Category Archives: Asian Wrappers

Making Spring Roll (Popiah) Skins

Now me, I grew up calling these sorts of devices “egg rolls.” It wasn’t until I got to be in high school that I began to know them as spring rolls. That was when one of my father’s oldest friends married a Chinese woman who happened to own one of the best Mandarin restaurants in Chinatown. We started eating there once a week, so I had to at least appear to know the lingo. These below are what I always thought were “spring rolls”:

Turns out they’re both spring rolls, the difference is of course that up top we have fried spring rolls versus merely the rolled-up variety. Truth be told I still call them “egg rolls” when there’s no one around to correct me. Both are a lot of fun to make, mostly because the technique for making the skins is so ingeniously odd. You basically pick up a big blob of dough, dab it onto a pan and pick it up again. The film that remains is the wrapper. Cool eh? Ultra-thin pastry is really fascinating stuff.

Anyway, the name of this game is “developed gluten.” Without it the dough film won’t adhere to the pan. So you’ll need bread flour for sure, high gluten flour if you can find it. The recipe proceeds like this so. Combine your flour, water and salt in the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle.

Stir that until a lumpy dough forms, about two minutes.

Now for something unusual. Pour in enough water to cover the dough you just made. Then stick the mixer bowl in the refrigerator overnight.

The next day pour off the excess water.

Re-attach the bowl to the mixer, put on the paddle and start to beat the dough on medium-high speed. Those of you who have ever made focaccia will recognize this process. The dough starts out sticking to the sides of the mixer bowl…

…than after about 15 minutes it suddenly gathers around the paddle in a shiny mass.

When you see this, you’re done:

Now heat a pan over low heat. You want the temperature quite modest here, about 200 – 220 degrees Fahrenheit. I know, few if any of you have a laser thermometer handy. Another way to gauge the right temperature is to lightly touch your finger to the pan. You should be comfortable leaving it there for about a second (“one Mississippi).

Reach into the mixer bowl and pull out the dough. It will be very floppy but all that activated gluten will make it want to hold together in one blob. You can brandish the whole thing at once or squeeze off a large piece.

Then…juggling the whole mass in your hand…plop! Hit the pan with the dough. Swirl it a tad. Told you this was fun, didn’t I?

Pull it up immediately, it will come away like a large mass of glue, leaving a film like this.

Smooth out any lumps very gently with a spatula.

When the edges curl up the skin is done. Get under it with a spatula…

…then peel the whole thing away. I got a lot of rough edges with mine, but hey, I’m a first-timer. Plus rough edges don’t matter when you shape your rolls. Just stack them on a nearby plate covered with with damp cloth or piece of plastic wrap. They’ll be somewhat rigid at first, but will become very supple after about an hour of sitting.

Let then pan cool down again before starting the next one. About 30 seconds is good. Let it re-heat about five seconds and do the temperature test again.

To roll a spring roll, lay a skin down on a work surface. This one looks pretty ragged, but it doesn’t matter a bit. Lay on a few tablespoons of filling.

Roll it half way then fold in the sides…one…

…two.

Roll it up the rest of the way and you’re done. See?

Serve them as-is or deep fry them in peanut or vegetable oil at 375 degrees Fahrenheit. You’ll want to seal the edge with a little raw egg before you do that to keep them from unraveling. Drain well and serve with horseradish mustard.

This recipe will make a whole lot of skins, but I made it large so you’d have some extra. As you get good at it, you can cut it down by a third. Oh, and did I mention these skins freeze very, very well? Indeed they do, so you can make a bunch now and store plenty away for the next Chinese meal.

Filed under:  Pastry, Spring Roll (Popiah) Skins | 40 Comments

Chinese Spring Roll Skin Recipe

Spring rolls began showing up on American Chinese menus in the 50′s and 60′s. That’s easy to understand when you consider they’re not Cantonese but hail from the Eastern and Northern regions of China, where they’re typically eaten during spring festivals. Thus the name. Chinese spring rolls are made with wheat skins as opposed to rice paper (the latter being Vietnamese).

The ultra-thin wrappers are made via an unusual technique whereby a large mass of high-gluten dough is dabbed on a hot plate. The skin cooks up in about a minute, and is then peeled off. More on that in the tutorial. For now you’ll need:

1 lb. 10 ounces bread or high gluten flour
1 lb. 8 ounces water
2 tablespoons vegetable or canola oil
1 teaspoon salt

Combine all the ingredients in a stand mixer fitted with a paddle. Stir to combine, about two minutes until a lumpy dough forms. Pour about two cups of water into the mixer bowl, enough to cover the dough with water, then refrigerate the bowl overnight.

The next day pour off the excess water and affix the paddle attachment to the mixer. Turn the mixer on medium-high and mix for about 15 minutes, until the dough comes away from the sides of the bowl and gathers around the paddle.

