Monday, July 28, 2014

My favorite Beijing Muslim bread

One of my favorite reasons for dining in Beijing Muslim restaurants is their selection of homemade grilled breads. 

These range from huge, thick wheels — much like the baked Uyghur breads that go so well with soups and stews  all the way down to delicate wheat wrappers that are used to envelop various stir-fries much like a burrito.

The crusty rounds that lure us back time and again, though, is this one, Grilled Sesame Breads with Green Onions. 

I think I love this one best because of the texture: crunchy toasted sesame seeds on the outside, wisps of flaky bread on the inside, lots of green onions to season every bite, and a definite moistness in the layers that offers perfect contrast to the crust.

Sprinkle on onions
Ordering breads in these restaurants can be tricky because not only the English names often offer little clue of what it is they are offering, but even the Chinese is far from uniform. 

The second-best way to deal with this dilemma is to scout around the room for what it is you want and then point it out to the server. The best choice, as always, is to make it yourself. If you’ve made bread before, you’ll find this very easy indeed.

Grilled sesame breads with green onions
Business letter fold
Zhīmá fāmiàn cōngyóubĭng 芝麻發麵蔥油餅
Beijing Muslim
Serves 4

¾ cup warm water
1 teaspoon yeast
2 teaspoons sugar
1¾ cups Chinese flour (or 2 parts all-purpose plus 1 part pastry flour), plus extra for kneading
1 teaspoon peanut or vegetable oil
1 teaspoon baking powder

And once again
4 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
¾ teaspoon sea salt
2 or 3 green onions, trimmed and finely chopped
Water as needed
3 tablespoons raw white sesame seeds

1. Place the water in a bowl or cup and sprinkle the yeast and then the sugar on top. Gently mix the yeast into the water and then give it about 20 minutes to foam. If it does not foam, toss out this mixture and get fresh yeast. Have the flour in a medium work bowl. Stir the yeast mixture into the flour to form a soft dough. Knead this until it no longer sticks to your hands. Form the dough into a ball. Use the oil to coat the inside of a clean work bowl, place the dough in the bowl, cover, and let it rise until double in size.
Roll out

2. Sprinkle the baking powder on a smooth work surface. Punch down the dough, form it into a ball, and place it on the baking powder. Knead these together until smooth, adding more flour if necessary to keep the dough from sticking. When it is as soft as an earlobe, cover the dough and let it rest for around 20 minutes.

3. Sprinkle the top and bottom of the dough with a little bit of flour. Roll it out into a rectangle about ¼ inch thick. Rub the sesame oil all over its surface, and then evenly sprinkle on the salt and green onions. For directions on how to fold the dough, see the photos on the right. To make the dough easier to roll out in the next step, cover it and let it rest for about 20 minutes.
Nudge square into circle

4. Form the dough out into a circle. The easiest way to do this is to gently pull on the edges and change the square into a rounder shape. Then, use your rolling pin to roll it out from the center toward the edge until you have a circle about 8 inches in diameter.

5. Pour the sesame seeds into a rimmed dish. Lightly moisten the top of the dough circle with water, and then place the circle upside down on top of the sesame seeds. Gently press the circle all over into the seeds. Now, moisten the other side of the circle and then flip it over onto the seeds and press this side, too, so that both sides of the dough are covered with sesame seeds.

6. Slide the circle back onto your work surface and pat the seeds and the bread together so that the circle is again 8 inches across (or the size of your skillet). (The bread can be made ahead of time up to this point and frozen.) Place the circle in a cool, clean, nonstick skillet, cover, and let the dough rise for about 45 minutes.
Roll on sesame seeds

7. Place the skillet over medium-low heat, cover, and slowly grill the bread until it is browned on the bottom and the seeds begin to pop. Carefully flip the bread over, cover again, and fry the second side until it too is golden. Remove to a cutting board, slice the bread into wedges, and serve. To reheat, grill it lightly on both sides or toast in a small oven, but  as with all breads  do not microwave it.


  1. You have such an amazing blog. I am from Beijing and get home sick (for the food) from time to time. I come to your blog just to read and fantasize about the good food in my memory from my childhood. Not sure why, the food in Beijing no longer tastes as good as I remembered. But I can always come to your blog, and tasting it from memory. Thanks.