How To Make Hand-Pulled Noodles
Without the proper ingredients, it's possible to have dough that will never reach a point where you can pull it. That's a bit disappointing.
I went through over 21 different dough recipes. The good news is I found a proper recipe that works really well. The bad news is I've done all my recipes by weight. That's a little scary, but it's the only way to get a perfect ball of dough every time. If anyone comes across this and wants to try to convert to a volume based recipe, feel free, but I recommend going out and buying a cooking scale. It will save a lot of time if you're planning on committing to learning how to pull noodles.
Ingredients for making hand pulled noodles are relatively simple. You need flour, water, some oil, and a little salt. In addition, you can add some lye water or baking soda, which I'll talk about at the end.
Flour is probably the most troublesome of the ingredients because you have to get your gluten levels just right. The gluten is what makes the dough stretchy. In my experience, too much gluten will result in a dough that will never reach the right texture for pulling. It will tear very early. A proper amount of gluten will result in dough that stretches into hair thin noodles.
In my experience, Asian made flours have a lot less gluten, which makes them good for hand-pulled noodles. However, since those kinds of flours aren't readily available here in the states, we have to use a mix of what we can get. Since most U.S. flour is really high in gluten, we'll mix a little bit of it will something that is really low in gluten: cake flour. So you need some all-purpose flour. Any kind will do. For the record, I use Gold Medal. I've also used King Arthur. For my recipe, I used Softasilk cake flour and Gold Medal All-Purpose flour. These were available at my local Safeway, and you can see them in the images. The nutrition information is here just in case you need it.
If you can't find cake flour in your local market, you can order it on Amazon here:
Water is pretty simple. Water from the tap is just fine. I generally tried to use warm water, as the dough is much easier to work with when it's warm. In my recipes, I use about 31% water.
The purpose of sesame oil in the recipe is for a couple things. The first is flavor. The second, more importantly, is that it gives the dough a bit more springiness when you're trying to stretch it. It's almost like liquid rubberband. Thirdly, it helps keep the dough from sticking to your hands. This means we can make a wetter dough recipe and still knead it easily. I've tried recipes with no sesame oil, recipe with a little, and recipes with a lot. I've had the most success with recipes that have 8-9% sesame oil.
You can use any type of sesame oil. I tried a recipe with a sesame /soy oil that did not work well, so i recommend using 100% sesame oil. The green bottle that's generally available in the ethnic section of a supermarket is good. I've also been successful with random sesame oils from asian markets, too.
Salt is generally for a little more flavor in the noodles. I did, however, try a recipe with 2% salt, and it made the dough very tough (to a point that i couldn't pull it). I recommend about .3% salt (which comes out to 1 gram in my recipe).
Lye Water (or baking soda)
If you read through forums about hand pulled noodles, you'll read about "lye water" and "kansui powder". I was unable to find anything called "kansui powder", but I did find lye water. Most asian markets have it alongside the oil and soy sauce related ingredients.
Lye water is supposed to be the secret ingredient in hand pulled noodles. I've tried recipes with it and without it, and it does not make the dough any easier to pull. In fact, if you use too much of it, you'll make the dough IMPOSSIBLE to pull. Something about the basic nature of it causes the gluten to tighen up.
Adding lye water or baking soda at about 1% (more will ruin the dough) will adjust the texture of the noodles a bit. The flavor is supposed to be slightly different, too, but I haven't noticed a difference.
So how should you combine all these ingredients to make some dough? See Recipe.