Sesame Ball Jian Dui 煎堆By Ellen L. Published: 2016-02-21
This little ball of golden goodness took a few tries to get right. I wanted to make these light as air sweet treats for the Chinese New Year as they are a lucky symbol, being golden and perfectly round (golden coins, anyone?) and fortuitously expanding to several times their original size (yeah, your little venture is going to go through the roof!) I mentioned to my 媽媽, who is in town at the moment visiting, that I was going to make the wonderfully crispy yet chewy Sesame Balls also known as Jian Dui (煎䭔 or煎堆) or Matuan 麻糰. She said to me, 'Oh, those are easy, just like how you make tong yuan except you fry it!' Well, sorry to say, dearest 媽媽, you were a wee bit wrong. It wasn't really that easy at first to make these; however, once you get the trick of it, it's easy enough and you can make gorgeous, hollow, perfectly round and yummilicious Sesame Balls!
The thing that was confusing was that, when you look around, there are many recipes for Sesame Balls that are really quite different. Some call for a simple mixing of the dough. Others call for boiling part of the dough. Some recipes add baking powder and baking soda while others don't add any at all. The thing that I was clear about was that I wanted to make Sesame Balls that expanded, creating a thin crispy yet chewy skin and a hollow interior. How to make that simple little ball of dough expand to a perfect ball three times the original size?
I decided to try out a couple of different methods and the following is what I found to work the best to make the perfect Sesame Balls Jian Dui.
|Glutinous rice flour|
The main ingredient is glutinous rice flour which you can find at all Asian grocers. Don't buy rice flour! Rice flour is very different and does not have the gooey expansion powers of glutinous rice flour.
|Cutting dough to equal sizes|
When I first made the Sesame Balls using only just plain mixed dough I found that the dough did not cook all the way through by the time the outsides were golden and crispy. Plus the balls only expanded a little bit. So...
|Boiling the dough balls|
...the next time around I boiled part of the dough, in essence pre-cooking the dough, then kneaded it together with plain mixed dough. So my dough basically was half pre-cooked by the time it hit the oil. This time my ball of dough expanded dramatically to my delight. Also, though I did not have problems with this, apparently boiling part of the dough prevents the Sesame Balls from exploding in the oil.
|Mix precooked dough with non precooked dough|
Knead the pre-cooked dough with your uncooked dough until smooth and not sticking to sides of the bowl. Roll immediately into round balls the size of a golf ball. If you are particular on your food presentation you can weigh each ball to make sure they are all the same weight and therefore all the same size when expanded. Make sure your balls of dough are as round as can be, unlike the rather lumpy ball that's in my photo below. Round balls will much more easily form perfectly round Sesame Balls. Moisten rounded balls with fingertips dipped in water, then roll balls in sesame seeds until coated densely all over. I like to use my fingers to lightly moisten instead of dipping the balls themselves into water cuz I find the balls get too wet if dipped. And the dense coating of sesame seeds is because the balls expand a lot so that what seems quite packed together now will seem just right after the balls expand.
The final and very important step is the deep frying of the balls. It is here that the expansion occurs and a hollow center is created. I tried a couple of photos showing the frying process but ended up almost dropping my camera in the oil, so I'm just going to explain it the best way I can.
The oil should not be too hot, around 140C or 285F. (Use a chopstick to test your oil. A thin stream of bubbles should rise up from chopstick end when you stick it into the hot oil. Or get yourself a thermometer that clips to pot.) Drop 2-3 dough balls in carefully. The dough will stay at the bottom of your pan for a while. Use a spatula to gently roll the ball around and over to evenly heat all sides. The ball will then rise to float on the oil. Keep rolling the ball around to evenly heat and at the same time start to use spatula to press the dough under the oil and gently against the side of the wok. Roll, press down and to the side. You will find that when you press down and to the side the dough will start to expand like magic! The key here is to be even all around with rolling and pressing so that the dough expands into a perfect rounded ball. The more you press the thinner the skin of your Sesame Ball will be. I wanted mine extra thin and crispy and was able to achieve a skin of less than 1/8 of an inch!
You can, of course, fill these Sesame Balls with the filling of your choice since they are hollow inside. Next time I'm going to try Sesame Balls filled with Red Bean Paste or maybe Lotus Seed Paste. But for now I'm super happy just munching my way through these wonderfully crispy yet chewy balls of golden sesame sprinkled luckiness!
|An earlier batch that didn't expand quite as much as I wanted them to|
Sesame Ball Jian Dui Recipe 煎䭔 煎堆
Pre-cooked Dough1/2 cup glutinous rice flour, 62g
3 tbsp water, 46 ml
Non Pre-cooked Dough5 tbsp glutinous rice flour, 38g
2 tbsp sugar, 25g
1/2 tsp baking powder
pinch baking soda
1.5 tbsp water, 22 ml
1/2 cup white or black sesame seeds
Mix flour and water for pre-cooked dough until a dough forms. Tear into ten approx. equal pieces and boil in small pot of boiling water for 3 mins. Drain.
Mix remaining rice flour, sugar, baking power and baking soda with water until a dough forms. Add in the boiled dough and knead until two doughs from one pliable smooth dough. (If dough seems too dry sprinkle a bit of water. If too wet add a bit of rice flour.) Divide dough into 10 equal pieces and roll into round balls. Pour a thick layer of sesame seeds into a shallow dish. Use fingers to lightly moisten with water, then roll balls in sesame seeds until covered densely all over. Repeat with all dough balls.
In a wok pour in enough oil to completely submerge the balls at three times their uncooked size. (Approx 3 inches) Heat oil to 140C or 285F. Carefully drop in 2-3 balls* which will drop to the bottom and cook. Use spatula to gently turn balls to allow even heating on all sides. When the balls rise to the top of the oil, continue rolling balls around evenly while gently pressing down just under the oil surface and against the side of the wok. As you do this rolling and pressing the dough balls will expand. Do it evenly on all sides and you will get a perfectly round result. When the sesame ball is about 3 times the size of the original and a light golden brown remove from oil (approx. 5 mins.) (The balls will continue to darken a bit after removing from oil.) Place on kitchen towel to drain any excess oil and then serve it up hot and golden!
Tip: Make just enough to eat in one go. Leftover next day Sesame Balls are just not the same.
*Tip: Try frying only one ball in the beginning. Once you get the hang of rolling and pressing at the same time you can fry more balls at the same time.
More Chinese New Year Dishes at The Hong Kong Cookery:
Buddha's Delight | Luohan Zhai 羅漢齋
Potsticker Pork Dumplings 鍋貼
Chinese New Year Tray of Togetherness 中國新年攢盒
Stir Fried Nian Gao Rice Cakes 炒年糕
Chinese New Year Cake Nian Gao 年糕
Tong Yuan Rice Dumpling 黑芝麻湯圓
Chinese New Year Celebrations 香港新春節慶
Chinese New Year Flowers 中國新年花
Homemade Chinese Pork Jerky Bakkwa 自制猪肉干
Braised Dried Oysters with Black Sea Moss and Roast Pork 髮菜蠔豉燜燒肉
Chinese Smiling Sesame Cookie Balls 笑口棗
Jau Gok Peanut Puff Dumpling 炸油角 / 炸角仔