The beauty of pan rolls is in the layers of texture: the crunchy fried outer layer gives way to the soft pancake, which encloses the highly spiced filling. Serve them on their own or with a good chilli or tomato sauce.






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I’ve included instructions for two different fillings for you to choose from: beef and potato. The beef recipe can be adapted to use any other type of meat, or a combination, such as pork and beef. Both fillings can be made a day or two ahead and stored in the fridge. Each recipe makes enough to fill 40 pancakes.



  • 600 g plain (all-purpose) flour
  • 12 g cooking salt
  • 960 ml full-cream (whole) milk
  • 8 eggs
  • vegetable oil, for pan-frying (optional)

For crumbing and frying

  • 100 g plain (all-purpose) flour
  • 5 eggs
  • 100 ml full-cream (whole) milk
  • 450 g coarse breadcrumbs (I like panko crumbs)
  • vegetable oil, for deep-frying
  • salt flakes

Potato filling

  • 2 kg desiree potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 cm dice
  • 200 g ghee
  • 40 g moru (white) chillies, roughly crushed or chopped
  • 30 g brown mustard seeds
  • 20 g fennel seeds
  • 10 g curry leaves
  • 20 g turmeric powder
  • 8 g cinnamon powder
  • salt flakes and freshly ground white pepper

Beef filling

  • 70 g coconut oil
  • 1.7 kg coarsely minced (ground) beef
  • 340 g brown onion, finely diced
  • 35 g finely chopped garlic
  • 35 g finely chopped ginger
  • 35 g chilli powder
  • 30 g Brown curry powder (see Notes)
  • 75 g tomato paste (concentrated puree)
  • salt flakes and freshly ground black pepper
  • 12 green bird’s eye chillies, finely chopped
  • 340 g celery, finely diced

Cook's notes

Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.


First, make your filling of choice:

Potato filling:

  1. Place the potato in a medium saucepan and cover with lightly seasoned cold water. Bring to a simmer over a medium heat and cook for 12–14 minutes until the potato is tender but not overcooked. The potato needs to hold its shape, otherwise the filling will be more like mashed potato. Drain well.
  2. Melt the ghee in a wide-based saucepan over a medium heat, add the moru chilli, mustard and fennel seeds and cook, stirring, for 4–5 minutes until the mustard seeds begin to pop and the fennel seeds start to darken. Add the curry leaves and fry for a moment, then add the potato and stir to combine. Stir in the remaining spices and season well with salt and pepper. Cook for another 5 minutes, stirring to break up the potato a little (not too much) and make sure the mix doesn’t catch on the bottom of the pan. Remove from the heat.
    Your potato should be a little mushed up but still with at least half the dice holding its shape. The mixture should be dry and bright yellow with a pleasant mustard kick and hit of chilli heat. Set aside to cool to room temperature.

Beef filling:

  1. Begin by browning off the meat. Heat half the coconut oil in a frying pan over a high heat and add the beef in batches, cooking and stirring until well browned and breaking up any large clumps. Cook each batch for about 15 minutes to ensure the mix is dry and liquid free. Transfer each batch to a colander over a bowl to drain while you fry off the rest. (Any oily liquid that pools in the bowl can be kept for other cooking.)
  2. Melt the remaining coconut oil in a wide-based saucepan over a medium heat, add the onion, garlic and ginger and cook, stirring occasionally, for 4–5 minutes until the onion has softened. Add the chilli and curry powders and the tomato paste and cook, stirring, for another minute or so until the curry powder starts to catch on the bottom of the pan. Add the beef and season well with salt and pepper, then stir thoroughly to combine.
  3. Add the chilli and cook for another 2 minutes, then stir in the celery. Remove from the heat and have a taste – there should be a substantial hit of chilli heat, with the gentler spices from the curry powder and a little crunch of celery. The mixture should be dry and almost a bit sticky. Set aside to cool to room temperature, then place into the fridge to chill a little.

