Tender, supple and very thin, Chinese spring pancakes are made with only two ingredients. Perfect wrapper for any fillings of your choice.
Once I cooked some Chinese spring pancakes (Chun Bing, 春饼), a thin, soft flatbread popular in Northern China, for my guests at a dinner party. They praised me by saying: “Wow, nice tortilla! Looks like we are having Mexican food tonight!” By then I realized they do look and taste similar to Mexican flour tortilla. That evening, everyone enjoyed my “Chinese tortillas” wrapped around various Chinese stir-fry fillings. They were also impressed by its natural taste and simplicity. Today I’d like to show you how to make them with just 2 ingredients.
What are spring pancakes
Spring pancakes are a traditional food for celebrating the beginning of Spring (Li Chun, 立春). In Northern Chinese households, they are actually appreciated all year around . Also known as Duck Pancakes, they are often served as wrappers for the famous Peking roasted duck.
There are two ways to cook spring pancakes: steamed or cooked in a pan. Steamed ones are softer and have a clean, smooth look. Pan-cooked ones are slightly drier and show brown spots on the surface. Sometimes I call the latter “Chinese tortilla” since it gives those who are unfamiliar with it a fairly good idea what it looks and tastes like.
Making the perfect dough
Normally, five key ingredients are required to make Mexican flour tortilla: flour, baking powder, oil (shortening), salt and water. Whereas, Chinese spring pancakes needs only 2 ingredients: flour and water. It couldn’t be simpler. Well-cooked spring pancake are soft, moist and very thin. To achieve the right texture, here are a few tips on making the perfect dough:
- All-purpose flour containing 10-12% of protein works very well for this recipe.
- The ideal flour water ratio by weight should be around 1.5 : 1. However, it might vary slightly depending on the brand of the flour. Adjust accordingly. The finished dough should be soft but not sticky.
- It’s important to use hot water (soon after being boiled). This way the dough is partially “cooked” before rolling, thus it will take less time to cook through in the pan. The pancakes will have a very supple and tender texture. This kind of hot-water dough (烫面) is common for making steamed or pan fried dumplings.
Roll & cook two pancakes at a time
Apart from simple ingredients, spring pancakes are quick to make. For example, my recipe is for making 16 of them, but you only need to cook the rolled out dough 8 times in the pan. Why? Because you can stack two pieces of dough, then roll them out and cook at once. That’s why only one side of my spring pancakes has brown spots on.
At first, you might find it a bit tricky to roll out the dough very thinly. Dusting the work surface and your rolling pin will help a lot. When you get the hang of it, you can try my recommended workflow to speed up the cooking process:
- Cut the dough into equal-sized pieces. Flatten each piece into a round disk. Stack every two of them to form a double-layer dough (brush a little oil in between).
- Roll out the first double-layer dough into a 18cm / 7inch circle. Cook in a heated pan.
- While waiting for the first dough to be cooked (check and flip over when necessary), roll out the second one.
- When the first one is done, transfer it onto a plate then cover with a kitchen towel. Put the second one into the pan. Then roll out the third dough…
- Repeat the procedure with the rest of the dough. When all done, gently separate the double pancakes while they are still hot.
How to serve spring pancakes
Traditionally, they are served with several plates of savoury dishes (usually containing meat, egg, tofu, vegetable, etc.) placed in the middle of the table. Each diner picks up what he/she wants to wrap in the pancakes. The dishes I served the other day were Spicy cumin chicken thighs and green beans, Hot and sour potato stir-fry and Garlic sprout omelette. There are no set rules about how to enjoy spring pancakes. Feel free to use them in the same way as you serve Mexican tortillas, or with anything you fancy as a filling.
How to store & reheat
You may store cooked spring pancakes in air-tight bags in the freezer. After being defrosted in the fridge, you can reheat them in three ways.
- In a microwave: Heat 8 pieces at a time. Place them on a microwave safe plate. Sprinkle a few drops of water on top. Cover with microwave-safe cling film (pierce several times). Cook on full power for 1 minute.
- In an oven: Wrap them in tin foil (ideally in two piles). Put into a preheated oven at 180°C / 350°F. Heat for 6-8 minutes.
- In a steamer: place them onto a plate. Steam for 4-5 minutes.
Easy Chinese spring pancake (春饼)
- 360 g all-purpose flour, about 2.5 cups
- 230 ml hot water, 1 cup
- 2 teaspoon cooking oil, for brushing
Make the dough
- Put flour into a heat proof bowl. Pour in hot water (soon after being boiled). Stir with a pair of chopsticks or a fork until the flour turns into small lumps and no more water can be seen.
- When cool enough to handle, knead the mixture into a soft, smooth dough (see note 1).
- Leave to rest for 30 mins at room temperature (cover to avoid drying out).
Roll the pancakes
- Knead the dough again on a work surface. Then cut it into four equal portions. Roll each portion into a cylinder then divide it into four pieces.
- Flatten each piece with the palm of your hand into a small round disk. Brush the top of one disk with a little oil, then place another disk on top.
- With a rolling pin, roll these 2 disks into a 18cm / 7inch circle (It’s better to roll both sides to make sure two disks are evenly rolled out). Dust the surface and the rolling pin with flour to avoid sticking.
Cook the pancakes
- Heat up a frying pan on a medium high heat. Place the rolled pancakes into the pan. When you see air pockets appear, flip it over to cook the other side (see note 2).
- Transfer the cooked ones onto a plate. Cover with a kitchen towel to keep them soft and pliable.
- Repeat the procedure to cook the rest of the dough (See note 3).
- Finally, gently separate the double pancakes while they are still hot. (See note 4).
- In a microwave: Heat up 8 pieces at a time. Place them on a microwave safe plate. Sprinkle a few drops of water on top. Cover with microwave-safe cling film (pierce several times). Cook on full power for 1 minute.
- In an oven: Wrap the pancakes in tin foil (ideally in two piles). Put into a preheated oven at 180°C / 350°F. Heat for 6-8 minutes.
- In a steamer: place the pancakes onto a plate. Steam for 4-5 minutes.
Hope all my tips will help you make perfect spring pancakes with ease. Let me know which Chinese dishes you would like to cook as a filling for them.