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Taiwanese green onion pancake (Cong you bing), also known as Chinese scallion pancake, is a delicious savoury street snack that is easy to batch make and freeze- it can be cooked from frozen, making it the perfect food for when you have unexpected guests or run out of dinner ideas. It's a simple recipe beloved for its flaky texture, but those are often the hardest to make right, and I've used 6kg of flour to figure out all the tips and tricks you'll need to know to make perfect flaky scallion pancakes!
What is it?
Also known as Chinese scallion pancake, spring onion pancake or cong you bing (葱油饼), green onion pancake is a popular snack sold by street vendors in China and Taiwan. It's a Chinese savoury, unleavened flat bread that is filled with green onions/ scallions- you can almost think of it as the Chinese equivalent to pizza.
A good Taiwanese green onion pancake should smell fragrant, look golden, taste crisp and flaky on the outside but soft and chewy on the inside, thanks to the many layers created by folding the thin dough. (Chinese food is all about se xiang wei ju quan 色香味俱全 - i.e. food should have colour, aroma and taste.) When you tear the pancakes with your hands, you should be able to see individual thin layers inside.
Why make this?
- Green onion pancakes are a very simple recipe, requiring only 4 ingredients to make. (Simple as it is, there are some things you need to get right to make the best possible version, so don't forget to check the tips section below.)
- It's healthier to make your own at home, as you never know whether restaurants of street stalls reuse the oil. (My Mom has worked in the edible oil industry for over 40 years, so we're familiar with the edible oil practices in the restaurant industry- 1 of her company's most popular products with commercial eateries is an oil that can be re-used many times, so... )
- They freeze really well, and can be cooked from frozen (no need to thaw first) so they're the perfect snack for when you have hunger pangs or random guests show up unexpectedly!
- Once you've pre-made the pancake, they're super fast to cook up, so this is a great dish for parties or events like Game Day/ Super Bowl (no kitchen stress when the guests are over!)
- Shrove Tuesday may be over, but pancakes- sweet and savoury- are delicious all year round!
vs Western pancake
Western pancakes are made from batter, whilst Chinese scallion pancakes are made from dough. The former is usually fluffy, whilst Chinese pancakes are simultaneously crispy, flaky and soft.
Ingredients & Substitutes
If you use the white part of the scallion, remember to cut it in half lengthwise before slicing in small pieces, so that they don't form lumps in your filling later.
To make scallion pancakes, you only need 4 ingredients (I'm not counting the water!):
- Chinese all-purpose flour
- This has a lower gluten content than regular all-purpose flour but I'll be honest- I usually just use regular all-purpose 😛 If I'm feeling hardworking, I use a mix of cake flour and regular all-purpose.
- Do not substitute with pure cake flour or your dough will be a pain to work with and tear super easily.
- Spring onions
- If you're out of fresh scallions and really, really want to make this pancake, here are some green onion alternatives for you.
- If you use garlic chives instead of spring onions, you get jiucai bing (韭菜饼) or jiucai you bing (韭菜油饼).
- Some form of fat:
- The traditional and tastiest option: lard
- Alternatively, for a smoky taste, bacon grease
- Still tasty but easier to work with: butter
- Vegan option: Neutral vegetable oil
- If you want the pancakes to taste authentic, don't use olive oil or coconut oil, as both have quite a strong flavour.
- A bit more work but a better vegan alternative would be shallot or garlic oil. (See tips for directions)
- You will need both boiling water and room temperature water as, like dumplings, scallion pancakes are made from a hot water dough
- Optional additions to filling (I prefer mine plain though):
To make the dipping sauce, you will need 2 more pantry staples:
- soy sauce
- Substitute: tamari
- rice vinegar
- Substitute: Chinkiang vinegar
- White Sugar
- Optional: more spring onions and sesame oil
You can also try these savoury pancakes with Toyomansi (calamansi soy sauce), a tangy, popular Filipino dipping sauce.