Heat a nonstick skillet over very low heat on a stove top. It should be about 200 degrees…hot enough so you can comfortably place your finger on it for about one second. Pick up the mass of dough in one hand and dab it momentarily onto the pan. It will leave a film behind. Smooth out any larger blobs with a spatula. Let the dough cook until the edges start to curl upward, then peel up the whole skin. Remove it to a plate and cover it with a damp cloth or plastic wrap. Remove the pan from the heat and allow it to cool about 30 seconds before starting again.

Filed under:  Pastry, Spring Roll (Popiah) Skins | 17 Comments

Making Mandarin Pancakes

The only application I know for a Mandarin pancake is as a holder for moo shu pork. There must be others, but in my universe that’s more than enough. What’s fascinating about these pancakes is that they’re extremely thin and flexible while containing no egg or fat. Just white flour and hot water. It’s the boiling water that’s the key, it quickly creates a starch “gel” that keeps the pancakes supple. Begin by combining the water and flour in a medium bowl or a mixer.

Stir for about a minute until a shaggy dough is formed. Switch to the dough hook.

Knead the dough for 2-3 minutes (5-6 if you’re doing this by hand) until it’s smooth, then wrap it in plastic. Let it sit for half an hour.

When you’re ready to make the pancakes, turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface.

Roll it into a log about a foot long.

Score it in the middle.

Make four hash marks at equal distances on either side.

Cut the log along those lines into ten pieces that are more or less equivalent.

Gently press and/or roll the pieces into squat cylinders.

Dust the board lightly with flour, then roll the cylinders a few times in one direction…

…then the other.

You’ll have a disk about three inches across.

Paint it very lightly with sesame oil.

Do the same with another cylinder, and brush that one with sesame oil as well.

Lay them on top of one another, oiled sides together. Make similar sandwiches out of the rest of the dough pieces.

Now roll one sandwich out until it’s at least seven inches across.

Eight or nine is better and not any more difficult. These pancakes are better when they’re thinner.

Oh, did I say that meanwhile you should have a seasoned cast iron or nonstick skillet heating over medium heat? Do that. When it’s hot brush on some vegetable or peanut oil.

Lay in the rolled pancake sandwich.

Cook it about two minutes, until light brown spots begin to appear. Then flip it.

After another two minutes, remove the pancakes from the pan and peel them apart. Cool, no? Stack them on a plate under a towel, they won’t stick together.

To make moo shu pork with them, use the back of a spoon to apply a some hoisin sauce to the top (the side with the brown bits). This is best done at the table to impress your family and friends.

Lay on a few spoonfuls of moo shu pork. Instructions not included (how much free time do you think I have?). However here’s a tip when making moo shu pork: chop your ingredients to a very small size, smaller than you’re ordinarily comfortable with. This is especially true of the pork. You should be worried that you might be making ground pork by accident.

Using two spoons to manipulate the pancake, fold up the bottom…

…then one of the sides…

…then flip the whole thing over onto the unfolded side.

Serve to the delight and amazement of all those present.

UPDATE: Reader Lee tells me my pan was too hot. Had I reduced the temperature I’d have had fewer steam bubbles and a more even color and texture. Thanks Lee! I’ll remember that for next time!

Filed under:  Mandarin Pancakes, Pastry | 12 Comments

Mandarin Pancakes Recipe

Good Mandarin pancakes are very, very thin. Much more so than flour tortillas which are frequently substituted for them. Sigh. The rolling method is ingenious. You basically roll two at a time, back-to-back, then peel them apart. So simple it’s beautiful, no? You’ll need:

10 ounces (2 cups) all-purpose flour
6 ounces (3/4 cup) boiling water
Sesame oil for brushing

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle, combine the flour and boiling water. Stir it on low until the shaggy dough starts to come together into a ball. Switch to the dough hook and knead the dough until it smooth, 2-3 minutes. Alternately, use a bowl and wooden spoon, then knead by hand for 5 minutes. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and allow it to rest about half an hour.

When you’re ready to shape, roll the dough into a cylinder about 1″ wide. Cut the cylinder into ten equal pieces. Flatten them slightly with the heel of your hand, then with a rolling pin roll each piece into a circle roughly three inches across. Brush sesame oil onto the tops of each pancake, then lay them on top of one another in pairs, oily sides inward. Roll each pair into a seven-inch circle.

Meanwhile, heat a seasoned cast iron skillet or nonstick fry pan over medium heat. Brush it lightly with peanut or vegetable oils and lay in a pair of the pancakes. Cook them about 3 minutes per side until they are just golden. Remove them from the pan and peel the pancakes apart. Stack them and keep them under a clean towel until you’re ready to serve.

Filed under:  Mandarin Pancakes, Pastry | 8 Comments