Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Sesame Balls 煎堆 Jian Dui


Hey, a dessert! No dairy or wheat flour in this, so we're all good. Sesame balls, called jian dui in Chinese, meaning "fried pile" (not poetic at all, unlike names for other foods), are made primarily of glutinous (sticky) rice flour and sugar, with a sweet red bean paste filling. I don't often make desserts, but I had some sticky rice flour and red beans on hand, and a pot luck brunch coming up, so it seemed like a good opportunity to try making another new thing using up the remainder of some ingredients that otherwise were just going to sit.

I made the red bean paste, too, though I didn't do a great job of it. Messed up the part where you process the cooked beans into a paste, though; I didn't drain the water at first. I don't think that was the main issue, though. I just drained the first batch (I have a small food processor) afterward, did the second half right, and just adjusted the sugar content since some would have been lost in the discarded water. Maybe my food processor just doesn't cut things up smooth enough, or it's the recipe.

I left skin fragments in the paste rather than sieving it, so it wasn't super smooth. This isn't necessarily a problem, as both smooth and mashed versions are made in Chinese sweets, and in Japanese sweets, they make smooth (koshian), "chunky" (tsubushian), and whole (tsubuan) red bean pastes, leaving beans half-intact in the chunky, and untouched in the whole versions (not so much a paste in this last case). But I think if you're going to process it, then probably sieve the paste. Otherwise, if you want the skins, then just mash it so there's still some beany-ness to the paste, rather than having a paste with minced skins. Or maybe red bean paste just doesn't need the drying step that Young has in her recipe. Really tasted just fine, but I bet connoisseurs would jump on how my paste turned out. Hmm, well, will research more approaches next time.

 balls filled, rolled in sesame seeds

 expanding as they fry

fried

I adapted this one from Grace Young's Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen, as well. She asks for bing tang 冰糖 (peen tong in the Cantonese pronunciation), but I didn't have any on hand, so I substituted brown sugar instead. Also, having only so much glutinous rice flour on hand, I had to cut things down a little.


Sesame Balls - Jian Dui 煎堆

3 1/3 oz brown sugar [it may be easier to just weigh out 5 oz sugar and 1 cup water and then only use 2/3 of the mixture]
2/3 cup water

2 cups glutinous rice flour
2/3 cup sweet red bean paste, store-bought or homemade
1/3 cup white sesame seeds
vegetable oil for frying

  1. Dissolve brown sugar in warm water and aside to cool.
  2. Place rice flour in large bowl, make a well in center, and add sugar water all at once. Stir until water is incorporated; dough should be smooth but slightly sticky.
  3. Dust hands lightly with rice flour and roll dough into a thick rope. Cut rope into 16 equal pieces, and roll each piece into a ball.
  4. Flatten a ball in your palm into a 2.5-inch round and begin to bend and gather the edges, wrinkling them fan-like or pleating, to make a sort of low cup.
  5. Add just shy of 1 tsp red bean paste to the center of the round, and bend and gather the edges more to envelope the red bean paste. Roll the dough ball gently in your palms to make a sealed ball. Repeat steps 4-5 with the rest of the balls.
  6. Place a sheet of wax paper on counter and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Roll and press outside of each ball with sesame seeds.
  7. In a 2-quart pot, about 5 inches deep, heat about 2.5-inches vegetable oil (~5 cups) over medium-high heat to about 330 degrees on a deep-frying or candy thermometer. You can also use a chopstick to test the heat: hold one chopstick in the oil to see if tiny bubbles gather after several seconds of immersion. Add 4 sesame balls at a time, cooking over medium heat (maintaining temperature), 6-7 minutes. As the balls float to the surface, press them gently with the back of a metal spatula against the sides of the pot.* The balls will expand as they cook and are pressed. Increase heat to medium-high and fry until golden brown, about 2 minutes.
  8. Place cooked balls on a plate lined with several thicknesses of paper towels. Repeat with remaining balls. Serve immediately.

*I'm not entirely sure why you have to press the balls. I think, though, that this squeezes out any air that might be in the ball. The dough continues to expand, so it won't stay flattened (unless you keep pressing it through to doneness). However, if you don't squeeze out the air, the balls will deflate a little on cooling, resulting in a kind of semi-collapsed sesame ball at the end. I'm not sure though, since I didn't press the balls consistently or maybe hard enough through the cooking period, and some of mine deflated more than others.


Sweet Red Bean Paste

6 oz small red beans, about 1 cup
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp vegetable oil
  1. Wash red beans, cover with cold water, and soak overnight.
  2. Drain beans and discard water. Place beans and 3 cups cold water in a small pot and bring to a boil over high heat. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer 1 hour, until very soft. Monitor the pan to make sure water doesn't dry up. Drain and discard water.
  3. Place the beans in a food processor and process until smooth. Add brown sugar and process until just combined.
  4. In a medium saucepan, heat vegetable oil over medium heat until hot but not smoking. Add bean paste and cook, stirring, 2-3 minutes, until mixture is dry. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Store in a covered container in the refrigerator up to 1 week, or freeze for later use.

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