The above optional additions can be added to the spring onions, but if you want something totally different (a sweet pancake, for example), try 1 of these instead of the scallions:
- Dried shrimp filling
- The scrumptious hotteok filling of cinnamon, brown sugar & crushed nuts!
- Use brown Sugar inside the dough and you get lao bing/ luo bing (烙餠).
- Taiwanese savory pancakes called dan bing (蛋餅) are similar but the (thinner and moister) dough is coated with egg on 1 side- it's so easy to make, it was 1 of the 1st foods I learnt to cook at University! (Before that, I couldn't even boil water, so you can see how easy the recipe is.)
- Korean scallion pancake (pa jeon) sounds similar but is not made from hot water dough, so it has a different texture.
- If you are familiar with South East Asian food, roti prata, a popular Indian breakfast dish in Singapore and Malaysia (where it's known as roti canai) is quite similar to these pancakes, although prata is often enriched with other ingredients such as eggs, oil, condensed milk or ghee.
How to shape the pancake
- After the dough has rested (instructions in the recipe card on how to make the dough), divide it into 6 pieces. Roll 1 into a rectangle, as thinly as you can, whilst covering the remaining dough with a teacloth.
You want to roll the dough into a thin rectangular shape- the thinner the dough, the more layers you will get later. As we roll with uneven pressure, the edges usually tend to be thicker than the middle of the dough, so pay attention to those areas. (You can see how the top of my rectangle is fatter than the bottom!)
2. Apply the filling onto the dough- you can use a brush or the back of a spoon. Make sure to leave some empty space around the edges (approximately 1cm) as too much filling will break your pancake later. (I use about 2 Tablespoons per pancake.)
As mentioned below, leave a border of about 1-2 cm around the filling, to avoid the filling from oozing out when you row the dough later.
3. Roll the dough to form a long log- i.e. you are rolling the longer side up.
Roll the filled dough then, when it has formed a long cigar, pick up both ends and gently bounce it against the surface to help relax and stretch the dough.
4. Roll the dough into a pinwheel shape and cover the rolled dough with a teacloth or cling film. Repeat with the other balls of dough till you get 6 pinwheels.
5. Use your rolling pin or hand to gently press the (rested) pinwheel into a flat disc- these discs are what you will panfry later.
- The flavour of the pancake comes from the scallion filling so you want as much of it in each piece as possible. However, if you add too much spring onions, your pancake may tear and the filling will ooze out. 2 ways to get around this are to:
- Slice the scallion as thinly as possible- the thicker, white base of the spring onion should be cut in half before slicing (to make the pieces thinner), so that there are no chunky veggie pieces in the filling to break the dough
- For extra flavour, cook the lard or vegetable oil with more spring onion to make spring onion oil (simply slice the scallions then simmer them in the lard or vegetable oil, before straining them out- these are scrumptious sprinkled on noodles and porridge.) Substitute this spring onion-lard or spring onion oil for the regular lard/ oil used to make a pancake that is simply oozing flavour. (Replacement: shallot oil)
- Leave a bit of untouched dough along the rectangular border, so that the spring onions won't be squeezed out when you roll the dough into a pinwheel.
- Leave 1 inch at the root end when chopping up the scallions and pop the root end into a jar of water. Leave the jar somewhere sunny, making sure to change the water on a daily basis, and you will eventually grow yourself a bit more spring onion! Something similar can be done with lemongrass- for more Asian edible gardening tips and recipes, click the link.
- Don't forget to let the dough relax twice. The 1st time is right after you make it- you'll be using this time to make the filling - and the 2nd time is after the dough has been rolled into a pinwheel.
- Lightly oil or flour your work surface (and rolling pin) before rolling the dough to prevent sticking- alternatively, if you don't like working on a floured surface, you can roll the dough on Silpat.
- Roll the pancake as thinly as possible to get many flaky layers but not so thinly it breaks later when wrapping - it's a balancing act that will come more naturally after making the pancakes a few times.
