As today is the feast day of Saint Pancake, I’ll probably be rustling up the batter and pan tonight. But there are many other kinds of pancake, such as the Chinese pancakes that are the classic accompaniment to crispy roast duck.
You could, of course, buy these Chinese pancakes ready-made, just as people often buy factory-made wanton wrappers and dumplings and so on. But homemade Chinese pancakes are a world apart. They are cheap and easy to make once you get the knack. And bear with me for one unusal step in the middle of this knack thing that is simple but quite sublime.
I picked up the technique from a Ken Hom recipe book a few years back, and here’s the master himself explaining it on the BBC many moons ago when he still had hair…
For about 20 of these little beauties – don’t worry, they freeze well* – you will need:
- 300 g of plain white flour, plus flour for dusting
- 275 ml of water
- 2 tablespoons of sesame oil
Put the flour into a large mixing bowl. Boil a kettle of water and measure 275 ml of the water into a measuring jug. Pour the boiled water while still hot onto the flour, and mix well with a fork or chopsticks for about a minute. If the mix seems too dry, add a little more water.
Now knead the dough by hand for about eight minutes. I use a food mixer with a dough hook for five minutes on a low speed.
If the dough seems a little sticky, dust it with more flour.
Once kneaded, put the dough back in the bowl and cover it with that plastic shower cap that you stole from the London hotel last summer, and leave it to rest for half an hour.
Remove the dough from the bowl and knead it again for five minutes by hand (or three minutes with the food mixer). The dough should be very smooth by now.
Roll it into a sausage about an inch thick and twenty inches long. Divide the roll in two. Divide in two again, so now you have four rolls about five inches long. Cut each roll into five equal pieces, and roll each one into a ball. You should end up with twenty balls of dough, all the same size.
(And here comes the special magic step. It will involve rolling a “double pancake”. You will end up with pancakes that are thin but are less likely of being overcooked. Each pancake will also be a mix of textures – dry and slightly crispy on one side but soft and moist and “doughy” on the other.)
Pour the sesame oil into a ramekin or bowl. Take two of the balls and flatten each one slightly but keeping them the same size. Dip one ball into the sesame oil, and place the oiled side face down on top of the other ball
Use a rolling pin (I have a special mini one for this) to roll this double ball into a circle about six inches wide.
Repeat for the other balls.
Put a non-stick frying pan on medium heat. Don’t use a wok. Cook the double pancake in the pan for about two minutes until the underside is dry and beginning to brown. Flip it over and repeat with the other side.
Once cooked like this, take each pancake off the pan and leave it to cool until it is just about cool enough to handle. Peel the two pancakes apart and stack them up. This amazing moment where they are peeled apart happens at around 3:45 in the Ken Hom video.
Repeat the process with the rest of the rolled out double pancakes. Serve with your roast duck and plum sauce and thinly sliced cucumber and carrot and spring onion. Or instead of duck, why not try that confit of chicken recipe of mine?
(* If you do freeze them, let them thaw out again slowly in the fridge – NOT in the oven – then reheat them by gently steaming or by covering them in cling film and microwaving them for a few seconds)