My Comfort Food: Black Sesame Shaobing / 黑芝麻燒餅 (Taiwanese Flatbreads)
Taiwanese breakfasts have always fascinated me. As a Taiwanese-American born and raised in the US, I grew up eating stuff that most of my other classmates probably ate for breakfast: sugary cereals, poptarts, toast with peanut butter or jelly and the like. Once in a while though, my parents would take my sister and me to a tiny restaurant near our house that served traditional Taiwanese breakfast, which usually consisted of a steaming bowl of either a savory or sweetened version of soy milk (the savory version is the type I prefer, which comes garnished with small pieces of Chinese crullers (油條), chopped scallions, pickled vegetables and a dash of vinegar), potstickers, panfried turnip cakes, egg turnovers and fan tuan (a sort of roll made up of fragrant glutinous rice stuff with pork floss and a Chinese cruller). What my sister and I really craved, however, was the uber-Taiwanese breakfast of shao bing you tiao (燒餅油條). What is this, you ask? Let me enlighten you.
Take a shao bing (a flaky, sesame coated flatbread of goodness), split it open and stuff it with a you tiao (a glorified deep-fried breadstick). Close it to make a carbalicious sandwich. Eat as is, or dunk it in the soymilk and stuff your face. This ain’t no Atkins-friendly breakfast here.
Sounds weird (carbs with carbs? It’s like making a french fry sandwich!) but trust me, it’s delicious. So when I was perusing and old Chinese cookbook that my mom had and saw a recipe for these flaky flatbreads, I knew I had to try it.
- 6 C (720 g) all-purpose flour
- 1.5 C (354 ml) boiling water
- 1/2 C (118 ml) cold water
- 3/4 C (177 ml) roux mixture
- 1/2 tablespoon salt
- 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
- 1/4 C (60 ml) sesame seeds
- For the roux mixture: 1.5 C (365ml) flavorless oil (such as vegetable oil) and 3 C (360 g) all-purpose flour.
Prepare the roux mixture: In a saucepan, heat the 1.5 cups of oil until hot. Add the 3 cups of all-purpose flour and stir to mix well. Cook the mixture over low heat for 10 minutes until the mixture is fragrant and lightly golden. Make sure you’re standing at the pan at all times as this can go from golden brown to burnt very quickly!
Set aside the roux mixture to cool.
Meanwhile, let’s continue on with the rest of the recipe, shall we?
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C).
Place the flour into a mixing bowl and add the boiling water and cold water all at once and mix well. Knead the dough until it becomes smooth and elastic.
Using a silicone mat (or a lightly oiled surface), roll out the dough until it measures a 16″ x 16″ square.
Evenly sprinkle the surface of the dough with the roux mixture, salt and 1 tablespoon flour. Roll up the square tightly ina jelly roll fashion and cut the roll into 20 even pieces (you may have to roll it back and forth a bit to stretch it out to a workable length). For each piece that you cut, pinch the ends together to make sure none of the filling spills out.
Here’s where you shape the pieces and obtain the “flakiness” that characterizes these flatbreads. It may be a bit tricky as I’m not the best at explaining how to shape the flatbreads, so I’ve provided a sort-of step-by-step tutorial to help:
For each piece, place it on the board, such that the pinched edges are on the sides. Take a small rolling pin or dowel, and holding it horizontally, place it on the lower 1/3 of the flatbread.
Roll away from, so that the flatbread is about 4 inches square.
Fold the lower third of the square up to the center.
Then fold the top third down over that (if you’ve ever made croissants or any other laminated dough, this will start to sound familiar).
Now rotate the dough piece 90 degrees so that it’s vertical.
Again, holding the rolling pin horizontally, place the rolling pin now at the vertical center of the dough piece and just press down (don’t roll).
Lift your rolling pin and fold the top half of the dough over.
Dip the piece of the dough, smooth side down, into the sesame seeds, pressing lightly, so as to get the surface fully covered in seeds. Place the dough, sesame seeds side down, on your board and roll out into a 6″ x 3″ rectangle.
Transfer to baking sheet with the sesame side down and repeat with the other 19 pieces.
Bake the breads on the cookie sheet, sesame seed side down for 5 minutes, then flip the breads over and bake them for another 5 minutes or until they are a nice golden brown. They should puff up slightly.
These breads are flaky, crispy on the edges and tender on the inside due to the roux mixture and “quick” laminated dough technique; the traditional way of enjoying these flat breads for breakfast is to stuff them with crispy chinese crullers (you tiao or 油條) and eat with sweet or savory soy milk. In Taiwan they also stuff them with thinly sliced roast beef and scallions (called 牛肉燒餅) and is equally delicious. But it’s up to you; on the rare occasions that my mom bought these from the Chinese supermarket, I was really fond of splitting these open like English muffins and filling them with peanut butter and jelly in my Taiwanese version of the PB&J sandwich. If you do make these, leave a comment as to how you enjoy them . . . I’m always looking for new ideas.
Note: While my version of these flatbreads use black sesame seeds, white sesame seeds are used traditionally. My mom informed me that flatbreads with black sesame seeds usually indicate a sweet version rather than a savory version.