Asian Pancakes (Beijing Pancakes)

Asian Pancakes

Also called Beijing Pancakes, Mandarin Pancakes, or Moo Shu Pancakes, these tasty wrappers are not actually pancakes at all. At least not what we think of as pancakes in the United States. They’re not made with a batter, but with a simple, unyeasted flour and water dough that is cut into golf ball-size pieces and then rolled as thinly as possible to form transparent disks.

Asian Pancake Dough

That sounds fairly basic, but the water is boiling when it’s added to the flour, and that changes the whole dynamic. The boiling water dramatically transforms the texture of the flour, expanding and “cooking” the starch molecules. The uncooked dough has a pillowy texture—some cooks describe it as an “earlobe” texture. You end up with flatbread wrappers that are translucent, tender, and chewy. The wrappers can be completely uniform in shape–if you cut the rolled dough with a large biscuit cutter or other sharp-edged round object–or charmingly irregular–if you leave them just as you roll them (my preference).

TIP   If you do want uniformly shaped wrappers, it’s easier to roll a quarter of the dough at a time and then cut disks from it.

Asian Pancake Shaping Step 1

Perhaps the most traditional way to shape this dough is to layer two rolled disks of dough with a coating of sesame oil sandwiched between the disks and then roll again as thinly as possible. The disks are then fried for a minute on each side, cooled briefly, and pulled apart into two incredibly thin disks. You will also see recipes that add slivered green onion to the middle of the sandwich.

TIP   If you choose the layered dough route, roll one sheet of dough very thinly, slather with sesame oil, top with another sheet of thinly rolled dough, roll the two sheets together very thinly, and then cut the disks. Much easier than layering individual disks of dough.

Asian Pancake Shaping Step 2

But I’m taking a simpler route here, namely, no layering, with each single disk rolled as thinly as possible. Getting that right is enough for your first few adventures with this dough. And the result will please you to such a degree that you may never feel compelled to advance to the slightly more advanced method. (I’ve tried both methods and prefer the ease and chewy texture of the unlayered, slightly thicker pancake.)

Asian Pancake Shaping Step 3

Now, what to do with these pancakes after you make them? Remember, they are wrappers. You can put just about any cooked meats or raw veggies inside. That’s why I think of them as Asian Tacos. My favorite Southwest Tacos have layers of flavor, so that’s what I like to do with Asian Tacos as well: grilled, roasted, sautéed, or battered and deep-fried protein of some sort, plus crunchy diced or julienned veggies, plus shredded greens, plus fragrant herbs, plus a killer sauce, or two, or three. How does that sound to you?

Or, you can take the traditional route: slather them with Hoisin Sauce, and fill them with Moo Shu Pork. The possibilities are nearly endless. I’ll present a few of my new creations in future posts.

Frying Asian Pancakes

But for now, let’s focus on the pancakes themselves. For your first attempt, I suggest a leisurely afternoon and the wafting sound of an Asian flute playing in the background. This is not a get-it-done-fast dish. But it’s not difficult either, and the results far outweigh the small amount of effort involved.

Asian Pancakes Stacked

Asian Pancakes (Beijing Pancakes | Mandarin Pancakes | Moo Shu Pancakes)

2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

1 cup water, brought to a boil
2 tablespoons roasted sesame oil

½ teaspoon fine sea salt

vegetable oil for kneading and shaping

2 tablespoons vegetable oil mixed with 1 tablespoon roasted sesame oil, for frying

  1. To prepare the dough, in a large bowl, add the flour.
  2. In a 2-cup glass measuring cup with a pouring spout, whisk together the hot water, sesame oil, and salt.
  3. Pour the water mixture over the flour, and stir with a wooden spoon to form a shaggy mass.
  4. To knead the dough, when cool enough to handle, turn dough out onto a lightly floured countertop, oil your hands, and knead until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes. If the dough is sticky, sprinkle with flour as needed.
  5. To rest the dough, put into an oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let rest at room temperature for  at least 30 minutes and as long as 3 hours. If you need to hold the dough longer, refrigerate.
  6. To shape the pancakes, turn the dough out onto the clean, lightly floured countertop and roll with your hands to a 16-inch long, 1-inch diameter rope. Cut the rope into sixteen, 1-inch length pieces. Cut each piece in half. You now have 32 pieces of dough, each weighing about 5/8 ounce. Roll each piece into a 1-inch diameter ball.
  7. Using  a small rolling pin (1″ by 11″–available in Asian markets), roll out each dough ball as thinly as possible to a 5-inch diameter disk. You won’t get perfect disks, but that makes your pancakes all the more appealing.
  8. Stack pancakes on a plate as you complete each one. To prevent pancakes from sticking to each other, layer with plastic wrap.
  9. To fry the pancakes, heat an 8- or 10-inch, non-stick skillet over medium heat.
  10. Using a silicon brush, lightly coat the surface of the pan with the combine vegetable and sesame oil. Sauté one pancake at a time until barely golden and dry on both sides—about 1 minute on each side. Don’t overcook the pancakes or they will be brittle. Experiment with the first few, adjusting the heat as necessary, until you get the heat and timing just right. Brush the pan with oil repeatedly as needed.
  11. To store the pancakes, wrap pancakes in foil (to keep them moist) until ready to use. You can also make them ahead and refrigerate. They keep for days. Reheat briefly in the oven (wrapped in foil) or microwave before eating.

Makes thirty-two, 5-inch pancakes.

More Asian-Inspired Recipes from LunaCafe

Cookin’ with Gas (inspired recipes from around the web)

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