Yummmmm, Chinese style shallot pancakes, known in Chines as ‘shallot oil cake’ (葱油饼, cōng yóubǐng). This is a staple in Northern Chinese cooking, but something that Taiwan does so well that it has almost become a famous Taiwanese snack in its own right. Why? A few reasons, including the wonderful shallots grown in the mineral rich, clear, hot spring waters of Sanxing. And the famous shallot cakes sold in the nearby Luodong night markets of Yilan.
Shallot pancakes are inexpensive to make and lots of fun, if you know how. Mr Taiwanxifu made them once or twice when we were students and had people over. They are a bit of a production, but thankfully they freeze well so you can make a large batch and keep for later.
Recently, I was fortunate to participate in a cooking class run by Ivy from Ivy’s Kitchen. Ivy taught me a few tips (several in fact) to help make congyoubing look and taste professional. Now all I need is one of those mobile stands and I can set up business at the local night markets!
Firstly, it is important to use hot water when making congyoubing. Hot water cooks the gluten, so that the end texture is less elastic and softer. But the mixture doesn’t just need hot water: after mixing to combine, you add a small amount of cold water to set the dough.
And then there is the technique for kneading. Ivy showed us a way of resting and massaging the ball of dough so that it is round and pliable — just like a (clean) baby’s bottom. Then she gently forced her thumb through the middle, creating a bagel like shape, going round and round untl the hole got bigger and she could place both hands through the hole. And then round and round and round she kept kneading, until she had a rope of the desired length.
Next step was rolling, and we all had fun moulding the dough into rectangular (or almost oblong) shapes. We then brushed the dough with oil, sprinkled with salt and a spoon or so of shallots. (There is trick, too, with the shallots — Ivy only uses the green parts and leaves them out for a few hours to dry slightly). Ivy rolled the mixture into a cigar shaped roll, then twisted it into a roll (“just as if it was an intestine”, she described it) before squishing it down with her palm. After resting a while, we rolled the dough out and voila, the shallot pancake was ready to be fried (and then eaten).
Hot water dough
300g all purpose flour, sifted
3/4 cup boiling water
2-3 tablespoons cold water
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 cup chopped spring onion (set aside for a few hours to partially dry before use)
2 tablespoons cooking oil
2/3 teaspoon salt
- Place the flour in a large bowl. Pour in the boiling water and stir with chopsticks or a fork rapidly to combine the flour and water.
- Add the cold water into the flour and stir. Add oil and knead the dough until it is smooth and soft (in Chinese they refer to this as ‘three cleans’, i.e. clean on hands, table and dough).
- Cover the dough with a damp cloth and let it rest for at least 20 minutes before rolling. You might need to softly knead the dough with the palm of your hand to return to a smooth, elastic texture.
- Drizzle oil onto a work bench. Flatten the dough, divide into pieices and roll into a 20 x 40 cm rectangle around 0.6cm in thickness.
- Brush oil over the dough, scatter salt and spring onions.
- Roll up the dough from the short end.
- Seal both ends of the two pieces, stand the cyclinder up, flatten it from top to toe. (Like squishing intestines.)
- Roll the dough into a round pancake, you can repeat the rolling up process with more layers of oil to get crispy layers.
- Alternatively shape them into one long round and swirl them into a circle like a snail.
- Heat 1/2 tablespoon of oil in a frying pan. Pan-fry at medium low heat until golden brown, then flip and coo on the other side.
Cut into wedges, eat and enjoy!