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learning and teaching

Recipe: chinese turnip pastries

A small pulse of winter weather delivered some snow to our local hill last week. Three inches does not a powder day make, but we had a lovely time nonetheless because the air was completely calm. Our typically scoured high peaks were all sporting beautiful blankets of snow that morning. Snowflakes floated through the air, glistening in the sun. I love me a sun shower, but sun snow is one of the best things ever.

the view from my favorite run at eldora (muleshoe)

sun snow!

Trent mentioned that he was taking his 3-year old to the local hill for her first ski day this past weekend and asked if we were planning to go. Jeremy and I are what you would call spoiled brats. We don’t go to ski resorts on weekends unless there is a foot of fresh powder. But… I thought it would be nice to offer our moral support and it’s been a while since I’ve brought my camera (as opposed to my iphone) with me to the slopes. We rode the magic carpet (I’ve never ridden the magic carpet with skis before), we skied the bunny hill, and we shouted encouragement to little Paloma. It’s a lot for a little one to take in – all of the commotion, this strange form of travel (skis), people yard-saling it left and right, potty breaks, snacks, and trying to learn to ski on top of all that. She did so well! I have to say that Trent gets major points for being so patient, caring for his little girl in this new-to-her environment while teaching her the fundamentals of skiing, and ensuring she has fun.

trent teaching pizza (wedge) while paloma goes straight to french fries (parallel)

proud dad watches as she takes off on her own

skiing is FUN!

Watching my friends interact with and teach their children is fascinating. It simultaneously impresses and terrifies me. Impresses, because my friends are amazing parents with infinite patience and dedication. Terrifies, because I don’t know what to do with kids outside the realm of “fun auntie”. They cry and I immediately surrender. And because it’s so much work, it makes me realize all the more how wonderful my parents and grandma were to me in my youth.

As Chinese New Year approaches, I’ve been thinking a lot about Grandma. I sure do miss her and all of the little special things about our visits together. She had a friend who made these delectable savory turnip pastries, and whenever I came to see Grandma in California, she’d have bought several of these pastries for me. My aunt and I tried to analyze and reverse engineer how to make them on one visit and Grandma waved her hand at us and said, “It’s quite complicated.” But after making the egg custard tarts, I decided to give the savory turnip pastries a go.

start with chinese sausages

salt, daikon radish, chinese sausage, sesame oil, pepper

Chinese sausage is made with pork and it is both sweet and savory. Fresh out of the package it is pretty hard, but we typically steam it for 15 minutes and serve it sliced. You should be able to find it in an Asian market, but if you can’t, feel free to substitute ground pork or bacon (mmmm, bacon). For this recipe, I steamed the sausages first before dicing them up, mostly because my parents said to (I consulted with them on the phone) and not a one of us knew what we were doing. While that creates a leaner filling, I think it also makes for a less flavorful filling. So if you want lean, steam the sausage first. Otherwise I suggest dicing it uncooked.

steam the sausage

chop it up into little bits

Daikon radish can be found in Asian markets, but more and more they are showing up in western grocery stores. I like that I can source organic daikon from my Whole Foods. If you don’t have daikon available, try using turnips. The original recipe I referenced called for a pound of daikon, but my first go at this left me wanting for more radish in my filling. I opted for two pounds on my second trial. It sounds like a lot, but it ends up being much less after salting the shredded radish and then squeezing the liquid out.

fine shredding the daikon

sprinkle salt over it and let it sit for 15 minutes

squeeze the liquid out

Sauté the uncooked sausage to render the fat and save a couple of tablespoons of that fat to sauté the turnip. Add the sausage back to the turnip and then mix in the sesame oil and pepper. You may want to add a little salt to taste. I find the turnip pastry tastes better to me if the filling isn’t under-salted. Make the filling first to allow it time to cool. Make it a day or two ahead if you need to split up the process.

add sausage to the sautéed turnip

stir in the sesame oil

let the filling cool

The dough is the same dough from the egg custard tarts – a water dough and a fat dough. But I discovered during my Chinese turnip pastry research that there are different ways to handle the dough to result in different pretty pastry patterns. The standard way is to roll the dough out just like I did for the egg custard tarts (20 balls of fat dough and 20 pieces of water dough). Here, I’m going to show you how to make the other two patterns, but most of the steps are the same as making the standard dough except you make 10 balls of fat dough and water dough instead of 20.

ten pieces of fat dough instead of twenty

roll out 10 pieces of the water dough (instead of 20)

wrap the fat dough in the water dough

flatten the dough package and roll in out into an oblong oval

roll it up

turn 90 degrees and use a rolling pin to roll it out

The two additional patterns are spiral and parallel and it’s really cool how you get them. Once you have the final roll of layered dough, you cut it in half with a sharp knife. If you cut it with the spiral ends on either side of the knife, you end up with a spiral pattern in cross section. If you turn it 90 degrees and cut the roll in half so that you bisect the spiral ends, you get a parallel pattern in cross section. The key is to place the cut side down on your work surface and roll the dough out to 1/8 inch thickness.

