Green onion cakes (also known as scallion pancakes) have been a staple of festival season in Edmonton for as long as I can remember. Savoury, greasy, and aromatic with green onion, amongst the sweetness of ice creams and mini donuts, the simplicity of fries, ketchup and the typical hot dog, green onion cakes were the standout in flavour and texture. Having grown up with my family working the Fringe, it’s one of those sensory memories intrinsically tied to the summer – inimitable.
At least that was the impression I got when I tried to recreate the magic at home 10 years ago. In the chill of winter and yearning for summer sensations, I tried my darnedest to recreate those token treats. But no matter how onion filled, how deep fried, how desperately encouraged each pancake was as it sizzled in the pan, the centre was always doughy and damp, making the crisp, well browned exterior a waste, dulling the flavours of the inclusions added. Burned by my failures, I retreated from my google searches, and thought not to try again until recently. Today’s search revealed what had previously eluded me, and I found my green onion cake redemption.
J. Kenji López-Alt of Serious Eats endured a similar initial experience to mine. “Fried dough and scallions, right? How hard could it be?” Upon discovering how to really make scallion pancakes, he took to the internet to share the two secrets: hot water dough, and lamination.
Hot Water Dough
By using a hot water dough, you denature the protein. Instead of being elastic and tenacious, the dough becomes more plastic, resulting in a dough with enough gluten to support mild lamination, but a short, chewy bite.
The dough is laminated through being brushed with sesame seed oil, (at this point sprinkled with green onions,) rolled, wound like a snail and then flattened, creating flaky layers of evenly distributed flavour. This can even be done more than once, that flattened snail being rolled, wound and flattened again for even flakier pancakes.
Included below is López-Alt’s recipe for Extra Flakey Scallion Pancakes. Go forth and recreate those summer memories, any time of the year.
Extra Flakey Scallion Pancakes
For the Pancakes:
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting work surface
1 cup boiling water
Up to 1/4 cup toasted sesame seed oil
2 cups thinly sliced scallion greens
For the Dipping Sauce:
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons Chinkiang or rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon finely sliced scallion greens
1/2 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
2 teaspoons sugar
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1. Place flour in bowl of food processor (see note). With processor running, slowly drizzle in about 3/4 of boiling water. Process for 15 seconds. If dough does not come together and ride around the blade, drizzle in more water a tablespoon at a time until it just comes together. Transfer to a floured work surface and knead a few times to form a smooth ball. Transfer to a bowl, cover with a damp towel or plastic wrap, and allow to rest for 30 minutes at room temperature, or up to overnight in the fridge.
2. Divide dough into four even pieces and roll each into a smooth ball. Working one ball at a time, roll out into a disk roughly 8-inches in diameter on a lightly floured surface. Using a pastry brush, paint a very thin layer of sesame oil over the top of the disk. Roll disk up like a jelly roll, then twist roll into a tight spiral, tucking the end underneath. Flatten gently with your hand, then re-roll into an 8-inch disk.
3. Paint with another layer or sesame oil, sprinkle with 1/2 cup scallions, and roll up like a jelly roll again. Twist into a spiral, flatten gently, and re-roll into a 7-inch disk. Repeat steps two and three with remaining pancakes.
4. Combine all the sauce ingredients and set aside at room temperature.
5. Heat oil in an 8-inch nonstick or cast-iron over medium-high heat until shimmering and carefully slip pancake into the hot oil. Cook, shaking the pan gently until first side is an even golden brown, about 2 minutes. Carefully flip with a spatula or tongs (be careful not to splash the oil), and continue to cook, shaking pan gently, until second side is even golden brown, about 2 minutes longer. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate to drain. Season with salt, cut into 6 wedges. Serve immediately with sauce for dipping. Repeat with remaining 3 pancakes.