After writing about a Chinese restaurant in my previous post, I got in the mood to talking about a dessert that’s often served in local Chinese restaurants after a heavy multi-course meal. No, we’re not talking about Mango Sago, though that’s pretty much a staple too. I’m actually talking about the Buchi, or the Fried Sesame Seed Balls that usually have colourful pieces of toothpick stuck on them to make them easy to pick up and pop in your mouth. I know it’s the mooncake season and other blogs are probably writing about mooncake recipes, but let’s be real: I like buchi a lot more than mooncakes, so here we are. 🙂
This little critter has a TON of names. Traditionally it’s called 麻糰 [ma tuan] or 麻圆 [ma yuan] depending on where you are in China. But since the latter actually insinuates something round in its name, I decided to go with the first name to label these, because clearly my amateur hands are terrible at keeping these round from start to finish!
In English, these are known simply as Sesame Seed Balls, which if you translate literally in Chinese is another name still: 芝麻球 [zhi ma qiu]. Again, the word ‘ball’ in the name refers to something round. Some of my sesame balls actually ended up having some strange shapes, but don’t be fooled: They all tasted delicious! I wish I could read the Chinese names to you though, because the English letters really don’t give much justice to proper Mandarin pronunciation. Whatever you want to call them, these crisp on the outside, almost gooey on the inside balls are pretty darn addictive.
In the Philippines, these are simply called Buchi. There are two versions of buchi that exist here, and the other is like this semi-flat filled round that kind of looks like a fat pancake. This is the Chinese restaurant version, which I prefer because anything with toasty sesame seeds is just YUM in my book. They smell amazing and contribute this lovely nutty flavour.
I learned this once again from one of my all-time favourite cookbooks, and I’m so glad I decided to do this Homemade Sesame Balls Buchi recipe, because, my rookie mistakes notwithstanding, these were absolutely scrumptious!
The process of making this is interesting. You start by cooking a brown sugar syrup that you use to create the dough. This also helps to sweeten it and attain that kind of gooey texture once the dough touches the hot oil. The dough is not really hard to work with as long as you have a bowl of water on the side to keep it moist, since the dough does crack every once in a while, thanks to the moisture that escapes the dough from using a hot brown sugar concoction. If at any point you find the dough cracking, just wet your hands a little in the bowl before handling the dough again. The most crucial part is really this glutinous dough that wraps around the filling.
Speaking of filling, I used some smooth red bean paste to fill my buchi this time around. You can go with black bean paste as well, or even chopped peanuts, but in China they usually use lotus paste for this. No idea where you can buy that one, though in Manila the red bean paste can be bought from the Japanese stores in Cartimar. I think most buchi I’ve eaten in Chinese restaurants is filled with black bean paste.
Another note on the dough, the trick is not to make it too thick as you wrap it around the filling. You don’t want to be chewing through a thick layer of dough just to get through to the filling, but don’t make it too thin either so that the sweetness of the red bean filling has a balancing counterpart. Just slightly thinner than what I have made would be good, since the dough does expand while it’s being cooked.
The most gratifying part of this recipe is without a doubt the frying portion. You pop these in the hot oil after rolling them in sesame, and little by little these pale white balls turn into these lovely golden brown rounds of crispy joy! In the instructions below, the cooking process involves kind of pressing the balls against the wok to help the sesame seed balls expand further. This is the step that deformed some of my balls at first, so what you’ll want to do is to make sure you press the whole thing with the back of your spatula, and rotate it to press another portion of the ball to round it back up if you think the shape has become uneven. I got the hand of it after a few tries.
The fact that I’m getting over my general disdain for fried foods may or may not be a good thing…
Sesame Seed Balls 麻糰
- 6 Tablespoons red bean paste *
- 1 3/4 heaping cups, 1/2 pound of glutinous sweet rice flour **
- 2/3 cup water
- 2/3 cup lightly packed brown sugar
- 1/3 cup raw white sesame seeds
- Oil for frying
- 1. Prepare 18 spheres of filling by measuring 1 level teaspoon of red bean paste and rolling into a small ball. Repeat this until all 18 rounds are prepared. Put on a plate, cover, and set aside until ready to use.
