Category Archives: Spring Roll (Popiah) Skins

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…


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 | 42 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