Earlier this month, I visited the vibrant metropolis of Hong Kong and had a chance to tour the kitchens of Michelin-star restaurant Ming Court at the Langham Place Hotel in Mong Kok. The restaurant offers private dim sum lessons with their experienced chefs, so I jumped at the chance to learn secret techniques, tips and tricks from Ming Court’s dim sum master himself, Chef Tse Sun Fuk, for a Chinese New Year staple — smiling sesame balls.
These traditional cookies are served during the new year to symbolize happiness and laughter. In fact, the Chinese name for these translates directly to “smiling mouth cookies” — meaning if you eat these cookies, the year that follows will be a happy one full of smiles and laughter. (In addition, the cracks made in the cookies while they’re frying make them look like they are smiling or laughing.)
Chef Tse’s secret to making them crispy on the outside, and pillowy soft on the inside, is melting the sugar in the water before adding the remaining ingredients. They are surprisingly easy to make, and even easier to eat! And I can promise that the name rings true because after adapting this recipe in the Chatelaine Kitchen, we were definitely all smiles.
Gong Hei Fat Choi, from our kitchen to yours!
笑口棗 – Smiling sesame-ball cookies
Recipe adapted from Chef Tse Sun Fuk of Ming Court, Langham Place Hotel, Hong Kong
Prep 20 min
Total 1 hour 40 min
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1/4 tsp baking soda
- 1/3 cup granulated sugar
- 3 tbsp hot water
- 1 tbsp vegetable oil
- 1 egg
- 1/2 cup white sesame seeds
- vegetable oil for frying
- STIR flour with baking powder and baking soda in a medium bowl.
- WHISK sugar with hot water in a large bowl until sugar dissolves. (If needed, microwave on high in 30-sec intervals). Whisk in oil, then egg. Gradually stir in flour mixture. Knead gently until dough just comes together. Dough will be slightly sticky. Wrap dough in plastic and refrigerate until chilled, 1 hour.
- FILL a large bowl with cold water. Pour sesame seeds into a shallow dish. Dust your hands with flour and roll chilled dough into 1-in. balls. Place balls, 6 to 8 at a time, in a sieve, then dip quickly into cold water. Shake off excess water, then tumble balls into sesame seeds. Shake to coat balls completely. Repeat with remaining balls. (See below for a video tip!)
- FILL a medium saucepan with vegetable oil to reach 2 in. up sides of saucepan. Set saucepan over medium and fit with a thermometer. Heat oil until it reaches 350F. Add 6 to 8 sesame balls to hot oil. Cook, turning occasionally, until sesame balls rise to the top and turn golden brown, 4 to 5 min. Remove to a paper-towel lined plate. Repeat with remaining sesame balls. Serve warm or at room temperature.