- 2. Place glutinous rice flour in a large bowl and make a large well in the center. Prepare a small bowl of water nearby for wetting the hands during the dough-forming process later.
- 3. In a small saucepan, bring the water to a boil. Add brown sugar and stir until completely dissolved. Remove from heat and pour into the well created in the flour.
- 4. Using a wooden spoon or spatula, stir together flour and sugar mixture until combined. Occasionally press the mixture together to help it form a shaggy dough.
- 5. Pour out mixture into a clean work surface. If it's still too warm to the touch let it cool for a moment before kneading. Knead until dough becomes smooth.
- 6. Cut the dough into 3 pieces. Working with one piece at a time, give the dough a gentle squeeze to see if it cracks. The dough tends to dry quickly so at any time the dough cracks, just wet your hands in the prepared bowl of water and squeeze on the dough to bring some moisture back.
- 7. Now roll out the first piece of dough into a chubby log about 6-inches long. If it feels dry as you roll, wet your hands again-- the extra water should soften and smooth out the dough. Cut the log into 6 even pieces, then roll each piece into a ball and cover with plastic wrap to prevent drying. Repeat with remaining dough pieces until 18 dough balls are created.
- 8. Take a piece of dough ball and make a deep indentation with your thumb to create a little cup for the filling. (Or you can press the dough between your palms to turn it into a flat round.) Make sure the dough isn't too thick. Put the formed balls of filling into the indentation (or at the center of the flat rounds) then seal the filling inside.
- 9. Roll the filled balls between your hands to make it perfectly round and smooth. If the dough feels dry, slightly wet your hands before rolling. Set aside and cover with plastic wrap before continuing with the rest of the dough and filling.
- 10. Once all the dough has been filled and formed, place sesame seeds inside a bowl. Working with one dumpling at a time, dunk into the bowl of water (used for hands), shake off excess wetness, then coat in sesame seeds. Make sure the balls are completely coated all around before placing back on the work surface. Repeat with the rest of the dumplings.
- 11. Give the coated dumplings a last roll between the palms to make the sesame seeds adhere well to the dough. This also helps remove excess sesame seeds. Place on a plate and cover with plastic wrap.
- 12. Prepare a platter or baking sheet lined with paper towels and set near the stove. Pour oil into a wok or pot to a depth of about 2-1/2 inches. Heat over medium-high heat until it registers 350°F on a deep-fry thermometer.
- 13. Lower heat to medium to steady the temperature, then carefully lower the balls into the hot oil about 6 at a time. The balls will sink and stay at the bottom of the wok for about 2 to 4 minutes before floating to the surface. While still at the bottom, frequently turn and stir the balls to prevent uneven browning.
- 14. Once the balls have floated up, use the spatula to submerge the ball into the oil again, pressing it gently against the side of the pan or wok for 1 to 2 minutes. This helps the balls expand a bit. Once it expands by about twice its original size, release it and move on to the next ball. After the pressing process, allow the balls to fry until golden brown. (The whole process takes about 7 to 8 minutes.)
- 15. Once cooked, take out the sesame balls, letting excess oil drip back into the wok, then transfer to the paper towel-lined plate. Repeat process until all sesame balls are fried.
- 16. These are best eaten a little warm (for crispiness) and on the day they are made. If there are any leftovers, cover with parchment paper and leave at room temperature. These can be refried at 350°F using 2-1/2 inches of oil; or reheated in a 400°F (205°C) oven for about 5 minutes until gently sizzling.
** Please note glutinous rice flour is different from regular rice flour. Adapted from Asian Dumplings: Mastering Gyoza, Spring Rolls, Samosas, and More by Andrea Nguyen
And honestly you guys, these taste exactly like the ones in the restaurants. Maybe a teeny bit better? They’re just SO GOOD. But of course, as it is with almost all fried treats, they are always best the day they are made. Literally they are at their best and crunchiest just minutes after being cooked. I like eating these warm.