To make the pancakes:

  1. Sift the flour into a mixing bowl and add the salt. Whisk together the milk, eggs and 100 ml water in a jug. Gradually whisk the milk mixture into the flour, taking care to avoid any lumps forming. Once you have a nice smooth batter, vigorously whisk for another minute or so, then let it rest at room temperature for half an hour. (Alternatively, place all the ingredients in a blender and blitz until smooth.)
  2. Now it’s time to test your pancake-making skills. If you are using a non-stick pan you will not need any oil; if not, use a bit of paper towel dipped in oil to season your pan between pancakes.
  3. Heat a 20 cm non-stick frying pan or crepe pan over a medium heat, pour in approximately 45 ml of batter and swirl it around to evenly cover the base, forming a nice, thin pancake. Cook for 1–2 minutes until just about cooked through – the top should not be sticky to touch but you also don’t want the pancake to have any colour. Slide the pancake out of the pan and onto a tray with the more cooked side on the bottom. As you cook the pancakes, make sure to stack them up the same way. This stage is the trickiest to monitor. If you cook the pancakes too much they will crack and not hold together when rolled; if you don’t cook them enough they will stick together in the stack and be hard to separate. This will become fairly easy to get the hang of once you are actually doing it and the recipe does allow for some mistakes.  
  4. Once all your pancakes are cooked you can start the filling and rolling.
  5. Place one pancake flat in front of you, again with the more cooked side down. Use a spoon to shape about 50 g of the filling into a log shape and place it in the middle of the bottom third of the pancake. The beef filling is easiest to manage when the mix is slightly chilled, the potato filling when the mix is at room temperature. Fold up the bottom so it covers the filling, fold in the two sides, then snugly but not super tightly roll it up to form a log (like a large spring roll). The pancake should be soft and sticky enough to hold itself together once rolled.
  6. Set aside, seam side down, and repeat with the remaining pancakes and filling to make 40 rolls.
  7. Wipe down the bench and set up a crumbing station.
  8. Tip the flour in a bowl; whisk together the eggs and milk in a second bowl; and place the breadcrumbs in a third bowl. Have a clean tray or platter handy to put the crumbed rolls on.
  9. Gently dust each roll in flour, shaking off the excess, then coat in the egg mixture, allowing the excess to drip off. Finally, coat the rolls in the breadcrumbs. Place on the clean tray or platter. At this stage, the rolls can be kept in the fridge for a few days or frozen to fry later.
  10. Have a little clean, then get ready for frying.
  11. Pour vegetable oil into a large heavy-based saucepan to a depth of 4–6 cm (the oil should come no more than two-thirds of the way up the pan). Place over a high heat and heat to 170°C. If you don’t have a thermometer you can check by dropping a few breadcrumbs into the oil; if they sizzle immediately, the oil is ready.
  12. Working in small batches, fry the rolls for 5–6 minutes until they are a dark golden-brown colour, gently swishing them around so they cook evenly. Lift them out with a slotted spoon and drain on a wire rack. Season well with salt flakes. Give the oil a moment to heat up again before you fry the next batch.
  13. Pan rolls are ready to be eaten when hot and go nicely with some chilli or tomato sauce. They can also be left for a few hours and served at room temperature. Alternatively they can be re-heated in an oven for serving later.



To make the brown curry powder, place a wide shallow frying pan over a medium–high heat, add 45 g coriander seeds and 30 g fennel seeds and toast gently, tossing regularly for even cooking. After about 2 minutes the spices will start popping and releasing their aromas. Reduce the heat and keep toasting for another 4–5 minutes until the spices start to darken and the aroma becomes stronger and sweeter. Tip them into a bowl.

Add 30 g white peppercorns, 30 g mustard seeds and 20 g cumin seeds, 12 g curry leaves and 1 g pandan (cut into 5 mm pieces) to the pan and toast over a medium–high heat for 2 minutes or until they start to pop. Reduce the heat and toast for another 2–3 minutes until the pepper smell is pronounced, the mustard seeds are not only popping but grey in colour, the cumin darkens, and the fresh leaves are dry. Tip them into the bowl with the coriander and fennel seeds.

Next, toast a 15 g cinnamon quill (roughly crushed) and 8 g cardamom seeds over a medium–low heat for 4–5 minutes, then add to the bowl with the other spices and allow to cool completely.

Grind to a fine powder and then mix through the turmeric and 11 g chilli powder. Store in an airtight container.

If you are having trouble with your pancake batter you may need to make it slightly thicker or thinner. If you do add more flour or water, let the batter rest again before cooking with it.

If you find you are getting too many tears in your pancakes, cut some of the less perfect ones into quarters and place a piece in the middle of each whole pancake to reinforce it before rolling.

Recipe and image from Lanka Food: Serendipity & Spice by O Tama Carey, Hardie Grant Books, RRP $55.