Monday, August 6, 2018

DIY boba pearl tea

Unless you’ve been hiding in a cave on the moon for a very long time, you’ve had boba – aka pearl milk tea – and most likely love it a whole lot.

I am, of course, a super huge big fan. These are nicely sweet and flavored by little more than the super dark sugar known as “black sugar” in Chinese. 

They’re chewy in the way the Taiwanese call Q (meaning it sticks to your teeth for a few seconds, but is easily dislodged, creating weirdly comforting jaw snaps). And they have this soft, cuddly exterior that caresses the mouth on the journey from a fat straw into your awaiting gullet.

Now, you can buy dried boba in most Chinese supermarkets, and by and large they’re pretty good. No matter what the brand, you’ll usually be rewarded with a glass full of tasty little balls that look like frog eggs and taste like brown sugar.

However, here is another way to get your boba fix: DIY.

In Taiwan and the golden triangle of its ancestral cuisines – Southern Fujian, Chaozhou, and the Hakka – homemade boba are known as fĕnyuán 粉圓, since only the commercially made ones are, strictly speaking, really boba.

Your ingredients
Fenyuan are the heftier siblings of boba, and unless you are even more obsessive compulsive than me about shaping them into teensy pearls, you won’t be able to suck them up your straw. But even when they’re the size of gingko nut, they offer up lovely texture in exchange for a less than dainty appearance.

They are not hard at all to make, just time consuming to work with until you figure out what the dough is trying to do on your hands, your work surface, and your bowl, which is to escape.

What I really, really like about making my own fenyuan is that this is a really strange and really fun way to play mad scientist in your very own kitchen. Tapioca flour is weird to the nth degree. Check out the video at the bottom there for a preview.

Once you turn this flour into a soft dough, it behaves like quicksilver or the bad guy in Terminator 2: it slips and slides and refuses to do anything but what it wants to do. And this is creepily fun.
Corralled into semi cooperation

As you add a bit of boiled dough and more of the tapioca flour to the raw dough, it begins to settle down, and by the time you’ve formed it into balls, it tends to give up and is resigned to live the rest of its short life as a no longer feral fenyuan.

The plus side is that you get to burn up around five calories in anticipation of downing 200, so there’s that up side. Hurray for obsessive compulsiveness, am I right?

Tapioca flour is available in most Chinese supermarkets. While you’re there, see if they also have black sugar from Taiwan, since it will supply your pearls with a lovely dark luster and a good hit of molasses flavor.

You’ll end up with truly gorgeous fenyuan here… chewy and comforting, and really delicious. Plus, this should give you plenty for your next fix or two. Happy summer!

Little pearls of dough

Homemade tapioca pearls
Zìzhì bōbà 自製波霸
Makes about 1.3 pounds | 530 g

⅔ cup | 100 g black or dark brown sugar, plus more as needed
⅔ cup | 150 ml boiling water, plus more as needed
2 cups plus 5 tablespoons | 275 g tapioca flour, plus more as needed (a 14 ounce | 400 g bag is perfect for this recipe)

1. Place the sugar in a medium work bowl and stir in the boiling water to dissolve the sugar. Add the tapioca flour and mix these together to combine thoroughly. The dough will not be soft at this point, but rather like a stiff clay as the tapioca flour seizes up and acts as if it’s going to misbehave. Don’t worry. We’ll take care of that in the next step.

2. Bring about 2 cups | 500 ml water to a boil in a saucepan. While it’s coming to a boil, nip off an apricot-sized lump of the dough and flatten it into a disc.

3. Drop the dough into the boiling water and wait for it to float, which means that it’s cooked through. This bit of cooked dough will calm the raw dough down for some reason that I can’t quite explain, but there you have it. Chop up the cooked dough into tiny pieces and then add it to the raw dough.

At the very pale stage
4. Knead the cooked and raw dough together in the bowl until well combined, and then turn the dough out onto a work surface lightly dusted with more tapioca flour. It will drool and dribble, but that’s all right. You don’t want it so hard that it cracks, just more or less tamed.

5. Grab a small handful of the dough and shape it out into a small rope of whatever diameter you like – I tend to aim for ¼ inch | 5 mm. Use a pastry scraper or knife to cut the rope into pieces, which I again try to make about ¼ inch | 5 mm in length. Roll these bits into balls and immediately dust them with more tapioca flour, which will prevent them from puddling up. Repeat with the rest of the dough.

6. As you are doing this, some of the bits will fall apart or refuse to cooperate. That’s ok and to be expected, for you are dealing with the most tantrum-prone starch known to mankind. You can deal with this two ways: One is to dab a bit of water on the offending morsel, which it will suck up and then try to slip away, but just roll the thing up and then toss it in the flour. The second is to scoot it over to the big pile of dough and then sprinkle water on the drier bits just before you work with them. This sounds awfully complicated, I know, but once you do it yourself you’ll see that it’s not that hard at all.

7. If you want to keep these tapioca balls for some future feast, line a shallow baking pan with parchment paper or plastic wrap and put the pearls there in a single layer so that they don’t clump up. Freeze and then store them in a resealable freezer bag.

8. To cook them, bring a pan of water to a full boil and slide in as many as you like. Stir the pearls occasionally as the water once again comes to a boil. When most the pearls are floating, cover the pan and reduce the heat. Simmer the pearls for 15 to 30 minutes, depending upon the size. They are ready for the next step as soon as they turn very pale, which means that they have cooked through and are full of itsy bitsy bubbles.

9. Turn off the heat and let the pan sit for another 10 or 15 minutes, by which time the bubbles will have collapsed and you will be left with relatively translucent gummy balls.

10. Have a couple spoonfuls of the sugar ready when you drain these. I’ve tried plunging the pearls into cold water to get them to stop sticking together, but that just makes even more of a godawful mess. So do this instead: drain off the water and immediately toss in the sugar while the pearls are still piping hot. The sugar will form a syrup that soothes their tendency to stick together. And there you have it.

11. The pearls are ready to be turned into something delicious. My favorite is lightly sweetened milk tea of some sort, either hot or cold.  I have a recipe for lychee milk tea in All Under Heaven, but use whatever flavors, milks, teas, coffees, or fruit juices you’d like. You should have a long spoon for this, as (again) straws don’t work with these. Or, spoon them on ice cream, shaved ice, or other desserts that would benefit from a wonderful bit of chewiness.

No comments:

Post a Comment