- If you are trying to be healthy, you can fry the pancakes with very little oil, but they taste and look best if you're generous with the oil.
- Cook on medium heat (gas cooker) or medium-high heat (induction cooker)- don't use high heat as you don't want the outside to burn before the inside has cooked.
- The pancakes can be fried and eaten straight away, but taste best if cooked the day after they are rolled (which is how the street stalls do it!)
- 1 of the most popular spring onion street stalls in China- where people start queueing for the snack at around 5am in the morning- bakes the pancakes after frying them. Apparently it makes them even crispier whilst keeping them soft. I've not tried this yet, but will update when I do.
- You can even gift frozen scallion pancake to friends who like to eat this snack but don't like to make bread. (I gave my neighbour 19 pieces once when I was perfecting this recipe :P)
How to serve
Place the cooked, golden brown pancakes on paper towels to absorb excess oil whilst you fry up the rest.
Green onion pancakes should be eaten hot and taste best with a dipping sauce on the side. They're eaten both as a snack and for breakfast in Asia, usually with a cup of soya milk.
How to store
Cut up parchment paper into pieces large enough to cover each pancake. Make sure there is 1 piece of parchment paper (or reusable beeswax paper) in between each pancake before refrigerating (in an air tight container for 1-2 days) or freezing, to prevent them from sticking to each other. (You can also use plastic wrap to separate the pieces. If you have tons of Ziplock bags, you can store the pancakes individually in the bags. (Don't forget to wash and reuse the bags to cut down on plastic waste!))
Frozen pancakes can be cooked directly without thawing- just add a few more minutes to make sure it's cooked through.
If you've cooked 1 too many, you can keep them in the fridge for 1-2 days and freezer- just reheat the homemade scallion pancakes before you want to eat them in an air fryer, toaster oven, and oven at 350 F/ 176.7 C for 8-15 minutes
Homemade ones are of course healthier than the ones you have in restaurants or on the street but at the end of the day, the dish is quite carb heavy and semi-fried, so consume with moderation.
Other Asian street snack recipes
Taiwanese green onion pancake recipe (Cong you bing)
- Large heat-proof mixing bowl If you used a metal bowl, remember that it will get very hot after the boiling water is poured in, so don't rest it on your bare legs!
- Wooden chopsticks
- Rolling Pin
- Silpat Optional
- Pastry brush or spoon
- Large non-stick pan or skillet
- Wooden or heat-proof spatula
- Paper towels
- parchment paper
For the dough
- 4 Cups Chinese all-purpose flour (575g) Substitute: regular all-purpose flour or regular all-purpose flour mixed with cake flour (do not use 100% cake flour as an alternative)
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 Cup boiling water (237g)
- ½ Cup + 1 tablespoon room temperature water (132g) It's OK if your room temperature water is cold.
Pancake: for the filling
- 1-1½ Cups sliced spring onions Either use only the thinner green part (traditional) or, if you hate waste, cut the thicker white base into half before slicing (if not the pancake may burst the seams so to speak)
- ½ Cup Chinese all-purpose flour Substitute: regular all-purpose flour, cake flour or a mix of both
- ½ Cup pork lard Substitute: shallot oil, neutral vegetable oil or butter
- 1½ teaspoon kosher salt
- Ground sichuan peppercorn or 5 spice powder, optional
For the dipping sauce
- 2 Tablespoons soy sauce
- 2 Tablespoons rice vinegar Substitute: Chinkiang vinegar
- white sugar, to taste
- 1 Tablespoon sesame oil, optional
- Sliced spring onions, optional For visual effect
- Dry toasted sesame seeds, optional For visual effect
To make the green onion pancake dough
- Mix the flour and salt, then make a hole in the middle and pour the hot water in.
- Leave for a few minutes, then pour the room temperature/ cold water in.
- Use a pair of wooden chopsticks or fork to mix the dough together- at this stage it will be clumpy and sticky.
- Once the dough is cool enough to handle, use your hands to knead it for about 5 minutes. You know it's done once it's smooth and stops sticking.
