground black pepper. Cook these together until the liquid has been absorbed and the vegetables are cooked. Remove the wok from the heat and mix in the mashed potatoes and sesame seeds. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Cool the mixture to room temperature and then chill it.
|Into the freezer they go|
3. Next make the pastry: Mix the flour and salt together in a large bowl or food processor. Cut the butter and shortening into small pieces, toss them with the flour, and then either cut the fats into the flour or pulse them together until the fat is pea-sized or smaller, but be sure not to overwork it. Quickly toss in or pulse in the ice water to form a dough; don’t add any more as soon as you see it sticking together. Turn the dough out onto a smooth work surface. Use the heel of one hand to smear out small handfuls of dough, and use a pastry scraper in the other hand to gather it all up into a mound. Repeat this one more time to turn the fat into flake-forming layers in the dough. Divide the dough into 4 even pieces, shape these into rectangular pillows, wrap in plastic, and chill, preferably overnight, as this will give the flour time to absorb the liquid and the gluten to relax.
4. Working on one piece of dough at a time, lightly sprinkle your work surface and the piece of dough with flour. Roll the dough out until it is about 12 inches | 30 cm square. Use a round 2½ inch | 6 cm cutter to stamp out as many circles as you can. Cover the dough circles with a clean tea towel and repeat with the rest of the dough until you have about 96 pieces. You can combine the raggedy scraps as you go and use those, as well. Store the dough in the refrigerator if your kitchen is hot, and always keep the dough covered to prevent it from drying out and cracking.
5. Have a few baking sheets ready and line them with plastic wrap. Set up your work area with the bowl of filling, a small spoon, a small bowl of cold water, a fork, and a damp towel for wiping your hands as you go. To wrap the turnovers, wet a finger and run it around the edge of a dough circle to help it seal tightly later on, and then set a ¾ inch | 2 cm marble of filling in the center. Close the dough over this to form a half-moon shape. Press the edge closed with your fingers, and then crimp the edge with a fork. Place the finished turnover on a lined sheet. Repeat with the rest of the filling and dough. Try not to allow the unbaked turnovers to touch so that they don’t stick together, and lay another piece of plastic wrap on top if you want to freeze two layers at the same time. Set the sheet in your freezer, and then later on pop the frozen turnovers into a resealable freezer bag.
6. To bake these, place a rack in the center of your oven and set it for 400°F | 200 °C. Line a baking sheet with Silpat, foil, or parchment paper and spray it with oil. Place as many of the frozen turnovers on the pan as you want to serve and brush the tops with the egg glaze. Bake the turnovers for about 12 to 15 minutes, or until golden brown. Serve hot.