I cannot quite explain the quiet satisfaction and contentment of having one of these pancake wedges in your hand, warm and dorsal, slightly drooping. Evenly brown and with a laminated dewy shine on top, cut into triangles that show off thick insides of aerated white custard – gently chewy and spongy, kueh-like (bouncy and glutinous), yet meltingly soft.
You will walk past local soya bean milk stores and smell them from a mile away: the warm aroma of freshly crushed soybeans churned into thick white creamy milk; the lightly sweet fragrance of the edgemost tuile-crisp of golden batter, with the slightly bitter note of baking soda. Then, peering into display cases steamed with warmth, you see them in baby Swiss rolls or pointed slabs with fillings of crushed and sugared roasted peanuts, red bean paste; cheese, kaya. The colours and little bulges of filling, the horseshoe bend of pancakes sloped softly over each other – there is such joy looking at the fried batter heaped into an architectural tower, like soft-webbed and thick-lipped scallops growing in garlands on sea rock, governed by some strange organizing nature.
We call them apam balik or min jiang kueh 面煎粿 (also min chiang kueh, also ban chiang kueh, also swap out the ‘min’ for mee…) – these all refer to these signature webbed and folded pancakes. They differ in form – I would argue MJKs are all yeasted except in pasar malam (street bazaar) form, where they are slightly thinner; whereas their Indonesian/Malaysian cousin called martabak manis solely relies on a bicarbonate rise. In Taiwan, they’re also known as 麥仔煎/麵粉煎 (fried wheat, or fried flour; very succinct!) and branch out into a whole new family tree of traditional streetside crepes and batters.
These take some time to develop the tall chambered gluten structure, hence the rise time of two hours (bulk ferment); but it’s well worth it at the end, and your house fills with the most delicious smell. It’s very possible to make them the night before and warm them up to have fresh in the morning; I’ve tried an overnight method too that creates a less prominently porous crumb, but is sweeter and spongier for having developed more flavour as the yeast works away at the starches and sugars.
My favourite filling has to be red bean paste in a thick fudgy layer, but I’ve made them here with the incontestable crowd favourite of roasted peanut. The middle one is a tofu kaya I’m still mucking around with, and some shredded Violife cheese for the martabak manis keju feel, but feel free to go with what you wish – there has been a recent renaissance of experimental fillings, from durian and egg mayo to the likes of cheesecake, apple pie and Biscoff spread, so the world is your oyster.
Vegan Min Jiang Kueh / Apam Balik 面煎粿
Makes 2 large pancakes (about 8 inch in diameter before folded)
180g all-purpose flour
30g granulated sugar
1.5tsp/6g instant yeast
280ml soy milk
45g coconut cream
1/4 Tsp baking soda + 1 tbs water
Whisk together all dry ingredients except for the baking soda. Make a well in the middle, add the coconut cream, and slowly stream in the soy milk, whisking constantly until a batter forms.
Cover with a damp towel or plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature until a thick foamcap of yeasty bubbles form with large bubbles, about 1.5 to 2 hours. If you want to speed up the process/are in a cold and dry climate, either put the bowl in the oven with a dish of fresh-boiled water with the door shut or gently float it in a basin of warm water to aid the process.
When the batter looks like the picture above in the post, preheat a nonstick pan on medium low heat until a drop of water sizzles loudly and evaporates immediately upon contact. You can either grease it lightly and evenly using a kitchen towel dabbed in oil or fry directly on a dry pan if you want the clean, brown trademark look.
Add the baking soda dissolved in 1 tbs water to the batter and whisk to combine. Ladle out a heaping 1 cup of batter (about half) and use the back of a ladle or spoon to let the batter spread in an 8 to 10 inch circle; bubbles will start to appear immediately.
Cover the pan with a lid or a cap of aluminium foil large enough to cover the circumference. Lower the heat and let the pancake cook for about 3-5 minutes, until fully cooked through – it should look bubbly like a crumpet all over, and be golden brown beneath.
Slide the pancake onto a plate or cooling rack and, if you wish, lightly butter the surface with a small knob of vegan butter. Add your fillings of choice and fold over immediately. Cut the pancake diagonally into two long wedges, or into three even triangles. Enjoy!
- Keep each pancake warm and moist by placing it in the oven set on the lowest temperature whilst you make the other one, or lightly cover with a teatowel.
- For fillings like vegan cheese or chocolate that require a melt, butter the pancake and add the fillings whilst the pancake is still in the pan before folding over, cooking for about a minute, and sliding out onto your rack or plate. I used a roasted peanut filling: 3 tbs natural peanut butter, 1 tbs roasted and chopped peanuts, 1 tbs maple syrup, a bit of water if needed to loosen.
- For an overnight rise, I let the batter sit for half an hour before moving to the fridge. In the morning, I took it out and floated it in a tray of warm water and let it rise till it reached the full-bubbled stage (about 2 hours).
- STORE NOTE: These pancakes are best freshly fried, but will keep for about 2 days in an airtight container unfilled. To preserve freshness, keep them in the oven on the lowest setting whilst you fry the batter; then, whilst they are slightly warm still, wrap tightly in clingfilm to trap the moisture before gently placing in a tupperware. To reheat, sprinkle lightly with water and warm on the pan, then fill as according to instructions above.
- FREEZE NOTE: Follow the storage instructions but wrap pancakes in a parcel of aluminium foil after the clingfilm. Place in an airtight ziplock bag and freeze for up to a month. Bring to room temperature and reheat.