Tender, supple and very thin, Chinese tortilla (Spring pancake) is made with only two ingredients. Perfect wrapper for any fillings of your choice.
Once I cooked some Chinese 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.
Chun Bing is often translated in English as Spring pancake because it’s a traditional food to celebrate the beginning of Spring (立春). They are actually appreciated all year around in Northern Chinese households. They are also known as Duck pancakes because they serve as wrappers for the famous Peking roasted duck. There are two ways to cook Chun Bing: 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. I like to call them Chinese tortillas since it gives those unfamiliar with Chun Bing a fairly good idea what it looks and tastes like.
Normally, five key ingredients are required to make Mexican flour tortilla: flour, baking powder, oil (shortening), salt and water. Whereas Chinese tortilla needs only 2 ingredients: flour and water. It couldn’t be simpler. Well cooked Chinese tortilla is soft, moist and very thin. In order to achieve the right texture, here are my two tips on making the perfect dough:
- Through experiments, I found that the best flour water ratio in weight should be around 1.5 : 1. However it might vary slightly depending on the brand of the flour (It’s better to use plain / all purpose flour containing around 10-12% of protein). Adjust to find the perfect ratio that works best for you. 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 tortillas 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.
Apart from simple ingredients, Chinese tortilla is 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 Chinese tortilla 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 the rollin pin from time to time 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 tortillas while they are still hot.
Traditionally, Chinese tortillas 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 tortilla. 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 Chinese tortillas. Feel free to use them in the same way as you serve Mexican tortillas, or with anything you fancy as a filling.
It seems I wrote a very long post for a very simple recipe! Hope all my tips will help you make perfect Chinese tortillas with ease. Tell me what kind of Chinese dishes you would like to cook as a filling for the tortillas.
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