A Taste of Tiger Hill, Pastry from a Lost Foodie Paradise
China is the home of culinary tourism. Centuries before Lonely Planet published its first travel guide, Chinese writers made a habit of recording and sharing their notes on the best places to eat on the road.
Now a virtual suburb of Shanghai, Suzhou was once a cultural, commercial, and culinary center in its own right. Historian Joanna Waley-Cohen tells that Emperor Qianlong (1711-1799) developed an affinity for Suzhou’s food and hired the city’s top chef for his personal kitchen. One district, Tiger Hill, may well have been the world’s earliest foodie destination. It boasted outstanding restaurants and teahouses, where travelers feasted on shark’s fin, braised pork, wok-cooked shrimp, and a wide variety of pastries.
The following recipe comes from the foodie enclave and dates to the seventeenth century. But the name points to a deeper history, reaching back to China’s wheat-growing region in the medieval northwest. All the same, the pastry would have fit in with Suzhou’s food offerings. Suzhou natives have long been masters at making Northern styled wheat products like chewy noodles and hearty pastries. For more about Suzhou cuisine, check out Jin Feng’s Tasting Paradise on Earth (2019).
Sweet, rich, and elegant, the pastry is a cross between a croissant and scallion pancake. You need only three ingredients: flour, water, and sugar. The recipe, though, is mildly labor intensive to prepare. You must laminate and fold the dough seven times, and then cook it on a griddle. Hence, the thousand, flaky layers.
A Thousand-Layered Oil Rolled Pastry from the Jin Palace
Flour, 1 ¼ cup
Sugar, 1 ¼ teaspoon (more, if you like it sweet)
Toasted sesame oil, 2 ⅔ tablespoons, plus more for brushing
Salt, a pinch (optional)
Boiling water, ½ cup plus 2 tablespoons
1. Mix flour and sugar with salt if using.
2. Incorporate boiling water.
3. Knead in sesame oil and let the dough sit covered for 20 minutes (this will relax the gluten).
4. Roll out the dough on a dusted surface, and brush with sesame oil. Go easy, because you will repeat the process six more times.
5. Roll the dough like a cigar, then roll the cigar into a spiral (see picture).
6. Flatten the spiral into a disc with rolling pin. Repeat the process six times.
7. Add vegetable oil to a hot pan, and fry the pastry like a pancake, until golden. Flip and repeat.