The best sweet treats, from traditional Chinese New Year desserts, such as osmanthus jelly and tang yuan, to modern ones, such as koi fish jelly for the Year of the Dragon 2024 to bring you good luck in the new year.
In Chinese culture, desserts are eaten during Reunion Dinner (團圓飯/ 团圆饭 Tuan Yuan Fan) to usher in a sweet life in the year ahead. (If you're wondering why, it's because desserts are sweet- Chinese people are big on symbolism, which is why we love the number 8 (homonym for striking it rich) but dislike the number 4 (homonym for death)!
When it comes to Lunar New Year: the golden brown pineapple tart represents Prosperity (as its name in the Hokkien dialect, "Ong Lai", sounds similar to the word), Chinese New Year Cake is eaten in hopes of a better year ahead (Its name"Nian Gao" literally means "A Higher Year"), uncut noodles for long life... and so on, and so on!
Here are some easy, popular and meaningful recipes for your New Year celebrations. (They're all Chinese sweets, ranging from Hong Kong to Singapore and Shanghai- whilst I enjoy other Asian cuisines, I find it weird to serve Japanese desserts for Chinese New Year!)
Note: click here for savory Chinese New Year dishes!
Or, if you're looking for cookies such as Chinese almond cookies (I must point out that fortune cookies aren't really traditional Chinese New Year (CNY) cookies), click here!) For those looking to venture beyond Chinese food, here's where you click for popular Asian desserts.
🍡 Glutinous Rice Flour Desserts
These sticky rice balls are 1 of my favorite Chinese desserts, and super easy to make at home too. The round shape signifies reunion, so they're a popular traditional Chinese dessert for family gatherings.
They can be served dry, coated in nuts or served in sweet syrup. Served either plain or stuffed with a filling, such as peanut paste, black sesame paste or red bean paste.
Red Bean Soup
You can also serve these sweet rice balls in a thicker soup, such as Red Bean Soup.
If you're a fan of mochi, you'll enjoy this stretchy, chewy bite! Alternatively, you may want to try these Third-Bakery inspired matcha mochi muffins. (Vegan Hojicha version and Black Sesame version here.)
Chinese New Year Sticky Cake usually takes forever to steam and can go wrong if the water ratio isn't exact. Which is why I've come up with this easy, quick baked version that is just as good!
It is usually made by Chinese people the week before the start of the Spring Festival, as an offering to the Kitchen God. To bribe him to make a good report for their family to the Jade Emperor!
Literally translated as Fortune Cake or Prosperity Cake, this is served not just for CNY but also during other celebrations such as weddings.
Chinese Sponge Cake
Unlike their Western counterparts, Chinese cakes aren't rich and creamy but usually light, fluffy and soft.
These are traditionally made in tall metal molds, but you can use a muffin tray if you can't find them!
Ma Lai Gao
The name actually means "Malay cake" but, besides Malaysia and Singapore, it can also be found in Hong Kong! I included this recipe, as it uses sourdough discard and, as mentioned, I like to minimise food waste.
P.S. Elegant Inn restaurant in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, does a terrific Ma Lai Gao. They're cut into thin slices, steamed and then gently pan fried, giving the cake a deliciously crisp exterior which contrasts perfectly with the cloud-like interior.
Jellies are a great dessert for New Year's Eve dinner as:
- they last for a few days and can be made in advance (less party stress!)
- the main ingredients are good for you (if you don't add too much sugar or coconut milk, jellies are filling and not high in calories, so that you don't feel bad about festive overeating!)
Chinese Koi Fish Jelly
Chinese Osmanthus Jelly Cake
Gui Ling Gao
Also known as grass jelly or cincau, this is traditionally made by boiling Mesona Chinensis leaves to make a refreshing dessert that's sad to be good for your skin.
However, they're not easy to find so luckily we have grass jelly powder available these days!
🍯 Tong Sui (Cantonese Sweet Soups)
Black Sesame Soup
If you're not fond of something overly sweet, try Black Sesame Soup which has a grown-up, earthy and nutty flavor.
Chinese Sea Coconut Soup
Papaya and Snow Fungus
Bing Tang Hu Lu
If you've ever watched a Chinese historical drama, you will have heard of this sweet and sour Chinese street snack, Bing Tang Hu Lu. Usually made of hawthorns, you will also need sugar, water and corn syrup (or golden syrup.)
All in all, a very simple street food to recreate at home!
It can be hard to eat Chinese food if you have allergies, so here's a gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan, paleo AND refined-sugar free dessert for you!
Shanghainese Red Bean Pancake
Also known as Wo Paeng, this crispy and delicious pancake is an old-school Dim Sum dessert that only uses 6-7 ingredients.
When deep-frying the pancakes, remember not to overfill the pan, to ensure the oil temperature doesn't fall.
Egg tarts are a popular dessert at Hong Kong Dim Sum restaurants. Try this recipe by someone who did a stint at an Asian culinary school!
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