Chinese New Year is Friday, February 16th this year and it’s going to kick off the Year of the Dog. Neva is particularly excited about this. Actually, she could care less, but I’ll take any excuse to celebrate our lovable canine companions. And who am I fooling? Every year is the year of the dog at our house, right?
fetching on sunny days
playing on snowy days
I had grand plans of pulling off a Chinese New Year’s Eve feast and inviting friends over to celebrate, but something in my head is telling me to lay low and keep things mellow this year. Or maybe I’m simply adjusting to my life being dictated by the schedules of several fermenting foods of late. Whatever it is, I’m trying to keep the stress levels to a minimum and sanity at a maximum.
Okay, maybe sanity at a little less than maximum. See, I always feel compelled to try at least one new Chinese recipe for the Lunar New Year. If you are a fan of Chinese scallion pancakes, these Taiwanese fluffy pancakes or zhua bing are similar, but more fun.
flour, boiling water, cold water, star anise, sichuan peppercorns, sesame seeds, more flour, salt, vegetable oil, chinese five spice, scallions
I didn’t grow up eating this style of pancake, but my parents would sometimes order it as a side dish at Chinese restaurants in the Bay Area when we visited my Grandma in California. Most of the time they arrived plain – made from flour, water, salt, and oil – with concentric layers of hot delicate, crisp-edged dough. I could be mistaken (likely with my poor understanding of Mandarin Chinese), but I always thought zhua bing meant “grab pancake” as in, pull it apart with your hands. This version is flavored with spices, scallions, and sesame seeds.
mix the salt and flour together
mix the boiling water in the center well
stir in the cold water
the dough will be rough and shaggy
knead until smooth and cover with damp cloth for 30 minutes
While the dough rests, make the roux. Start by infusing the oil with the star anise, Sichuan peppercorns, and the whites of the scallions. The recipe said to keep the oil on low heat, but I think mine may have been a little too low. A little simmering of the scallion whites until golden is probably fine and would impart a toastier, nuttier flavor to the oil. Scoop or strain out the solids and stir the flour and Chinese five spice powder into the oil. Don’t cook the mixture, just mix it until it becomes a smooth slurry. Let it cool while you get started shaping the dough.
scallion whites, flour, vegetable oil, star anise, sichuan peppercorns, chinese five spice powder
infuse the oil with scallion whites, star anise, and sichuan peppercorns over low heat
strain the solids
stir the flour and chinese five spice powder into the oil
You can divvy the dough up into fourths, sixths, or eighths. I went with six pieces, but in the future I will probably opt for eight because they are more manageable that way. The method calls for rolling each piece of dough into a long rope, but the fewer pieces you divide the dough into, the longer each rope gets. If you don’t have a long enough work space, you can always work one half at a time. Roll the rope flat into a long ribbon, then brush one side with the roux. Sprinkle salt, sesame seeds, and chopped scallion greens over the ribbon.
prepped for assembly: the roux, chopped scallion greens, salt, sesame seeds
cut the dough into equal-sized pieces
roll each piece into a rope
flatten each rope into a ribbon with a rolling pin
brush a layer of roux on the dough
sprinkle salt, sesame seeds, and scallions over the dough
Starting at one end of the ribbon, roll the dough up and set it on its side so that it looks like a tiny cinnamon roll – except it’s a scallion roll. Flatten the roll with your palm. Just press straight down. It all works out fine. Use a rolling pin to continue flattening the dough to about 1/4-inch thickness, keeping the shape close to a circle. To pan fry the pancake, heat a little oil in a skillet or frying pan. You could use a non-stick pan, but I think the results are better in cast iron or stainless steel. Make sure the pan you are using has a tight-fitting lid. Fry the pancake until the bottom is golden, then add a tablespoon of water to the side of the pan and immediately cover the pan with the lid. This helps to steam the pancake. Remove the lid and repeat pan-frying the other side and steaming the other side. After the second steaming, remove the lid and use chopsticks or tongs to squeeze the sides of the pancake in toward the center. This is supposed to “fluff” the layers apart and give the pancake a three-dimensional shape. I forgot to do this last step and had to fluff my pancakes after the fact – so they were less voluminous than they should have been.
roll the dough up like a snail
stand the roll on its side
press the roll down with your palm
roll it out to a thin circle
pan fry until golden
compress the pancake laterally to separate the layers
Taiwanese fluffy pancakes really are fun to eat. Grabbing a piece and watching it unravel is a lot like how friends share cotton candy, but without all the sugar. And they are as tasty as they are fun to eat. The spices add subtle, earthy flavors throughout the crisp and chewy layers of pancake. These pancakes are the perfect food to be shared and enjoyed with others.
serve the pancakes hot
they make a great snack or side dish
pull apart the layers
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup boiling water
3/4 cup cold water
3 tbsps vegetable oil
4 scallions, whites only, whole
3 whole star anise
1 tbsp Sichuan peppercorns
3 tbsps all-purpose flour
1/8 tsp five spice powder
2 tsps sesame seeds
1/4 cup scallions, green parts, finely chopped
2 tsps salt
Make the dough: Mix the flour and salt together in a large bowl and form a well in the center. Pour the boiling water into the well and stir it into the flour. While still stirring, gradually pour the cold water around the dough. When the dough becomes shaggy, knead the dough by hand for about 5-10 minutes until it comes together as a smooth ball. Cover with a damp cloth and allow the dough to rest for 30 minutes.
Make the roux: Heat the oil in a small saucepan over low heat. Add the scallion whites, anise, and peppercorns to the oil and heat for 10 minutes until the oil becomes fragrant. Strain out the solids and stir the flour and five spice powder into the oil to form a smooth roux. Cool the roux completely.
Make the pancakes: Cut the dough into 4, 6, or 8 equal pieces. Brush your work surface with a light layer of oil. Roll each piece of dough into a long rope. For 6 pieces of dough, my ropes were about 16 inches long. Use a rolling pin to roll a rope into a flat ribbon. Brush a thin layer of roux onto one side of the dough ribbon. Season with salt and sprinkle sesame seeds and chopped scallions over the roux (don’t overdo it). Roll the dough up from one end like a hose. Turn the roll over so a spiral faces up. Flatten the roll with the palm of your hand, then use a rolling pin to roll it into a 1/4-inch thick circle.
Cook the pancakes: Heat a tablespoon of vegetable oil in a skillet (that has a lid) over medium heat. When the oil is hot, set a pancake in the center of the pan and cook until the bottom is golden. With the lid poised over the pan, pour a tablespoon of water down the side of the pan (it will sizzle and splatter) and cover the pan with the lid. Cook for 3 minutes. Repeat the steps for the other side of the pancake. After you remove the lid, allow the pancakes to crisp up in the pan for a minute or two per side. While the pancake is crisping, use chopsticks or tongs to pinch the pancake to encourage the layers to separate and fluff up in a third dimension. Remove from the pan. Repeat for the remaining pancakes. Serves hot. Serves 6-8.
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