I raced over to this node after writing Peking duck to see if there was a recipe to be had. There was, and dammit DMan, you have done it again. This troublesome individual has created quite a legacy for himself, and not all of it good - yet his Chinese food nodes are often faultless - witness the above. His recipe is identical to the one I have been using for years.
The problem is, although his recipe is close to perfect, he fails to explain just how wonderful these special wrappers are. Traditionally they are used in the first course of a Peking duck meal, leading to them often being referred to in the west simply as "duck pancakes". Their culinary legacy however, extends so much further than this. Just about any northern Chinese savory mixture can be used as a filling for these pancakes, and they are so addictive that your guests will be clamoring for more if you make them.
One of my most memorable meals was taken at a Beijing cuisine restaurant in Sydney some years ago. The person that recommended it stated clearly; "You have to get the crispy beef with pancake wrappers - but push the waiter, because they aren't on the menu." The restaurant didn't look enticing - a dim and dusty set of stairs leading to an unimpressive second floor. We ordered a wide selection of northern specialties, including of course, dumplings - then came my request for beef with pancakes.
The waiter looked at me suspiciously, turned his head to the kitchen, and said - "Have you had these before Sir?" I quickly explained my friend's glowing praise of the dish, then looked at him with begging and hungry eyes. He wasn't impressed, but he bought it - our order was expressed to the kitchen and a scant 15 minutes later something magical happened.
Two plates arrived at the table - one carrying tiny, matchstick-thin slices of crispy and moreish beef. It had been marinated in a mysterious mixture that obviously contained an array of spices, but was predominantly sweet - infectiously so. The second plate held the pancakes - thin and almost translucent. Each was impossibly identical to the one underneath. The waiter showed us how simple perfection could be, by placing a pancake on each of our plates, filling it with crispy beef, then wrapping it up for us. We didn't need to be shown twice.
What makes these pancakes so damn good? I suspect it has a lot to do with the boiling water. You see, unlike most flour-based preparations, these pancakes are made with boiling hot water. This heat treatment develops the glutens present in the flour in a manner that simply kneading will never achieve. The pancakes end up almost translucent - yet at the same time resilient - able to confidently contain the most robust filling.
If you want to try these pancakes out, just simply make a stir-fry of your favourite Chinese recipe - using beef, chicken or vegetables - whatever is your fancy. Even better, if you have a Chinese BBQ shop in your area, buy a roast duck, shred the meat and combine it with sliced green onions, coriander and hoi sin sauce. Wrap that up and you will have a memorable starter for a special dinner party.
Here are a few addenda to DMan's recipe. You simply must cook them in pairs just as he stipulates. You will never get the requisite thinness otherwise. In step 2, he mentions cutting the dough into 16 pieces - again good advice. Where he falters however, is with the following instructions; "Roll each piece into a ball, then flatten slightly into a pancake". I would recommend rolling each individual pancake out to at least 4 inches, before brushing with the sesame oil and topping with the next pancake. This will ensure that the oil is more evenly spread between the two, and they will separate without any headaches.
If you are making them ahead of time, follow DMan's instructions for re-heating, but make sure to keep them well covered in the interim. Cling wrap will make them sweat, so use a slightly moistened tea towel instead.