the final roll

slicing to make spirals

cross section of the roll and rolled out (spiral)

slicing to make parallel pattern

cross section of parallel

rolled out

Don’t worry if the edges aren’t perfect – they are going to get pinched off anyway. Once your dough is rolled out to about 4 inches in diameter, place the dough with bottom side (the cut side) down in your palm. This ensures the pretty pattern is on the outside… otherwise it’s a lot of work for naught. I found it helps to pinch the edges of the dough to half the thickness of the center dough – because you’re gathering the dough to close the pastry and who wants to bite a giant wad of dough? Fill the center with 1-2 tablespoons of filling and then fold, crimp, or gather the edges up around the filling and seal it together at the top, squeezing out any gaps. Twist the excess dough off.

1 or 2 tablespoons of the filling

fold the dough up around the filling

pinch off the excess dough

the three patterns (left to right): standard, spiral, parallel

Now, I know that baking is healthier, but I’m here to tell you that frying tastes better (duh). Not only that, I baked the first batch and found the dough to be heavy and not especially compelling. I tend to be conservative when it comes to oil, so I fried the pastries in about 1.5 inches of oil and flipped them after 4 minutes until golden. That means the pretty pattern sat on the bottom of the pan which probably discouraged some fluffing up of the layers and this also left a brown spot where the pastry was in contact with the hot pan. I think for the prettiest results, you want to fry these in enough oil so they float.


fried golden and flaky

Having tried this recipe twice, I think it’s important to roll your dough out to at least 1/8 inch thickness or less, but not more. If the dough is too thick, it overwhelms the entire pastry rather than complementing the savory filling. And definitely fry the pastries, although you are welcome to bake them if you desire. These should be delicate, flaky, and tasty. Alternatively, if you trend toward sweet treats you can use a sweet red bean paste filling instead of the turnip filling. I like these very much, but they aren’t quite as good as the ones Grandma would feed me. I’m still working on trying to get there, but I have a feeling the missing ingredient might be Grandma’s love.

a golden savory snack

filled with goodies

Chinese Turnip Pastries
[print recipe]
modified from Chinese Snacks by Huan Su-Huei (Wei-Chuan Cooking School)

1-2 lbs. daikon radish (depending on how much radish you want versus sausage)
1-2 tsps salt (scale with the amount of daikon radish)
4 oz. Chinese sausage, bacon, or ground pork
2 tsps sesame oil
1/2 tsp pepper

water dough
2 cups all-purpose flour
5 tbsps shortening or lard
10 tbsps (5 oz.) water
1/4 tsp salt

fat dough
1 cup all-purpose flour
5 tbsps shortening or lard

Make the filling: Peel and fine shred the daikon radish. Place the shredded radish in a bowl and sprinkle the salt over the radish. Let stand 15 minutes. Squeeze all of the liquid from the radish. Discard the liquid. Fine dice or chop the sausage, if using. Cook the sausage (or bacon or pork) over medium high heat in a pan to render the fat (a few minutes). Remove the cooked meat to a bowl. Keep about 2 tablespoons of the fat in the pan and discard the rest. Sauté the radish in the fat over medium high heat for 2-3 minutes. Add the sausage and stir-fry for 30 seconds. Turn off the heat. Stir in the sesame oil and pepper. Let cool.

Prepare the water dough: Mix all of the water dough ingredients in a bowl. Knead until smooth (took me a few minutes). Let stand 20 minutes covered with a damp paper towel. Roll the dough into one or two logs and cut into 20 equal pieces if making the standard pastry dough and 10 equal pieces if making spiral or parallel layered pastry dough. Cover with a damp paper towel.

Prepare the fat dough: Mix the flour and fat together until smooth. This dough will be crumbly compared to the water dough. Divide into 20 equal pieces if making standard pastry dough and 10 equal pieces is making spiral or parallel layered pastry dough, and roll each piece into a ball.

Make the pastry dough: Take one piece of the water dough and flatten it into a circle with your palm. Roll the dough into a small disk about 3-inches in diameter. Place one ball of the fat dough in the center of the disk and wrap the ball completely with the water dough to make a ball. Place the gathers on the bottom and press the ball with your palm to flatten. Use a rolling pin to roll the dough into an oblong rectangular shape (it won’t be a rectangle, it’s okay) about 4 or 5 inches long for standard pastry dough, 6-7 inches long for spiral or parallel layered pastry dough. Roll the dough up like a carpet from one end. Turn the dough 90 degrees. Flatten the dough with your palm and roll it out into another rectangle about 4 or 5 inches long for standard pastry dough, 6-7 inches long for spiral or parallel layered pastry dough. Roll the dough up like a carpet again from one end. You should now have a somewhat squat package of dough. Proceed according to the style of pastry dough you want.

