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Chinese Red Date Soup Dumplings

Happy Chinese New Year, year of the rooster!  Just like last year when I made Dumpling Candies, this year I am again featuring a sweet spin-off of dumplings!  One of my favorite types of dumplings is soup dumplings, or guantang bao, which are filled with a hot, savory soup and yummy meat filling.  I didn’t grow up eating them often, so the idea of somehow wrapping soup inside of a steamable bun that would hold its shape has always seemed extra fascinating to me.


These soup dumplings are inspired by Chinese red date soup, one of my favorite things to drink on a cold day when I’m craving something sweet.  My particular recipe is a boiled concoction of red dates, longans, goji berries, lotus seeds, ginger, and barley, based on the way my mother used to make it.  It’s sort of like a tea, and it has a number of benefits, one being that red dates promote healthy blood and have detoxifyng and anti-inflammatory properties.
The dried ingredients for this soup can be found at most Asian supermarkets, and in some cases you can find them or a similar combination of ingredients all packaged together in a sort of go-to date soup kit.  My mother occasionally also put in sliced licorice root, but I personally don’t like licorice so I left it out of mine.  There are endless other things you could also throw in, like boiled peanuts, red beans, black rice, lotus root, winter melon, or Chinese white fungus.  I especially like having pearl barley in my soup as I love its chewy, almost tapioca-like texture, which goes great with the bunch of other textures this soup has.

You might be wondering, how on earth does one wrap liquid soup inside of dough without it collapsing into a sticky, sloppy mess?  The answer is gelatin: the soup is first congealed into solid jello that can be cut up or scooped so that it can be wrapped just like any other dumpling filling.  Then when the dumplings are steamed, the jello melts into a delicious soup that’s contained within the sealed dough.  Since gelatin can re-solidify as it cools, it’s best to serve these right after they’re cooked, while their insides are still hot and the soup is liquid.

The dough is thin, tender, and slightly chewy, partly because it’s made using hot water.  Often when I make homemade dumplings my dough ends up too thick and gummy, so this time I tried to roll it out as thinly as I possibly could while keeping it strong enough that my dumplings wouldn’t rupture when steamed.  Though it was super tender, it still wasn’t quite like the delicately thin, glassy skin of dumplings at restaurants or frozen store-bought dumplings when they’re cooked.  I still prefer rolling out my own wrappers, but if you find it easier, you can use store-bought dumpling or wonton wrappers, which may actually yield thinner, softer skin.

Honestly, I was expecting to make these like little, cute xiaolongbao that I could fit onto a dainty Asian soup spoon.  But they turned out to be as big as my palms, so I could only plop them onto a big metal ladle I have.  Still, it looked really neat in these pictures, and albeit not very traditional for Chinese New Year, it definitely tasted great.

Chinese Red Date Soup Dumplings     –     makes approximately 20 dumplings

– 1  1/2 cups dried red dates, seedless

– 1/2 cup dried longan
– 1/3 cup pearl barley
– 1-2 slices ginger
– 6 cups water
– 1/3 cup dried lotus seeds
– 1/2 cup dried goji berries
– 3 tbsp. honey
– 1 tbsp. unflavored gelatin powder
– 3 cups all-purpose flour

– 1 cup warm water
– 2 tsp. vegetable oil
To make the soup:  Rinse the dried dates and place them along with the dried longan, pearl barley, ginger and water into a saucepan over high heat.  Bring the water to a rapid boil, then add in the dried lotus seeds.  Reduce the heat and simmer for 30 to 45 minutes, or until the dates are puffed up and no longer wrinkled.  Add in the dried goji berries, honey, and gelatin powder and cook for 2 more minutes, stirring constantly.  Turn off the heat and allow the soup to cool completely.  Then separate the liquid soup from the solid contents, set the solids aside, and pour the soup into a shallow container.  Refrigerate the soup for at least 2 hours until gelled.
Meanwhile, prepare the dough:  Combine the flour and water in a medium bowl until the mixture just starts to come together, then add in the vegetable oil and knead into a smooth dough, dusting with a little bit of flour if the mixture becomes too sticky.  Form it into a ball, wrap, and allow it to rest for 1 hour.
Roll the dough into a long log about 1.5 inches thick and cut the log into 20 equal portions (or make this easier by dividing the dough in half and making two logs, each divided into 10 portions, if desired).  Dust the ends of each piece with flour, roughly flatten it with your palm, and then roll it into a circle about 4 inches in diameter and 1/8-inch thick or thinner.  Cut the gelled soup into 20 equal pieces, or scoops if it has not set very firmly.  Place one in the center of each rolled dough circle along with a small amount of the solid soup ingredients.  Form it into a bun by pinching together a small section of the dough’s edge, pulling and pinching an adjacent section of dough into it, and continuing in the same direction along the edge of the circle until completely sealed.  
Cut a circle of parchment paper to fit the bottom of a steamer tray.  Fold the circle in half three times and cut small horizontal slits along the fold, about a half-inch apart from each other.  Then unfold the circle, place it into the bottom of a tray of a steamer, and spray it lightly with nonstick cooking spray.  Repeat making more paper liners for the amount of steamer trays you intend to use. (If you plan to cook your dumplings in multiple batches, i.e. “reuse” steamer trays, you can reuse the liners you made; you don’t need to make a new one for each time you use a tray.) 
Place the folded dumplings into the lined steamer and steam them for 8 to 10 minutes.  Remove carefully (hold the dumplings by the dough at the top, and do NOT use metal tongs!) and serve immediately.  Be careful, as the soup is still very hot.

Check out my Dumpling Candies I made for last Chinese New Year!

Check out my Chestnut Glutinous Rice Cake Waffles, inspired by Chinese sticky rice cake!

This post first appeared on Sweet Dreams Recipes, please read the originial post: here

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Chinese Red Date Soup Dumplings


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