So, what have I discovered today? Only one thing really comes to mind: Soba is hard.
I didn’t plan on starting with Soba. I was going to make Udon or an Egg-based Chinese noodle. I mean, I even only have one memory of ever eating Soba! So why, oh why, did I kick off my Asian Noodle-making with Soba, something I have so little experience with and have never really had any interest in? Sigh. I thought that it would be convenient and easy.
Thinking back on it, to that instant where I decided to try it, I have a hard time believing that that was the real reason. Udon would have been just as convenient! I have all the ingredients, too. I guess I just thought that it’d be a two-for-one since I’m going to make some Buckwheat Crepes tomorrow and I’d get some more use out of the buckwheat flour. Oh how wrong I was. This was neither thrifty (as I’ve wasted flour on my numerous attempts) or easy. See below: they look a bit dry, don’t they? These were from attempt 1.
Luckily, with mistakes and trial-and-error comes experience and enlightenment. Although my final batch of Soba was not perfected, it’s not bad and I now have some tips to share.
Tip 1: Do not let the dough become too dry. This may seem obvious, but on my first batch, I didn’t even realize that it was too dry! Sure, it was cracking a little bit, but I thought that that just came from lack of experience in rolling out the dough. So, if your dough seems a little dry, wet your fingertips a little bit while kneading. That being said, don’t let your dough get too wet, either.
Tip 2: Do not under-knead your dough. Apparently, because buckwheat flour is free of gluten, it doesn’t bind quite the same as wheat flour. You’d think that I would have known this, since I was just working at a bakery! But no, I was not aware of this important fact. There is some wheat flour in the dough as well, but because there is so little, you need to be sure to knead the dough enough so that the flour can attach to itself and form protein chains, or something like that. You couldn’t really tell the difference between uncooked and cooked Soba in my first batch, because it was so mushy and falling apart. It just didn’t stick together.
Tip 3: Use a light coating of starch often, and use starch, not flour, for dusting. The original recipe said to use additional buckwheat flour for dusting between the layers and while rolling out, but this didn’t work too well for me. It still stuck, and I think that it dried out the dough quicker because I was adding so much flour into it.
Tip 4 (more of a note): I don’t know if it was my imagination, but it seemed like the noodles had a better consistency if I refrigerated them (wrapped in plastic/ zip-locked) for a little while before cooking them. Just thought I’d mention it.
Adapted a little from Takashi’s Noodles
2& 1/4 Cups Buckwheat Flour
1/3 Cup All-Purpose Flour
1 Cup Cold Water, plus more if needed
Potato Starch or Cornstarch, for dusting
To make the noodles, sift both Flours into a large bowl. Add 1/2 Cup of the Water and mix well by hand. Slowly add more water and continue mixing until the dough begins to form (it will begin to stick together). The 1 Cup of water is just a guide – you may not need to use all of it or you may need to add more depending on the level of humidity. You want the dough to be smooth and firm, not wet and soft like pizza dough. To see how to mix the dough, watch this video.
After all the water has been incorporated, begin to knead the dough in the bowl. Knead the dough by folding the bottom part over the top and pressing down with your entire body weight. Rotate a quarter turn and continue kneading, working the dough until it becomes smooth and shiny, 5 to 6 minutes total. Test the dough by gently stretching a golf-ball size piece until the dough extends 2 inches before breaking. When you’ve finished kneading, form the dough into a disk and wrap in plastic while you dust a work surface with Potato Starch.
Divide the dough into four pieces. Wrap three pieces in plastic while you work with the other so they won’t become dry. Set one piece of dough on your dusted surface. Press down on the dough with your hands until you form a square, then with a rolling pin, roll it into a thin rectangle at least 18 inches long and 1/16 inch thick. Be sure to rotate and flip the dough every few rolls, dusting with a little starch each time.
Lightly fold to layer the dough into thirds. Gently place a wooden box or straight edge on the dough to use as a guide while cutting the noodles (I did not do this). With a flat knife, cut the layered dough into 1/8 inch-thick strips. Gently shake out the noodles and place them loosely on a plate until ready to use. Repeat with the remaining pieces of dough.
To cook the noodles, place a large pot of water over high heat and bring to a boil. Submerge a metal strainer in the water and add the noodles. Cook for 1 minute or until al dente tender and cooked through but not mushy! Drain and rinse under cold running water to stop the cooking.