It’s always hard to entice someone to try, let alone spend time to cook something which they share utterly zero cultural or emotional connections with. We are after all, creatures of habits and comforts, and both were properly brought up to not speak to strangers. For this particular reason, one might even call it an excuse, I have been hiding from you one of my all-time favorite pastries.
I’m obsessed with this stuff. But what is it exactly? Even nowadays when Asian is the new Italian culinarily speaking, It’s still so foreign and… “unintroduced” to the western repertoire that there’s no appropriate English-ish vocabulary to name it. What I’m talking about is a Taiwanese pastry called Yutou Su.
Yutou, is taro, simple enough, thank god. But Su, is sort of an umbrella term for a huge varieties of pastries, and in this case, referring to the laminated pastry dough that is stuffed with mashed taro. . The word basically says “crumbly” and “flakey”. And boy, is it a word of its word. I wish I could ask you to think of croissants or pie crusts as a way of culturally bridging you to my side of the gap. But it resembles neither. Its uniqueness lies in its waffer-thin layers, fantastically delicate, almost like the wings of a bee or a single-ply tissue paper, tightly and intimately leaning on one another to form a beautifully spiralling crust that is flakey yet soft, gentle, feminine even. The mildly sweet, smooth-as-butter mashed taro inside only adds to this pastry’s, how do I say, motherly embrace.
But after saying all that, today, I’m not making Youtou Su. I knew that with its unfamiliarity, plus an elusive root vegetable as a main ingredient no less, my wish to bring it into your home kitchen and hopefully to stay would walk into wall of polite rejections. I knew I’ll need another way in, a gateway drug, perhaps a trojan horse wrapped in the costume of one of America’s most highly participated holiday. Yes, the Halloween.
What used to be a swirl of pastel purple is now a raging tornado of spooky black and dark orange. Where used to be taro is replaced by a smooth pumpkin paste with a centre of gooey melted cheese thrown in for good measure. It works. Sweet pumpkin seemed to have long desired the company of the sharpness of cheddar, and the loud costume didn’t talk over the delicate nature of the pastry.
It’s different from the original, to say the least, but no less delicious. And dare I say, a lot more fun.
Technique adapted from Qiong Cooking
- 1 Japanese/Korean Kent pumpkin or 2 cans of pumpkin puree (see note*)
- 12 bite-size cubes of American cheddar cheese
- 1 1/4 cup minus 1 tbsp (150 grams) all-purpose flour
- 4 tbsp (55 grams) lard (yield better result) or unsalted butter
- 2 tbsp (30 grams) granulated sugar
- 1/8 tsp fine sea salt
- 1/4 cup (60 grams) water
- 3/4 cup (96 grams) all-purpose flour
- 4 tbsp (55 grams) lard (yield better result) or unsalted butter
- Black and orange food dye (see note**)
- START THE DAY BEFORE: We want to prepare the pumpkin filling and the water dough the day ahead or up to 3 days before serving. To make the filling, you can either start from fresh pumpkins or canned pumpkin puree. Make sure you choose a low-moisture pumpkin such as Japanese/Korean Kent pumpkin (the video demo shows what it looks like). Peel and remove the seeds, then cut into 1/2-inch small pieces. Scatter on a baking rack and bake in a 270 F/130 C FAN-ON or 300 F/150 C NO-FAN oven for about 1 to 1:30 hour, until the pieces have lost about 1/2 of their original volume and look shrivelled up. Blend with an immersion blender or food-processor until smooth and sweeten with light brown sugar to your liking. The puree should be very thick, more paste-like than puree. To use canned pumpkin, evenly spread the puree on a baking sheet, then bake under the same temperature for about 1 hour, until it has lost 1/2 of its volume. Blend again to make it smooth and sweeten with light brown sugar as needed. Store in the fridge until needed.
- MAKE THE WATER-DOUGH: At least one day ahead of time, knead all the ingredients for water dough for about 5 minutes, until supple, soft and smooth. Wrap in plastic wrap and let sit in the fridge at least overnight or up to 3 days to allow gluten to further develop. It can be used straight from the fridge when needed.
- ON THE DAY OF SERVING: With an ice-cream scoop about 3 tbsp in total volume, make a scoop of pumpkin paste and press a bite-size piece of cheese in the middle. Level out the top and release it onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Repeat until you have 12 scoops. Transfer into the freezer to let it harden slightly before use, but do not let them completely freeze (cheese doesn't freeze well).
- MAKE FAT/OIL DOUGH: In a bowl, knead together AP flour and lard or unsalted butter until smooth. Divide the dough in 2 equal portions, then color 1 portion with black food dye, and the other with orange food dye. How much to use will depend on the dye you're using, so add a little bit as you go until you reach the desired shade. Then roll each colored dough into a log and divide into 12 equal portions each, and shape into little tubular nubs (like in the video). You'll have 12 nubs of black, and 12 nubs of orange. Set aside.
- SHAPE THE PASTRY: Take the water-dough out of the fridge and divide into 6 equal portions. Shape into a ball, and set aside each in the CHRONOLOGICAL ORDER they are handled. Cover loosely with plastic wrap. Go back to the first water-dough ball, roll it out into a 3"x4" (8x10 cm) oval shape, then place 1 black tube, then 1 orange, then 1 black then another orange side by side in the center of the oval. Bring the water-dough together to wrap the colored-dough inside and pinch the seams to tightly close it. Gently flatten it down slightly, then place it back to its chronological order. Repeat with the 2nd water-dough, so on so forth until all 6 are done.
- Now go back to the first dough you worked with, turn it so the alignment of the colored dough is perpendicular to you. Roll it out, with even pressure on both hands, into a long oval that is 1 feet/30 cm long, not longer (or you risk losing the layers). If there are excess white dough at each ends of the oval, trim it off. Then roll it from one end to the other into a little cigar. Place it back to its chronological order. Repeat with the 2nd dough, so on so forth until all 6 are done.
- Now go back to the first cigar, place it perpendicular to you, then roll it out again into a 1 feet/30 cm oval. Fold it onto itself length wise (now you'll have a really skinny strip), then gently roll it again just to enclose the fold. If the strip gets slightly longer then 1feet/30 cm, it's ok, but no more than by 1 inch/3 cm. If there are excess white dough on each ends, trim it off. Roll it from one end to the other into a tight snail, then put it back where it belongs, and repeat until all 6 are done.
- Go back to the first snail. With a sharp knife, slice the snail right down the middle into equal 2 disks. Place the cut-side down, then roll it out into 4 inch/10 cm wide circle, keeping the centre of the spiral in the middle. Place a filling (straight from the freezer is fine) in the middle, with the round side facing down, then bring the dough together and pinch to enclose. Set aside on a parchment-lined baking sheet, and repeat until you're done with all 12.
- Preheat the oven on 340 F/170 C (meanwhile keep the pastries in the fridge), then bake *on the lowest rack (to prevent top browning) for 25 minutes. Let cool on a cooling rack for 15 minutes before serving.
* If you want to start with fresh pumpkins, it's important that you use a low-moisture variety like Japanese/Korean, aka Kent pumpkin. They are small in size with a very sweet, flavorful flesh. But if you don't care about the filling being orange, you could also use chestnut puree, taro puree, lentil puree as fillings.
** You can use both natural or artificial, powder or liquid food colorings. It's totally up to you.