For standard pastry dough: Flatten the dough once more, but this time roll it out evenly into a circle or square at least 4-inches in diameter and thinner at the edges. Place 1-2 tablespoons of filling in the center of the dough circle and gather the edges up around the filling and pinch them together at the top, twisting to seal the dough together and twist off the excess dough (discard).

For spiral layered pastry dough: Using a sharp knife, cut the package of rolled up dough in half such that the spirals are to the right and the left of the knife. The cross-section of the dough should be a spiral pattern. Turn the cut-side down on your work surface and flatten it with the palm of your hand. Roll the dough out to at least 4-inches in diameter and thinner at the edges. Place 1-2 tablespoons of filling in the center of the top of the dough circle (you want the pattern to be on the outside) and gather the edges up around the filling and pinch them together at the top, twisting to seal the dough together and twist off the excess dough (discard).

For parallel layered pastry dough: Using a sharp knife, cut the package of rolled up dough in half such that the knife bisects the spirals into semi-circles. Essentially the knife should cut from one open end f the dough roll to the other. The cross-section of the dough should be a bunch of parallel layers. Turn the cut-side down on your work surface and flatten it with the palm of your hand. Roll the dough out to at least 4-inches in diameter and thinner at the edges. Place 1-2 tablespoons of filling in the center of the top of the dough circle (you want the pattern to be on the outside) and gather the edges up around the filling and pinch them together at the top, twisting to seal the dough together and twist off the excess dough (discard).

Fry the pastries: Heat 3-4 inches of vegetable oil in a large pan for frying. When the temperature reaches 350°F, carefully add the pastries. Fry until the bottoms are golden (about 3-4 minutes) then flip and fry another 3 minutes until golden. Remove from oil, drain on paper towels, and serve warm. Makes 20.

more goodness from the use real butter archives

chinese egg custard tarts chinese curried beef pastries mandarin pancakes (mushu shells) chinese sweet red bean (adzuki) steamed buns

10 nibbles at “learning and teaching”

  1. Eva @ Eva Bakes says:

    I used to love eating these as a child. It’s comforting to know that they aren’t that difficult to make. I am sure your grandmother would be proud of you!

  2. Susanne says:

    Wow, I am so impressed! Those look delicious.
    Love is undoubtedly a major ingredient in cooking and art – I always see it in your photos!

  3. Margie says:

    Heavenly! Those pastries are simply beautiful; thank you for teaching me a new technique.

    These sounds extra scrumptious. My mouth is watering, but your food pics always have that affect on me. :)

  4. Abbe@This is How I Cook says:

    I never knew that turnip and daikon were considered the same. Love this! I’m a lover of dim sum so learning this and how to do it is totally intriguing! Thanks. And nothing is ever as good as Grandma’s! Now I’m on my third captcha and then I give up!

  5. Kristin says:

    They are beautiful! So, do you know if the salted turnip in pad thai really radish too?

  6. jill says:

    Parenting is the hardest job in the world. I love the pizza/french fries. When I learned to ski in Wisconsin, they just yelled…there was no food reference or I would have understood!

    These look absolutely delicious…way too many steps for me!

  7. Heather says:

    The snow actually looks great! We haven’t gotten to head up skiing yet this year, but I think we will in a few weekends. Jason’s going this weekend, but isn’t taking the kids this time. You going to be up in CB the first weekend in March? That’s our annual ski trip weekend, and it would be fun to get together (maybe even Ski Monarch with us and the kids?). Costco has Monarch 3 packs for $112 right now, and I’m pretty sure you would love Mirkwood. CB just isn’t kid/family friendly, so that’s a no go for us. Let us know!

  8. Jess says:

    I have to share a tip for a beginner skier :-) my daughter started last year at age 4 and was having quite the time keeping that snowplow shape. Her instructor introduced us to the edge-wedge thing – so handy. With that little contraption my lil one was up and down with no issues at all! She seemed to be getting really frustrated until the magic little contraption was used, this year she started out great, but as her legs get tired later in the day she asks to have it clipped on :-) an awesome lil invention.

  9. Kate in New York says:

    First, WOW. These are beautiful. I’ve never thought to use daikon in a pastry before… I always end up braising it or pickling it. I can imagine how wonderful these must be, how salty and flaky-crunchy and juicy. Thanks for sharing these… and your writing about your friends and family, too.

  10. jenyu says:

    Eva – thanks, I think she would have been amused and surprised :)

    Susanne – thank you!

    Margie – ;)

    Abbe – actually, I think they’re different, but all of the recipes I found called for daikon radish and then called them turnip pastries. Perhaps a problem in translation in the Chinese? Sorry about the captcha, I hate that thing…

    Kristin – I think Chinese people use radish and turnip interchangeably. Not that I can make ANY sense of it! ;)

    jill – ha ha!

    Heather – I don’t think we’ll be out there as Jeremy has travel and I have stuff going on. Have fun!!

    Jess – that is so cute!! I may have some adult onset skier friends who could use that ;)

    Kate – thanks :)

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