Pancakes

An ingenious process transforms flour and water into the light wrappings used for such dishes as Peking Duck, Mu Shu Pork, or Roast Suckling Pig. Stuffed with scallions and fried, they make Onion Cakes, which are positively addictive. The process breaks down into three simple parts: making the dough; flattening chunks of dough into patties and rolling pairs of patties into pancakes; then baking the pancakes in a dry skillet. The pancakes freeze well, so they can be made in advance and used any time. Five minutes in a steamer warms them from room temperature, 10 minutes from a frozen state. Rolling out two pancakes at a time keeps the pancakes thin and moist.

As with other doughs, making pancakes is easy once you acquire the feel. This comes from experience. To get the proper consistency—light but chewy, not as thin as a crepe but not as heavy as a tortilla; thick enough to separate after cooking but not so thick that the pancake overpowers the food it accompanies—practice before the actual meal preparation. You will find your pancakes far superior to store-bought ones. The quantities used here will make twenty to thirty pancakes.

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Ingredients

Preparing Pancake Dough

  • ¾ to 1 cup boiling water
  • 2 cups all-purpose unbleached flour

Method

  1. Stir the boiling water into the flour a little at a time. Some types of flour require more water than others; add just enough to make a lumpy dough.

  2. The dough should just hold together when pressed into a ball.

  3. Knead the dough on a floured board until it is smooth (about 3 to 5 minutes).

  4. Put the ball of dough in a bowl and cover it with a damp cloth. Let it rest at least 30 minutes.

Shaping Pancakes

  1. Knead the dough again for 20 to 30 seconds, just to make sure it is smooth.

  2. With your hands, roll the dough into a log 1½ inches thick.

  3. Cut the dough into 1½-inch chunks.

  4. Roll each chunk into a ball between your palms.

  5. Flatten it into a patty. Repeat with the remaining balls of dough.

  6. Brush one side of a patty with sesame oil.

  7. Align the oiled side with another patty and press them together.

  8. Roll the two pancakes with a rolling pin.

  9. Roll until they are about 5 or 6 inches across.

  10. Alternatively, a tortilla press may be used. Place the unrolled but slightly flattened pair of pancakes in the middle of the lightly floured press.

  11. Flatten the press.

  12. Remove the flattened pancakes. (These are not quite as fine as the hand-rolled type, but they are easier to make perfectly round.

Backing Pancakes

  1. Heat a dry iron skillet (do not grease it) over a moderate flame. When the skillet is hot, put the flattened pair of pancakes in it.

  2. When brown specks begin to appear on the side exposed to the heat, turn over the pancakes, still together. When both sides are lightly specked with brown, remove the pancakes from the heat. Repeat with the remaining pancakes.

  3. When the pancakes are cool enough to handle but still warm, carefully separate them, peeling them apart gently.

  4. Only one side of each pancake is browned. The unbrowned side is still quite tender. Chinese pancakes have a tender and soft texture that’s moist and chewy. To freeze, stack one on top of another, wrap well in plastic wrap, and place in the freezer. They can be steamed from their frozen state, but should be thawed if you plan to deep-fry them.

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