Salt and Sichuan pepper cakes 椒盐饼



Two jin sugar, one half jin sesame oil, one half liang salt, one liang crushed Sichuan pepper, one liang ground fennel. Make a flour dough to encase the filling (add coarsely ground sesame for an even better taste). Stuff each cake with the filling, roll flat and bake.

Another method is to make the outside with a mixture of oil and boiling water, and use the above filling on the inside.


This recipe comes from the late-17th-century Secrets of the Table and describes a cake made by rolling dough around an oil-based filling. That’s all we know, and it turns out that’s not enough.

In modern measurements, the recipe comes roughly to 2.4 kg (11 cups) sugar, 700ml (3 cups) oil, 18 g (4tsp) salt, 37 g (16tsp) each Sichuan pepper and fennel, all stuffed into “some” dough. Divide the whole thing by 10 and we have a more human-sized recipe. I started with a simple flour and water dough, which I rested for 30 minutes and then kneaded until elastic. Mixing the filling (including the sesame) according to the proportions gave me something that looked like a Chicago snowbank in February.

How do you actually make them? Well that’s a very good question, and here the recipe wasn’t much help. 熯 means to dry cook, which could mean to bake or pan fry without oil. For this first time, I chose the second.

I tried a few variations on shape. The recipe sounds like we want a lump of filling in the center, but I also tried rolling the dough flat and spreading the filling out to increase the number of internal layers.

The result was mixed. The rolled method gave me something like a sugar-soaked pastry. Not unpleasant but very heavy. The other methods left a big reservoir of syrup inside a hard outer shell. I found a later version of the same recipe that clarifies these should be 入炉 — cooked in an oven. But a more important suggestion was in that last line: to make the dough with a mixture of oil and boiling water. That would certainly have improved the texture.

How about the flavors? Sichuan peppercorn mixed with sugar in that ratio really jumps out. Ten minutes later my mouth was still tingling. Personally, I am a fan of sugar and of peppercorns, but maybe not the two together.

I have had shaobing that combine sweetness and sesame with a tiny hint of Sichuan peppercorn. Far less than the proportions used here. Plus shaobing are leavened, which means they don’t use nearly so much oil. All in all, the modern version strikes me as a significant upgrade.

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