Spring Onion Pancakes (葱油饼)

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Spring onion pancakes – 葱油饼 – are a common street food in China and Taiwan. Available any time of the day, they're particularly popular for breakfast.

Contrary to its name, spring onion pancakes are an unleavened, fried bread, not pancakes. And "葱油饼", strictly speaking, means spring onion oil pancake. But I guess it's good marketing to omit the word "oil"!

A good 葱油饼, best enjoyed hot from the pan, is crispy and flakey outside whilst the inside is chewy, interspersed layers of dough and spring onions.

There're only four ingredients – flour, spring onions, oil and salt – but when done well, freshly fried spring onion pancakes are absolutely delicious, especially when they're washed down with sweet soya bean milk or teh halia.

(Recipe for 8 pieces)

350 g plain flour (2½ cups)
2 tsp salt
6 tbsp vegetable oil
120 g thinly sliced spring onions (aka scallions and green onions) (1 cup)

The quality of spring onions is crucial. If you can't get good spring onions, don't bother making 葱油饼! The small, thin ones (leaves about ½ cm wide or less) with purple stems are my favourite. Rarely find these in supermarkets, btw.

Place flour in a big mixing bowl. Dissolve 1 tsp salt in ½ cup (120 ml) just boiled water. Drizzle over flour. Stir till well mixed. Add ¼ cup room temperature water. Knead till smooth, 10 minutes or so. Dough should be tacky but not enough to stick to hands. If too dry, wet hands once or twice whilst kneading. If sticky, sprinkle with some flour. When dough is smooth, roll into a ball with edges tucked underneath. Cover and set aside to rest for 30 minutes.

Divide dough into 8 pieces. Dust work surface with flour, sparingly. Roll each piece of dough into a ball. Flatten with palm. Roll out as thinly as possible. Any shape is ok. If you want it thinner, stretch carefully after rolling. Not too much though, or the dough would break when it's rolled out with spring onions. Brush dough surface with about ½ tsp vegetable oil, leaving ½ cm  margin around edges. Sprinkle with fine salt to taste, a large pinch or about 1/8 tsp. Sprinkle with 2 tbsp spring onions, to the edges. Roll up like a Swiss roll, tightly. Pinch edges to seal. Twirl dough so that it looks like a snake coiled up. Flatten top down with palm. Roll out gently into a thin layer, pressing the middle harder and the edges more gently. This allows the edges to puff up more when fried, thus making the inside layers more distinct and flakey. Try not to break the dough. A few small leaks are ok but everything inside spilling out isn't. Repeat with remaining dough, redusting work surface sparingly when necessary.

When all 8 pieces are ready, pan-fry in hot oil over medium heat till golden brown on both sides. Whilst frying, press middle of pancakes gently to increase contact between dough and pan. Lower heat if oil starts to smoke. There should be a bit of oil floating in the pan at all times. Otherwise, pancakes are toasted, not fried. Do not put too much oil in the pan in one go. Drizzle more as you fry, especially after turning pancakes over.

Drain pancakes on paper towels after frying. Crush between palms to break up layers before serving. Scrumptious when piping hot.

To eat, tear a small piece with your hands or a fork and pop it in your mouth. If you bite into the whole pancake, you'd flatten the layers of dough and destroy the flakiness. The mouthfeel wouldn't be good, and all your hard work would be wasted. I'm serious, not kidding.


Genevieve Ngui said...

i'm hoping to make this today.this is the most detailed recipe ever but i'm glad u wrote it this way cos i'm terrible with anything doughy..and when there are some leaks from the flatten douh i neednt feel bad:)but this feels like the best comfort food on a monday...thanks KT:)

KT said...

Hi Genevieve

It's very important that you use a new bag of flour for the pancakes (kept in the freezer should do too though I haven't tried). In Singapore weather, plain flour kept in an air-tight container outside the fridge for just one week deteriorates so much that the dough tears very badly when it's rolled out with spring onion wrapped inside. Reason (I think): It has lost its ability to stretch because the protein in the flour has deteriorated.

Do not use flour that's not sold in sealed bags. Between the two main brands in supermarts, Prima and Bake King, I prefer the latter. It stretches better, I think, because it's not bleached.

Dusting the pancake with flour as you roll it out is an important step. Done correctly, this helps the pancake crisp up (besides preventing the dough from sticking). But, if the flour is too dry, it would fall off in the oil and burn. Which is no good. If the pancake sits around for too long and the dusted flour becomes too wet, it wouldn't crisp up more than the dough but just makes the outer layer thicker. Which is also no good. ;-)

Sorry to be long-winded but spring onion pancakes are a bit troublesome. Good luck.

BTW, if you make the pancakes without spring onion, that would be a pretty mean roti prata kosong. Don't try it with eggs or meat though; doesn't work.

Genevieve Ngui said...

hey KT...i rolled them out into eight balls like u suggested....but i could only do two pancakes today.i put the rest of the dough in the fridge and hope they behave when i make more ASAP!!!as i was making them i got you when you wrote"Twirl dough so that it looks like a snake coiled up. Flatten top down with palm."...my pancake were alittle hard but i won't complain too much cos it was my first and they do taste nice...i suppose practise makes perfect..:)

KT said...

The inside should be soft and chewy and when you pull, it should stretch a bit before it breaks. If it's hard, the dough needs more HOT water. Let's say total amount of water added is 100 ml. If you split it 80:20 between hot and cold water, the pancake would be softer inside than if you split it, say, 50:50. And the outside would be less crisp but you can rectify that by dusting some dry flour. Adjust till you find the hot to cold ratio that suits your preference and flour (and weather conditions).

If you understand Chinese, here's a good video:


That's part 1; there're 3 parts.


Genevieve Ngui said...

Hey KT...i did two more pancakes for breakfast...they turned out much much better i must say...chewy..but i think i fry it with more oil the next time cos i prefer them crispier.have a nice day:)

Ms.Petite said...

i tried this recipe, and everybody love it!!!! thx!!! =]

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