Chinese New Year cookies and things

Every year in our house, we follow the Hokkien way of celebrating Chinese New Year. My grandmother, or Ah-ma as we call her, was born and raised in Fujian, China so she is incredibly traditional, and even after 50 years of living abroad, all she knows is how to speak Hokkien. My grandmother is 92 years old now and although she doesn’t look it, she’s become rather forgetful of dates, so my Mother has taken over with the Chinese New Year preparations.

It’s not really about being Buddhist as much as it is about being Chinese that we still continue celebrating the Lunar New Year in the way that we saw Ah-ma do it. We have the burning of gold paper, and prayers using incense. There is the never-absent offerings of a feast and wine at the altar. But my favourite is this giant colourful bowl of grain and things which I like to call ‘The Melting Pot of Prosperity‘.

The Chinese are big on symbolism, and in every province in China, they have their own unique symbols for every Chinese occasion. Here’s the one I grew up with, which I assume originated from Fujian. The Chinese culture is so rich it’s kind of hard to keep track of these things.

According to my Ah-ma, we set up these bowls for several days all over the house to help attract good feng shui for the year. The grain stands for year-round abundance in food, and the green onions stand for growth in business or in the home (as with the coins stuck on the grains, which is like money growing out of the ground). The cut-out figures with the rose plus the yam tied with the red ribbon represent family unity and a blooming relationship. The orange, the bread, and the colourful decorative ornament stand for objects that invite luck and opportunities into one’s life. The meanings may vary for each household, but one thing is for sure: all the elements in this bowl represent aspects in life the Chinese consider as most important, such as family, wealth, luck, and prosperity.

It’s kind of overwhelming sometimes how seemingly mundane objects can have so much meaning. Something easier for me to understand though is the food that usually comes connected with the Lunar New Year: glutinous rice cakes locally known as tikoy, pineapple tarts (and actual pineapples), huat ke, and the list goes on and on. I made these super yummy pineapple tarts last year, and this year I had a craving for peanut cookies.

I have to be honest; I’m not really sure what the history is with peanut cookies and Chinese New Year. All I know is, there are a lot of occasions where the Chinese eat something with peanuts in it. Well I’m not complaining because I like peanuts a lot.

I know I’m not restricted from making these treats the rest of the year, but the Chinese New Year seems to give me an excuse to eat more of these cookies than I usually would. They can most definitely by labeled as ‘once-you-get-started-it’s-hard-to-stop-eating’ cookies, especially if you make them into mouth-pop-able sizes and you like peanuts. A deadly combination for sure!

These cookies are really easy to make, and are downright delicious. They are melt-in-your-mouth balls of peanuts, and they will disappear from sight without you realising how much you’ve already consumed. Now my cookies don’t look so pretty because I really tried to control the amount of oil that went into the dough. As soon as the balls were form-able (but still a little crumbly), I stopped adding oil. The next time I make this, I’m definitely going to add in the proper amount of oil to make it as pretty as these ones. I daresay I still do like its rough around the edges look.

This recipe is easy to put together, but it does take a while to get everything in the oven. If you’re going for pop-in-your-mouth-sized cookies, then get ready to sit down and roll for a loooong time. I made mine half-tablespoon sizes, about three or four bites to finish, and I thought they were a great size. It’s all a matter of preference at this point though I’m pretty sure it’s easier to psychologise yourself into eating more pieces if the cookies are smaller.

Chinese New Year Peanut Cookies (花生饼)
A typical treat around Chinese New Year, these cookies are crunchy and have a full peanuty flavor.

Makes about 110 teaspoon-sized cookies
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  1. 300 grams raw peanuts
  2. 200 grams caster sugar
  3. 250 grams all purpose flour
  4. 200 milliliters canola oil (you may not use all of it)
  5. 1 teaspoon salt
  6. about 50 grams raw peanuts
  7. 1 egg, lightly beaten for egg wash
  1. 1. Preheat the oven at (392°F) 200°C and lay out two baking sheets lined with parchment.
  2. 2. Lightly roast all the peanuts in a frying pan over medium low heat for about 10 minutes till fragrant. Alternatively you can roast the peanuts on a parchment lined cookie sheet in the oven once it has reached (392°F) 200°C for 10 minutes, rattling them around halfway through to ensure even browning. (If you are using peanuts with skin on, remove the skin after the peanuts have cooled a little.)
  3. 3. Weigh out 300 grams of the peanuts. Half the remaining handful and cut them into quarters. If you are making a larger sized cookie, you may skip the cutting and use a half peanut for decorating instead. Set aside.
  4. 4. Grind the 300 grams of roasted peanuts till fine and put them in a large mixing bowl. The oil from the ground peanut will make them stick into lumps; break them apart with your fingers.
  5. 5. Sift the flour, salt and sugar into the peanut mixture and mix them together until well combined. Drizzle half of the oil into the bowl and use your hand to knead the mixture together.
  6. 6. Pour the rest of the oil while still kneading the mixture until all the sugar has melted and you can roll the mixture up into a ball without sticking to the bowl or your fingers. Then test it with a small lump of the mixture and roll into a ball between your palms. If it doesn’t crumble, then your mixture is ready. If not, add just bit more oil until you can roll them into a ball.
  7. 7. Scoop a heaped teaspoon or a half tablespoon of the mixture into your palm, and roll them into small balls. Place them on the baking sheets.
  8. 8. Put a little quartered peanut on top of each ball and glaze each cookie with the egg wash. Bake in the oven for 17 minutes or until golden brown. Cool completely on a parchment lined wire rack.
  9. Storage: The cookies store well in an airtight container for up to two weeks. It is best to eat them within a week's time as they do tend to get harder the more time passes.
Adapted from Life Is Great blog
The Tummy Train
May this Year of the Snake bring you love, peace, prosperity, and abundance! Oh, and sunshine. I’m definitely all for brighter days.