Kok Chai (Chinese Peanut Puff)

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Happy Lunar New Year! Sometimes you can’t help but reminisce about the good old days, especially with traditional celebrations just around the corner. For me, part of the good old days was making treats with my family on the roof of the building where my po po (婆 婆) lived. Every year, the whole family would get together, and my mom and her sisters would make dough, filling, and fold hundreds of these little peanut puffs (角仔). Once they finished, they would spend the rest of the day together playing mahjong.

This year, my sister, Megan and I thought we should try our hand at the family tradition (minus the mahjong). We scoured the internet for recipes, and enlisted the help of kok chai expert, Mama Li.

Kok Chai Dough:
300g All purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
70g lard
2 eggs
4 Tbsp water
oil for frying (enough to fill the pot you will be using at least 3 or 4 inches)

Instructions:
1. Combine all purpose flour and salt.
2. Add lard. Blend with a pastry knife/cutter or with your fingers until you’ve achieved a sandy texture.
3. Add water and eggs. Mix until just combined (be careful not to over-mix as this will result in a tough dough). The dough should be slightly sticky – not too dry or too wet –  add a little flour / water if needed to adjust.
4. Rest dough in the fridge for 30 minutes.

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Kok Chai Filling:
112g cup shelled peanuts
30g white sesame seeds toasted
15g dessicated coconut
80g sugar

Instructions:
1. Toast peanuts and finely* chop.
2. Toast sesame seeds.
3. Combine peanut, sesame seeds, coconut and sugar. Mix and set aside.

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The mixture

*Megan didn’t think there was enough peanuts in the filling, I think that’s because I didn’t chop them properly. Try to aim for a relatively fine and even consistency, we found the peanuts in our mixture (above) to be a bit too coarse. Some of them are also a bit over-toasted (whoops!).

Kok Chai Assembly:
1. Roll out dough to about 5mm thick. You may find it easier to divide the dough into two or 3 pieces and roll them out separately.
2. Use a round cutter (traditionally, we used cups for this), roughly 3″ in diameter, depending on the size you’d like for your puffs.
3. For each circle of dough, spoon roughly 1 tsp of filling in the center, fold the circle in half, and pinch closed. Then comes the fun part: for the traditional look, employ the pinch and fold technique demonstrated in the video below.
4. Re-roll the scrap dough and cut out more rounds. Keep in mind the more that you do this the tougher the dough will get so try to re-work it as little as possible.
5. Heat oil to roughly 165°C and fry puffs for approximately 5 minutes** (until golden brown).

**You’ll notice that our puffs are a little light in colour. I think we could have done with a minute or two longer in the fryer, but a few sources (including Dad) say that the puffs should actually be double-fried. Does anyone know why this is? What is the purpose of frying twice rather than simply frying once for longer? I don’t have any answers yet, but next year I think we’ll experiment with both ways.

Mama Li: the newest YouTube sensation — I’m going to have to pay her royalties soon!

img_7830Prepared dough, waiting for the fryer. You can clearly see which ones my mom did. Ours are the little misshapen ones.

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We might not have gotten everything quite right this year, but it was a really fun way to spend time with the family. It’s also nice to think that we are keeping the tradition alive. We’ve taken notes, and we’re looking forward to doing it again next year!

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