Salt additions above 1 percent by weight of flour resulted in stiff, unforgiving doughs that tore when stretched. (Salt inhibits the activity of natural protease enzymes found in flour. With less salt, these enzymes break down gluten into smaller pieces, leading to a more extensible, easier-to-stretch dough.) Lower-protein flours such as all-purpose flour and cake flour produced noodles that stretched easily, but had too little chew and bite for this style. Bread flour, which is highest in gluten potential of the readily available flours, won out in terms of texture: Chewy, toothsome, and sturdy, these noodles had the best overall texture—but they were much harder to stretch, tearing in spots when I tried to force it.
To solve this issue, I thought about additives. Adding a small amount of vegetable oil to the dough helped considerably. In amounts up to 5 percent by weight of flour, oil lubricated the dough, making for easier stretching without sacrificing the final cooked noodle texture. But even with oil, my dough wasn’t stretching as nicely and effortlessly as I wanted. I needed a more relaxed, less elastic dough.
My breakthrough came with time. In pizza and bread making, resting dough for anywhere between a few hours and a few days allows the well-developed gluten network to relax. How? Elasticity (or the tendency for dough to bounce back after being stretched) diminishes with time because protease enzymes slowly break some of the bonds between gluten proteins. Slowly being the operative word. When I gave my working formula a longer resting period after the initial knead, the dough became increasingly extensible. At 8 hours, the dough was nice, smooth, and decently stretchy. At 12 hours, it was even better. At 24 hours, the dough was nearly perfect: Stretching and pulling was almost effortless, and the cooked noodles’ texture was just as good, if not better, than in previous tests. I finally had a dough that worked.