Over the last two millennia, buns in China have undergone invention, deconstruction, reconstruction, reinvention, and innovation. Pancakes with the fillings evenly embedded into the body of the dough, like a cyclone hit a farmers’ market next to a bakery, such as the Scallion Pancakes, Baked Sesame Buns, and guokui, or “Pan Helmets,” are among the most advanced examples of pastry the world has seen. Take that, cronut! We kid. Guokui are more of a technique than a recipe. The unique method of flattening, filling, rolling, and re-flattening into a spiral boggles the mind and pleases the palate. By the way, if you’ve missed our entertaining explanation of the “pan helmet” name, see the introduction for Jiandan Guokui.
Throughout this website, we frequently mention the city of Xi’an, as it is a food mecca and has been for us for two decades. You should really visit. Within the Muslim Quarter, there are a ton of guokui vendors. But one of our favorites is offered by the Wu family, who are fifty years deep (fried?). Their finesse and rolling expertise is second to none, but what makes them unique is a super thin, crackly outer shell, almost shatteringly crisp, followed by a tender, flaky chewy interior. Their biggest seller is a beef and scallion masterpiece that features the humble green onion with a mere hint of meat. We meet them in the middle with this recipe, and allow both to shine.
- Total Time: 1 hour, 25 minutes
- Serves: 6–8
- 3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
- ½ tsp salt
- 1 cup hot water
- 1 tsp vegetable or canola oil, plus more for brushing
- ½ cup vegetable or canola oil for frying
- ½ lb ground beef
- 1 tsp Lajiao You (Chile Oil)
- 1 tsp soy sauce
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- ½ inch ginger, peeled, minced
- 2 scallions, thinly sliced
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp dried red chili flakes
- ½ tsp ground Sichuan peppercorn
- ½ tsp salt
- 1 tsp vegetable or canola oil
- Whisk together flour and salt in a large mixing bowl or the bowl of stand mixer. Using clean hands in a mixing bowl or the dough hook in a stand mixer, slowly incorporate the water and 1 teaspoon of oil and knead until a single mass of dough forms.
- Dust the work surface with flour and transfer the dough on top. Knead and form the dough into a smooth ball. Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled, clean bowl, and cover with plastic wrap. Allow the dough to rest for 30 minutes.
- In a mixing bowl, thoroughly combine the filling ingredients. Preheat the oven to 475°F. Brush a thin layer of oil across the work surface. Uncover the dough, transfer the dough atop the oil and evenly hand-roll it onto a 2-inch-thick log. Cut the dough into 2-inch pieces. Knead and roll each of the dough pieces into a ball. Hand-roll one ball into a 1-inch log. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough into a long oval, ¼-inch or thinner is best.
- Smear a thin layer of the filling, about 1–2 tablespoons, across the long center of the dough. Be sure that the filling does not reach the edges. Starting from one narrow end, roll it up as you would a poster. It’s okay to stretch the dough as you roll it to completely surround the filling. Stand the roll on its end and gently flatten and roll it into a 4- to 5-inch disc. If an outer edge sticks out, fold it under the bottom of the disc as you flatten it. If some of the filling pops through the disc as you roll it, dust the exposed filling with flour and continue. Set aside and continue to make discs with the remaining dough balls.
- Add ½ cup of oil in a skillet over medium heat. When the oil begins to shimmer, place a few discs comfortably in the skillet, and work in batches. Fry the discs on one side for 2–3 minutes, or until the bottom is golden brown. Flip the discs over and continue cooking for 2 minutes. Remove the partially cooked discs from the skillet and place on a rack over a sheet pan or a few. Finish browning the remaining dough discs.
- Transfer the sheet pan(s) to the oven and bake the dough until the guokui are cooked through, about another 6–8 minutes. Remove the guokui from the oven and serve hot.
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