“Cong you bing” (or literally “scallion oil pancake” in Mandarin Chinese) is a staple in Chinese households, probably because it is made from simple ingredients and extremely versatile. Ever since I was little, I have snacked on these little treats that my grandma would roll out on her wooden cutting board. Among other foods, this probably makes me feel most nostalgic because it is my nai nai’s signature dish. Friends and family alike cherished the scallion pancakes borne from her hands, saying they were the best they had ever tasted.
I have recently been wanting to challenge myself by learning about dough. Dough seems simple enough – just flour and water mixed together to make something that is fun to roll around. But the variety that comes from these two simple ingredients is immense, and it can be surprisingly challenging to make right. In terms of my cooking education I’d say I’m probably in elementary school at best, so what better activity is there than playing with some soft, pliable, potentially delicious dough?
Although scallion pancakes are simple, they can be surprisingly difficult to get right. In my experience, the pancakes are supposed to be crispy on the outside, doughy on the inside, and most importantly, they should be made up of several thin layers. They should also not be greasy on the outside.
The two keys to success in my experience are:
- When rolling the dough flat, roll it as thin as possible (think thin-crust pizza, at its thickest)
- Apply generous amounts of oil – I got the best results when I had oil literally spilling from the seams of the dough! Although the oil can seem excessive, most of it actually gets soaked up by the dough while it is cooking, leaving the pancake surprisingly grease-free.
I did some pretty extensive research to find the best recipe to share with you all, and in my humble opinion, the best one was this video from “Cooking with May Lynn” on Youtube. The only modification I made was using a lot more oil to brush on the flattened dough – she suggests 2 tbsp for the mixture, but I used 4+ tbsp to get the desired texture. You can see even in the video, she adds more than just 2 tbsp to the bowl where she is mixing the flour, salt, and oil together. Watch her video for a straightforward, step-by-step guide to make these delicious pancakes!
This recipe makes four pancakes!
First, mix three cups of white (VERY IMPORTANT – I used whole wheat the first time and it wasn’t right), all-purpose flour with 1/2 cup boiling water. Mix, and pour in an additional cup of cold water. Knead until smooth and cover for 20-30 minutes.
Meanwhile, cut the scallions into 1/4-inch rounds (could be wider or thinner depending on your preference) and mix 3 tbsp flour, 1/2 tsp salt, and 4+ tbsp vegetable oil. The little bit of salt surprised me and went a long way in the pancakes! I also ended up using about 1.5 scallion stalks per pancake, although most recipes recommended 1 for 1.
When the dough is ready, flour your hands and cut into four equal chunks. Take one chunk and roll it out super thin on a floured surface. Spread 1/4 of the oil-flour-salt mixture evenly onto the surface and then sprinkle on generous amounts of scallions. Then, roll up the dough tightly like a scroll. Flatten it a bit and tuck the outer end underneath the roll.
With your Chinese-style rolling pin (even circumference throughout, rather than the two-handled style), roll the dough again, but leaving it the thickness that you want your pancake to be. It’s normal for some of the scallions to pop out!
Finally, heat a pan with approximately 1 tbsp of cooking oil, and place the pancake on the hot oil over medium heat. Flip occasionally and when it is golden-brown, “fluff” the pancake with chopsticks or two forks by pressing it together like an accordion. This gets the layers to separate for that nice flaky texture!
Serve & enjoy! 🙂