These flaky ribbon pancakes are the real deal, people. Layer upon layer of crispy, yet superbly chewy, dough inflected with sesame seeds and fresh green onion makes them irresistible. Perfect as an appetizer when served with our dumpling dipping sauce.
The Chinese name for these pancakes is shou (hand or fingers) zhua (grab or catch) bing (pancake). It’s similar to the Indian paratha and the term has been adopted by some Chinese. In fact, you might see packages of frozen pancakes labeled as “parathas” at an Asian market. Conceptually, it’s a pancake that has layers of ribbons coiled within it and you use your fingers to pull a stretch of pancake and break it off to eat. There are many variations on the method for producing these pancakes. Some involve intricate fan folds or require multiple resting periods for the dough or dipping in egg and so on. The bottom line is that it’s a flaky flatbread. No matter how you get there, it’s delicious.–Hsiao-Ching Chou
CAN I FREEZE FLAKY RIBBON PANCAKES?
If you find yourself in a scallion pancake-making frenzy and have rolled out more than you need, you have nothing to fear. Make the pancakes up to the point of cooking them but instead, layer them between sheets of parchment paper and slide the stack into a freezer bag or other suitable container. When you get a craving for a crisp and chewy pancake, just drop one into a preheated pan with oil. There’s no need to thaw, just preheat and eat.
Flaky Ribbon Pancakes
For the dough
- 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour plus more for flouring
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 3/4 cup warm water roughly 90°F (32°C), plus more as needed
For the roux
- 1/4 cup mild vegetable oil
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
For the pancakes
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 3 scallions finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds (optional)
- 4 teaspoons mild vegetable oil
- Dumpling dipping sauce
Make the dough
- In a medium bowl, combine the flour and salt. Swirl in the water and stir with a rubber spatula to combine.
- Using your hands, gather and knead the dough together to create a ball. It will look shaggy. If it isn’t coming together, you may need a splash more water. Add about 1 tablespoon water and see if that helps. If not, add 1 more tablespoon. If the dough is too damp and sticks to your hands goopily, then work in 1 tablespoon flour. The texture should be tacky but not wet.
- Dust your work surface with flour. Knead the dough for 1 to 2 minutes. It will still look a bit rough, but it will smooth out once the dough has had a chance to rest. Place the dough in the bowl and drape a damp towel over the bowl or use a piece of plastic wrap to cover. Let rest for 30 minutes.
Make the roux
- While the dough is resting, in a small saucepan over medium heat, warm the oil. When the surface of the oil starts to shimmer, turn off the heat.
- To a small heatproof bowl, add the flour. Carefully pour the hot oil over the flour and stir immediately, to combine. Continue stirring until well combined. Set aside to cool while the dough finishes resting.
Make the pancakes
- Once the dough has rested, knead it until smooth, about 1 minute. Place the dough on a lightly floured counter or workbench. Divide the dough into 4 equal pieces, about 4 1/2 ounces (125 g) each.
- Working with one piece at a time, roll out the dough until it is a rectangle roughly 10 inches by 5 inches (25 cm by 13 cm), with the long edge facing you. To begin making the pancakes, brush a thin coating of the roux on the dough. Sprinkle on 1/4 teaspoon of the salt and 1/4 of the scallion. Add 1/4 teaspoon of the sesame seeds, if using.
- To fold the pancakes, imagine what a trifold brochure looks like. You will mimic that shape with the dough. Starting on the bottom edge, fold up one-third of the way. Then fold the top edge down to overlap.
- Now you have a strip of dough. Visualize about a 1-inch (25-mm) border on each of the short edges. With a sharp knife or pastry cutter, make two evenly spaced cuts down the length of this strip of dough, without cutting through those 1-inch (25-mm) borders. The goal is to have “tabs” on the end that you can hold, but there will be three strands of dough in the middle.
- Picking up the ends of the dough, gently stretch until the strands are about 20 inches (50 cm) long. Starting from one end, roll the dough into a tight coil, making sure to keep the strands of dough from splaying out. When you get to the end, turn the dough so that it stands up on one of the coiled sides. Tuck the loose end under the bottom side of the coil and press to secure.
