Learn how to cook the real-deal scallion pancakes that are light and crispy. Video and step-by-step pictures included.
Layered flatbread, pronounced bing (饼) in Chinese, is a staple in northern China. The bread comes in many forms. Beef meat pie and scallion pancakes both belong to this category. The bread resembles croissant. They both uses animal fat to make a layered pastry dough, which yields a crispy, light, and fluffy bread after cooking.
Often listed as a side dish in Chinese restaurant, these pancakes are like a main dish to me. They are so flavorful themselves that I can keep eating them forever, without needing anything else.
Scallion pancakes are one of the dishes I missed the most after moving to the US. Unlike simple stir fries, I seldom cooked them at home and was intimidated by the process. Back in Beijing where I could purchase a freshly made bread at the nearby vegetable market for 50 cents, there is little incentive to make them at home. Only after moving to Austin I realized what a luxury that was.
Now that I have to cook them in my own kitchen, I came across a few problems during cooking. My pancakes always turn out dense and heavy, not nearly close to the light texture I’m looking for.
My mom told me there are two keys to create good pancakes:
- Perfect dough texture that is almost too tender to handle but elastic at the same time.
- Lots of oil as filling.
The first element is the most difficult to meet. When you’re working with a super tender and sticky dough, you need to work very fast to shape it. Below is a video showing you how make scallion pancakes the street vendor’s way. See how tender the dough is – the guy doesn’t even need a rolling pin. For the second rule, I found that when I tried to add more oil to he dough, it seeped out easily and the pancakes ended up tough again.
A few weeks back I received my preordered copy of All Under Heaven – Recipes from the 35 Cuisines of China by Carolyn Phillips.
Flipping through the beautiful book, her scallion pancake recipe caught my eye immediately. A brief scan of the ingredient list, I was sold.
The recipe calls for lard (or shortening), which is the authentic practice.
Many scallion pancakes recipes I’ve read use sesame oil to create the layer. Chinese street vendors and restaurants rarely do this because it’s very pricey and the result not as delicious as using animal fat. Think about making a croissant, you need to use butter instead of vegetable oil for a good reason.
The recipe uses a paste, by combining the oil and flour for the pancake filling instead of brushing oil. It is a great way to stuff more fat into the pancake to create layers.
The other ingredient that intrigued me was Chinese flour. Carolyn pointed out that the all-purpose flour in the US often contains more gluten than the same type of flour in China. If you’re cooking with the same recipe, the one using American all-purpose flour tends to yield a tougher dough. Her solution is to blend 1 part pastry flour with 2 parts all-purpose flour to create Chinese flour, which yields tender bread.
I made a few tweaks when cooking with Carolyn’s recipe.
(1) I added cold water while forming the dough. It is just a method I always use to make hot water dough, so the dough won’t be too sticky and will be easier to work with.
(2) I used chicken fat instead of lard. Chicken fat is the restaurant secret to make the best pancakes. It is like adding a can of condensed chicken soup into the bread, so fragrant and delicious.
(3) I used my own way of storing the pancakes and added information on how cook the frozen pancakes.
(4) When I serve the pancakes, I used the “fluffing pancake” method instead of slicing them, because I love to show how great their texture is.
(5) Lastly, I added more water to the dough, and blended more fat into the bread paste. I might have used more flour than the recipe called for. Plus, the dough texture is largely dependent on the type of flour and many other factors. So changing the water ratio is not a surprise.
The result was as great as I expected. It was the first time in my life that I managed to make scallion pancakes that are light and perfectly layered, restaurant style. The pancakes were flavorful and full of aroma, thanks to the chicken fat. The surface was crispy like chips, and the inside soft and fluffy.
The recipe is easy to follow and guarantees great pancakes the first time you make them. If you want to experience the real-deal Chinese scallion pancakes, this is the right way to do it!
Put an egg on it
One of my favorite ways to serve the pancake is street vendor style – add an egg on top. It makes everything better, right?
To make egg pancakes:
- Cook the pancakes until they’re almost done (or you can heat up leftover pancakes with a bit of oil).
- Add oil and egg on the other side of the pan.
- Sprinkle chopped green onion, a tablespoon shredded cheese on the egg, and pinch of salt.
- Smash the pancake onto the egg. Let cook until the egg is done.
- (Optional) To make a “hot dog”, brush a thin layer of hoisin sauce on the bread, place a piece of lettuce leaf and a sausage on the pancake, and wrap it.
It tastes DIVINE. This is the type of breakfast I’ve ate growing up. Now you understand why I’ve never crave sweets in the morning?
The other traditional way of enjoying scallion pancakes is, serve them with a bowl of millet porridge and a small plate of pickles. A plate of quickly prepared vegetables will be a nice addition too: 4-ingredient fried cabbage, Cantonese Broccoli with Oyster Sauce, Bok Choy with Soy Garlic Sauce, Garlic Spinach in Chicken Broth, and Easy Swiss Chard Stir Fry. You could also serve the pancakes as a side for stews and braised meat, such as beef stew, braised chicken and mushrooms, and braised ribs. But every time I did this at home, we always finished all the pancakes with the stew almost untouched.
