"Northern Chinese eat dumplings on [the Lunar New Year] the way Americans eat turkey on Thanksgiving," Lillian Chou wrote from Beijing. But even though the Lunar New Year is still weeks away, that's no reason not to make these incredibly flavorful little pastries. It takes a bit of practice to get the rolling, forming and filling of the wrapper dough just right, but after you've mastered it, you can make them really quickly. And the shrimp filling comes together in minutes. Hey, if Americans can eat turkey all year-round, there's no reason we can't do the same for dumplings.
Total time: About 1 hour (10 minutes to make the dough, and 50 to assemble and cook the dumplings)
Makes: 3 dozen dumplings, about 6 servings
Note: Bread flour with a moderate amount of gluten, such as widely available Gold Medal, works best to yield tender, yet slightly chewy dough. Unbleached flour produces terrific flavor, but bleached flour imparts a brighter finish that some Asian cooks like. Chinese black vinegar is available at most Asian markets.
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1 1/2 cups (7.75 ounces) bread flour
About ½ cup cold water
About 1 ½ cups shrimp dumpling filling
Chinese black vinegar (such as Shanxi or Chinkiang), as desired, for the dipping sauce
Soy sauce, as desired, for the dipping sauce
Crushed dried hot red pepper, as desired, for the dipping sauce
1. Put flour in a large bowl. Make a well in the center and pour in one-half cup cold water. Slowly stir with chopsticks or a wooden spoon, moving from the center toward the rim, to work in all the flour. (Add more water by the teaspoon until most of the flour is incorporated.) Keep stirring as a ragged, soft mass forms. Then use your fingers to gather and pat the dough together into a ball. Transfer to a work surface and knead for about 5 minutes, until smooth, fingertip-soft and slightly elastic. (You shouldn't need any additional flour on the work surface if the dough was properly made. Keep kneading, and after the first minute or two, the dough shouldn't stick to your fingers. If it does, work in a sprinkling of flour.) Press your finger into the dough; the dough should spring back, with a faint indentation remaining.
2. Transfer dough to a plastic bag and seal and let stand at least 10 minutes, covered.
3. If not using immediately, cover and refrigerate the dough until needed up to 1 day.
4. To wrap the dumplings, divide the dough in half, keeping half wrapped. Transfer the remaining half to a work surface and gently roll into a 12-inch log about three-fourths inch in diameter.
5. Cut the log crosswise into 18 (two-thirds inch) pieces, rolling the log gently between cuts to keep it round. Generously dust the dough with flour to keep the pieces separate, and gently flatten each round piece into a circle using the palm of your hand.
6. Roll each piece into a 2 1/2-inch round wrapper (this is easiest using an Asian dowel-style rolling pin), rolling the outer one-half inch edge very thin, like a tortilla (the center of the circle — a little more than 1 inch — will remain slightly thicker). Use 1 hand to roll the dowel back and forth while the other hand rotates the circle, like a steering wheel, to form the wrapper. Repeat with the remaining pieces, loosely covering each wrapper to keep it from drying out and dusting the wrappers to keep them separated. Repeat with the remaining dough half.