The Chinese Sesame Seed Dessert That Takes Ample Skill To Master

Dining at a dim sum restaurant can feel like a tumble down the rabbit hole into Wonderland. Cart after cart of steamed and fried delicacies are rolled by, wafting intoxicating aromas that promise divine tastes. Everything is new, exciting, and demanding to be tried — no "Eat me" sign necessary. 

One such dim sum delight is the jian dui, a fried sesame rice ball that sports a golden, nutty exterior and chewy, sweet interior (via Sift and Simmer). It offers a complex textural experience, existing as both crispy and glutinous in one round package. Jian dui has a lot in common with tang yuan, another sweet Chinese rice ball. However, jian dui is defined by its crunchy and deep-fried sesame exterior.

Jian dui has endured as a beloved feature of both dim sum restaurants and Asian bakeries. Because of its popularity, plenty of bakers have thought to try their hand at this deep-fried delicacy. But what are the origins of this dessert, and what does it take to bring it to the home kitchen? 

The sweet origins of jian dui

According to Unfamiliar China, jian dui hails from the Lingnan region of China where it was often served as a traditional Lunar New Year sweet. Consuming the gelatinous rice ball promised the eater a prosperous new year, much like collard greens represent good fortune during Kwanza. From there, it went from being a popular treat at the royal court of the Tang dynasty, to being an equally beloved dessert offered at modern dim sum restaurants.

The question is, can you make this dim sum dish in your own home?

Making the dough and filling for jian dui is a fairly straightforward process. Woonheng describes the dough to be a mix of sweet rice flour and boiling sugar water. The filling can be a number of things, with red bean, mung bean, peanut, and sesame paste all being popular options. Once the chewy rice flour dough has come together, you'll wrap it around a ball of filling before a final roll in sesame seeds. This is the easy part. The hard bit comes with the frying.

The tricky technique required to make jian dui

Beyond the typical mistakes everyone makes when frying, jian dui requires an extra level of finesse to properly fry. Taste of Asian Food notes that the most crucial step of making sesame balls is deep-frying, as the balls need constant stirring and obsessive temperature control. Continuous stirring is necessary to keep the balls from sticking to the bottom and submerged in the oil. Unlike a doughnut, the spherical jian dui must be fully covered with oil to create a uniformly round shape and crispy surface. Woonheng also advises that the temperature be raised toward the end of the frying, so that the balls turn perfectly golden.

For the first-time fryer, these extra steps can seem a daunting hurdle. Even frequent fryers may find making the ideal jian dui a multiple-test endeavor. And for these delicious treats, shortcuts won't cut it. Woonheng claims that jian dui made in an air fryer lacks that signature chew and doesn't come out uniformly round.

Instead, those looking for a hassle-free taste of jian dui should head to their nearest Asian grocer or dim sum restaurant. It's a treat best left to the pros.