In Chen Kaige’s Forever Enthralled, the biopic on the dan performer Mei Lanfang, Mei’s children are welcomed after they escape from wartime Beijing with a ribbon-wrapped cake. His patron greets them with, “There may not be jianbing guozi in Shanghai, but there are cakes!” What an awful trade-off. But you know it’s bad when you start collecting references to jianbing.
This is just to say that one tries to avoid the difficult matter at hand, or the batter of the jianbing.
In Tianjin, the batter of a jianbing is often made of pure mung bean paste, ground on the spot in a small stone grinder, as you see here. This is a nice link about how to start your own jianbing stand, which mentions the Absolute Necessity of grinding your own batter. We tried making this by buying pure mung bean flour, and pouring water in until it was a nicely loose and pretty liquid. The resulting batter is a pleasantly drab olive green and very hard to control, ripping whenever we tried to manipulate it on the skillet. Mung bean flour tends not to stick to the pan, but because there is so little gluten, it doesn’t hold together well. It also looks very different from the Beijing versions that we’re used to.
For the purposes of this blog, and also experimentation, we made two versions: one with equal proportions
of mung bean and corn flour, and a second with an approximately 1:2 ratio of mung bean to corn flour. We preferred the second version, since it was chewier. Let’s also admit at this moment that while acceptably tasty, it wasn’t exactly the same bing texture that we’re used to.
We again posed questions to the almighty sage the jianbing vendor we both prefer at the east gate of Tsinghua (she thinks we are one and the same person, which justifies the usage of the royal we….) Her signs claim that the
batter is “five grain” (wugu 五谷), but when we talked to her, we found that this was not the case at all. As recipes floating around the internet also indicated, she does not in fact use “five grains,” but only three: mung bean, soy bean, and wheat flour. So the purists will use mung bean flour, and the more heretical among us who enjoy a chewier texture will use equal proportions of mung
bean, soy bean, rice, wheat and/or corn flour.
We were missing the regular wheat flour of the flour symphony. At its core, then, the jianbing batter
is mung bean, soy bean/corn, and wheat flours, in about a 1:1:1 ratio. This, however, can be adjusted to your taste. There are no other ingredients, no resting time, nothing else, so please experiment! That is why this is an Unrecipe.
- 3 oz (90 g) mung bean flour (ludou mian 绿豆面) — to ensure orthodoxy, this Must Be Present
- 7 oz (200 g) soy bean flour (huangdou mian 黄豆面) or corn flour (yumi mian 玉米面)
- 7 oz (200 g) wheat flour
- about 8 oz (250 g) water
- experiment! try adding in rice flour (xiaomi mian 小米面)；there are also versions with sticky rice flour (nuomi mian 糯米面) or purple rice flour (zimi mian 紫米面)
1. Mix your chosen flours. It should be in a 1:1:1 ratio. This said, we found we preferred a smaller percentage of mung bean flour to the other flours, for flavor, texture, and ease of frying, so this is reflected in the ingredients list.
2. Add a healthy dose of salt. It will be completely flavorless without it; think of saltless bread.
3. Add the water slowly, and mix until until the batter is relatively thin. It shouldn’t be very thick, as this will make it hard to spread, and it shouldn’t be too thin, as this will be very hard to handle. But the thinner you are able to make the batter, while still ensuring that it is spreadable, means that the resulting bing will be even more delicious. In the photo below, the batter is a bit too thick, as indicated by the way the batter is able to stand up and hold its shape.
Next: finally putting it all together.