The best way to celebrate Chinese New Year, of course, is with non-stop feasting. Here's my family's recipe for new year's Sweet Sesame Ma Fah Cookies, which is a total labor of love but an annual tradition of pain (making them) and pleasure (eating them).
These sweet sesame cookies called Ma Fah are a Chinese New Year tradition with my family. Ever since I was a kid as soon as it was almost the Lunar New Year, I’d have to sit my little butt down for hours to help my mom wrap and fold a multitude of treats including these cookies, which closely resembles the taste of sugar cookies… except to up the indulgence, they’re deep fried into golden deliciousness rather than baked. It’s a bit of a labor of love to make but the ingredients are simple and can be easily halved, although you might not want to as it’s way too easy to munch down tens of crispy Ma Fah’s in one sitting. I can’t imagine a New Year’s without them.
3 cups flour (for the cookies)
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup sesame seeds (optional)
1/3 cup Crisco shortening
1 cup lukewarm filtered water
½ cup flour (for rolling)
3-4 cups vegetable oil (for frying)
1. Mix together all the dry ingredients with the Crisco shortening.
2. Add in the water and combine until it becomes a smooth dough.
3. Break up the dough into two balls and wrap each ball in plastic or wax paper.
4. Refrigerate for approximately 30 minutes.
5. Take out one ball from the fridge and roll onto a floured board with a rolling pin until it’s the thinness of pasta. If you have a pasta maker, you can use that instead of a rolling pin. Make sure to sprinkle enough flour as needed while rolling so that the dough doesn’t stick.
6. Cut along the edges of the rolled out dough to make a neat rectangle.
7. Fold the bottom of the rectangle up two inches and use a sharp knife to cut along the edge to make one long strip.
8. Repeat until all the dough has been cut into long strips.
9. Take one strip and start at the edge. Use a knife to cut 3 slits half-way up the dough about 7mm apart and on the fourth cut, make a complete cut to create a small rectangle.
10. Unfold the small rectangle and take the top and tuck it through the middle slit, creating a twisted shape.
11. Repeat until all the strips have been cut into small rectangles with 3 slits and made into twists.
12. On high, heat up a wok or stainless steal Dutch pot with vegetable oil (add more or less oil depending on the size of your pot; you want the amount of oil to reach half way) for about 2 minutes.
13. Turn down the heat to medium and gently add about 5 cookies into the oil.
14. Use a stainless steel skimmer or strainer utensil to carefully flip the cookie in the oil so that it’s golden on each side (approximately 3 minutes).
15. Scoop cookies up with your strainer utensil and onto a tray lined with paper towel to soak up the oil. Let cool completely.
16. Repeat until all cookies have been fried.
17. Turn down the heat whenever oil starts to smoke.
18. Store cookies in an airtight container for up to a month.