For us Chinese, Chinese New Year was something to anticipate and look forward to. The preparations would commence months before the actual festival, which usually falls in January or February. Worn out furniture would be replaced, new bed linens and curtains procured, and walls would receive a fresh coat of paint.
As kids, we would be pampered with new clothes and a haircut. There was another activity that I was especially eager to participate in. In those days, most festive snacks were prepared by family, friends, or neighbours. The cooks and their assistants would gather at a common area; ingredients would be laid out and duties assigned. Every participant seemed to know his or her role in some unspoken way.
Some peeled, others sliced, and the more experienced would cook. There were no recipes and no instructions, yet everyone knew what to do. The novices would help in the more menial tasks, and watch the others to study the steps of preparation and cooking.
Festive snacks were not taken lightly. Each snack had its own auspicious significance and even the sequence of cooking mattered. This particular snack is known as “Smiling Dates” or 笑口枣. Traditionally, dough was rolled into a ball and smothered in sesame seeds. During deep-frying, the ball would burst open and resemble a smiling face.
It was believed that this snack would bring happiness and smiles to the family for the next 12 months!
Smiling Dates (笑口枣)
Sugar 60 g
Water 20 g
Cake flour 180 g
Custard powder 10 g
Baking soda 3 g
Bicarbonate of soda ¼ tsp
Salt ¼ tsp
Egg yolk 40
Butter 30 g, room temperature
White sesame ½ cup
1. Melt sugar in water. Set aside and let it cool.
2. Mix flour, custard powder, baking soda, bicarbonate of soda and salt, sieve well.
3. Mix all ingredients, except white sesame, and form a dough. Cover and let it rest for 30 minutes.
4. Roll dough into a long rod. Cut into small pieces.Take a small piece and roll it into a ball. Dip in water and roll the ball onto the sesame seeds.