- Now, using the palm of your hand, press down firmly on the coil to flatten. Use a rolling pin to roll out the coil until it is about 1/4 inch (6-mm) thick and 6 to 8 inches (15 to 20 cm) in diameter.
- Repeat the process with the remaining dough.
- Preheat an 8-inch (20-cm) nonstick or cast-iron skillet over medium heat for about 1 minute. Reduce the heat to low. Drizzle 1 teaspoon of the vegetable oil on the skillet and swirl to coat. Place a pancake in the skillet, cover with a lid, and let cook until golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes.
- Flip the pancake, cover, and cook until the other side is golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes more. Pay attention to the heat and adjust as needed. You don’t want the pancakes to brown too quickly. Repeat with the remaining pancakes.
- As the pancakes come out of the skillet, you want to scrunch the sides together to loosen the inner ribbons. There are a few ways to do that. You can use your hands if you wear some oven mitts. Or you can use two sturdy spatulas or a pair of large tongs.
- Serve the scrunched pancakes on a platter, with dipping sauce on the side. It’s finger food!
Recipe Testers' Reviews
I've been doing an internet deep dive on layered flatbread for the last month but just couldn't convince myself to try my hand at them. Then this recipe for flaky ribbon pancakes came along and it was like the universe was telling me to make, and eat, 4 of the best flatbreads I've ever had.
The recipe was pretty easy to follow, including the folding instructions, and everything came together quickly. I did find that my dough needed a little more time to relax—it was hard to get it to stop shrinking back at first. But other than that, it was easy to get these whipped up.
The flavors are so good—just enough salt, onion, and sesame. The layers are crispy and flaky, with just enough chewiness. I'll definitely make these again but I'm going to use ghee in the pan instead, just because I like the flavor. I was pleasantly surprised at how easy and how delicious these were.
I have made a couple of versions of scallion pancakes, and this recipe for flaky ribbon pancakes was a super-friendly tutorial that gave very good results the first time we tried it. The recipe easily scaled for two people (not that we wouldn’t have devoured more pancakes if I had made the full recipe of 4, because they would have been very hard to resist). The warm water method brings the dough to a lovely, easy to handle, pliable consistency in no time at all. Although these are beautifully authentic to their Chinese heritage, they paired rather nicely with a tofu and cauliflower curry for a relaxed meatless-Monday. This is a weeknight confidence builder.
I always have a pack of scallion pancakes in the freezer but I’ve never thought of making them myself! These came out flaky and delicious but I'd prefer them a little more buttery. I also wanted my pancakes to be more packed with ingredients so I used a tablespoon of toasted sesame seeds instead of a teaspoon and 4 green onions instead of 3.
The directions for folding, cutting, and rolling the pancakes were super clear and once I made one flaky ribbon pancake, I realized the messier I made them, the better they looked. It was a satisfying process stretching out the dough and smashing it down with my hands. In the future, I’ll roll them out even thinner, because they ended up being a bit thick even though they seemed to be 6 inches in diameter. I served these with an Indian dal and packed two in parchment paper in the freezer to save for later.
Often called “scallion pancakes,” the savory pancakes always make the table when we order food at a Chinese restaurant. I’m so glad I tried this recipe because these flaky ribbon pancakes didn't disappoint! They had all the familiar characteristics we love: crisp edges, a nice chew, and the two textures of sweet green onions—the green parts were tender and the white ends had a slightly firm crunch. But I had never eaten ones that uncoil quite like these pancakes. It was fun to take a long strip of the pancake and drag it through the homemade dumpling dipping sauce. They definitely added amusement and playfulness to the cooking and dinnertime experience!
I made the pancakes when the dinner plan was leftover takeout Chinese food, and they completely refreshed the dinner from the previous night.
These flaky ribbon pancakes are some of the best ones I have had in a while. The outside is crispy and flaky, and the inside is soft and filled with green onions. What a delicious snack this is! Overall, a wonderful flatbread recipe that is quite simple and affordable.
Originally published May 5, 2021