These pancakes freeze extremely well once you finish shaping. I always make a few extra and save them for later. If you’re cooking for a party, you can prepare them ahead and cook later. I’ve included information on the storage in the recipe.
Chicken fat is a key ingredient in the recipe. I’m very lucky to find a reliable brand – organic chicken fat from Fatworks. The fat is made from organic free-range chicken and is kettle rendered. It also contains rosemary extract, which makes the fat fragrant. When I opened the jar, the aroma was like a freshly roasted chicken.
You can also use lard in this recipe, which produces a different but tasty flavor. If you want to create vegetarian pancakes, use shortening plus sesame oil (instead of vegetable oil).
I’m partnering with Ten Speed to give away one copy of All Under Heaven – Recipes from the 35 Cuisines of China by Carolyn Phillips to one lucky winner.
Carolyn is a famous food writer, artist, and blogger behind Madame Huang’s Kitchen. She spent 10 years writing and illustrating this epic book that contains more than 300 recipes and many stories. The book covers five regions of China with their signature dishes. I was so excited to see many of my favorite northern dishes in the book, such as rolling donkeys (a dessert) and three fruits of the earth, written in a true and authentic way. This book makes me nostalgic while reading it.
Click HERE to enter the giveaway for a chance to win!
I know how intimidating it is if you’re about to cook these pancakes the first time. So I recorded a short video to help you understand the whole process. Hope you enjoy!
Here are the step-by-step pictures in case you don’t have time to watch the video:
Authentic Chinese Scallion Pancakes (葱油饼)
- 2 1/2 cups (342 grams) Chinese all-purpose flour (*footnote 1), plus more to dust working surface
- 1 cup boiling water
- 1/4 cup cold water (or as needed)
- 1 teaspoon peanut oil (or vegetable oil)
Paste and seasonings
- 1/2 cup (68 grams) Chinese all-purpose flour (*footnote 1)
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 1/2 to 1 teaspoon ground toasted Sichuan peppercorns (Optional)
- 1/4 cup chicken fat (or melt lard, or white shortening)
- 3 tablespoons peanut oil (or vegetable oil)
- 4 green onion , trimmed and very finely chopped (about 2/3 cup)
- Peanut oil (or vegetable oil for frying)
- To make the dough, place the flour in a medium work bowl. Slowly pour in boiling water while stirring clockwise with a pair of chopsticks until large flakes have formed. Add cold water, 1 tablespoon at a time, keep stirring until there is little or no dry flour on the bottom of the bowl. Dust both hands with a thin layer of flour. Press and work the dough flakes together by hand to form a dough ball. The dough should slightly stick to the bowl when you lift it.
- Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board and knead it gently, adding a little extra flour as needed, until the dough is as soft as an earlobe.
- Add a teaspoon of oil to a clean bowl and wipe with paper towel to coat the bowl with oil. Place the dough in the bowl and cover with plastic wrap or a damp towel. Let the dough rest for 20 to 30 minutes.
- While the dough is resting, make a thin paste by mixing together in a small bowl the flour, salt, optional Sichuan peppercorns, chicken fat (lard or shortening), and oil. Set the green onions next to the paste.
- Divide the dough into 6 equal portions and roll each portion into a smooth ball. Working on 1 piece at a time, keeping the other portions covered so that they do not dry out. Use a Chinese rolling pin to roll the ball out into a strip, as thin as you can without tearing the dough, about 45-cm (18-inch) long. Smear one-sixth of the paste on top of the strip and sprinkle one-sixth of the green onions all the way down the strip (footnote 2).
- Roll up the strip from one of the long sides to form a rope, and then pull this rope gently to form a strand 60-cm (24-inch) long. Coil the strand until you have a flat circle, like a cinnamon roll. Repeat with the rest of the dough and paste until you have 6 circles.
- Roll this circle out into a 20-cm (8-inch) disk. Repeat with the rest of the strands until you have 6 disks.
- These pancakes freeze very well. To store, carefully seal uncooked pancakes with plastic wrap and transfer into a large ziplock bag. You can place several pancakes into one bag. Place the bag on a tray and transfer to freezer. Take out the tray once the pancakes are completely frozen. Store in the freezer up to 1 month.
- Heat a flat frying pan over medium-high heat and then film the bottom with oil. As soon as the oil is hot, place a bread in the pan. Cook until the bottom is golden. Flip and cover, until the other side turns golden too. Remove to a plate lined with paper towels and keep the bread warm in a 120 degrees C (250 F) oven for up to 20 minutes.
- Cut each pancake into 6 or so wedges and serve warm.
- To cook frozen pancakes, let pancakes thaw slowly in the fridge. When defrosted completely, unwrap and cook by the same way as fresh pancakes.
- If you have leftover pancakes, heat them up with a bit oil in a skillet, covered, until warmed throughout. The pancakes will remain crispy.
- Chinese flour - In this recipe you will need 2 cups Chinese flour in total. To make the flour, combine 2 cups all-purpose flour and 1 cup pastry (cake) flour and mix well. Scoop out 1/2 cup mixed flour into another bowl for making pancake paste.
- You don’t need to portion out the paste. Place generous amount of paste onto the dough sheet and brush to form a thin even layer that won’t seep out when you roll up the dough. You will find the paste is just enough to make 6 pancakes.