The Baker: Chinatown Green Onion Cakes

Sunday May 27, 2012

marco polo is said to have brought the recipe and taste for the scallion flatbread from china to Italy

Staple Chinese breads are made with wheat, as in areas of Central Asia, they grow crops similar to the ones on our Great Plains.

Since most Chinese homes had only a rudimentary kitchen or cooked outdoors over an open fire, the type of breads they make reflect this. Savory bread rounds leavened with baking powder are often baked on griddles over an open fire, and are assertively seasoned with scallions, garlic, lots of sesame seeds, or peppercorns. Today they are part of dim-sum offerings in restaurants.

The culinary art of dim-sum began in China hundreds of years ago.  Some believe that it started along the Silk Road at tea houses where travelers often stopped to relax and eat, which is where Marco Polo got a taste of the eastern culinary mainstay.

This recipe is a favorite from San Francisco’s Chinatown.  The technique for shaping the flatbread is unique (see the photo and follow the instructions carefully), but very easy. The dough is rolled up with the scallions, wrapped around itself like for a sweet roll, then rolled out flat with a rolling pin before laying in the hot pan to bake. The flatbread will be dotted evenly with the scallion bits of green. Serve with stir-frys hot off the griddle or munch for a snack with tea and fruit.

Makes 3 breads, 18 wedges.


  • 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt, plus some for sprinkling
  • 3/4 cup ice water
  • 2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil, for brushing
  • 2/3 cup minced green onion, both white and green sections
  • 1/3 cup brown rice flour, for dusting
  • 1/3 cup peanut oil or olive oil, for cooking
  • Equipment: 9- or 12-inch cast-iron or nonstick skillet

bake in a heavy frying pan


In a medium bowl or work bowl of the food processor, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt.  Add the water, stirring vigorously until the dough comes together in a springy moist ball.

Place the dough on a lightly floured work surface and knead until a silky ball is formed, 1 to 2 minutes.  Leave the dough ball on the work surface, cover with an overturned bowl, and let rest 1 hour to relax the dough.  Knead a few times to smooth out the dough.

roll up the dough, then wrap it around itself to make a circle

On a work surface dusted with rice flour and using a rolling pin, roll out the dough ball into a flat 17-inch square about 1/8 inch thick.  Brush with the sesame oil and sprinkle with the green onions and a bit of salt.  Roll up tightly, jelly roll fashion, pinching the seams and ends.  Cut into 3 equal portions.  Using the palms of your hands, roll the filled dough back and forth to make an 18-inch long rope.  Coil the rope around itself to make a flat circular bread about 1 inch thick.  Tuck the end under.  Set aside, covered plastic wrap, and shape the other 2 portions.  Using a rolling pin on a floured surface, roll out each coil of dough into a 9-inch round circle with bits of green onion popping through.

In a large heavy skillet over medium-high heat, warm 2 tablespoons of the peanut

roll out the circle to make the layering effect/great prep photos courtesy of susitna cafe

oil.   Place one green onion bread in the skillet and pan-fry 2 minutes on each side, until lightly browned.  Press with a metal spatula to keep deflating the bubbles while baking to help the bread bake evenly; it will puffy slightly and have brown spots flecking both sides.  Transfer to a paper towel lined plate and cover to keep warm, or place, covered, in a 300º oven until serving.  Add 2 tablespoons more oil to the skillet and bake the next bread.  Cut each bread into 6 wedges with a sharp knife and serve warm.

Excerpted from The Best Quick Breads, by Beth Hensperger. (c) 2000, used by permission from the Harvard Common Press.

Recipe and text copyright Beth Hensperger 2012

Please enjoy the recipe and make it your own. If you copy the recipe and text for internet use, please include my byline and link to my site.

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