- Alternatively, you can process the dough in a mixer using a dough hook till it forms a nice smooth ball. (Use a medium speed for about 3-4 minutes.)
- Either way, once the dough is done, roll into a ball and cover the bowl with a tea towel to prevent the dough from drying out.
To make the spring onion filling
- Use the dough's resting time to make the filling. Slice the spring onions finely- if adding the white part to the mix, make sure you first cut it in half lengthwise or the bits will be very thick. Put the spring onions in a heatproof bowl
- Heat the oil/ lard/ butter then carefully pour it over the spring onions (it may sizzle/ splatter if the spring onions are wet), add the flour, salt and Sichuan pepper/ 5-spice powder (if using) then mix well
To roll the pancakes
- Divide the rested dough into 6 equal pieces (To make sure the pieces are the same size, roll the entire ball into a log, then cut into 6 equal pieces- some people weigh each piece but I figure that's overkill)
- Take out 1 piece and place on Silpat/ a floured or oiled surface. (Keep the other 5 pieces covered with a tea towel whilst working on this piece)
- Using a floured/ oiled rolling pin, roll the dough into a thin rectangular piece. It's hard to make a nice rectangle so don't worry if your shape is wonky (having a rectangular piece gives you more equal, thin layers but isn't a must for the recipe to work) Pay attention to the edges of the dough as those tend to be thicker than the middle after rolling.
- Tip: I like to flip the dough after every 1-2 roll, to make sure it doesn't stick to the surface.
- Once you've rolled the dough as thinly as possible without breaking, brush on about 2 tablespoons of filling using a pastry brush or the back of a spoon. Make sure to leave a 1 cm clear border around the filling (so that the filling doesn't ooze out later)
- Roll the brushed dough into a long log (see photos in post if this doesn't make sense) then pick up 1 end in 1 hand and gently tap the log on the surface, whilst simultaneously gently pulling the log. (This helps to stretch and relax the dough further, to make the layers even thinner.)
- Pinch the ends together so that the spring onions stay inside, then coil the log into a pinwheel (like a seashell/ snail shell shape) and cover with a tea towel.
- Repeat the process with the other 5 balls of dough.
- The coiled pancakes need to rest before they can be further flattened/ rolled, so make sure you work in the same order that you filled them (as the first coiled pieces have had more time to rest.)
- Place the pinwheel on the Silpat/ floured or oiled surface then use the back of your hand or the rolling pin to gently press it in to a flattened disc. Repeat the process for all the 6 pinwheels.
Frying the scallion pancake
- Add enough oil to coat the bottom of the frying pan and heat on medium high heat. (You can use more or less if you wish- less oil is healthier but more is tastier.)
- When the oil is hot, gently place 1 pancake on the pan. (Lay it down in the direction away from you to avoid the hot oil splashing on you.)
- Gently nudge it with the spatula to make sure it hasn't stuck to the pan then cover with the lid for 1 minute.
- Uncover, flip the pancake, and cook covered for another minute.
- Remove the cover, flip the pancake, press it down to make sure it browns evenly and continued cooking (uncovered) for another 3-4 minutes. You may want to flip the pancake 1-2x to make sure both surfaces brown evenly. The pancake will be nice and golden brown when cooked. Before removing from the pan, give each pancake a squeeze in between 2 spatulas to help loosen up the interior layers and make them more flaky.
- Place on a paper towel to absorb the excess oil then repeat with the rest of the pancakes. 1-1.5 pancakes per person is usually enough, so if you don't need that many, wrap the remaining pieces individually with plastic wrap or parchment paper then refrigerate/ freeze.
To make the dipping sauce
- Add all the ingredients together and stir well.
- You can have the pancakes as a central dish or serve 1 pancake to each person. If placing them in the centre, you may want to cut them into smaller pieces (like we do with a pizza) to make them easier to serve.
Before you go, you may also be interested in these delicious Chinese recipes: