It’s been a non-stop parade of celebrations these couple of weeks. First Valentine’s Day, then Isabelle turned 25 months (I know, once babies turn 2 you don’t really do the month thing anymore, but it’s still a milestone), we celebrated 4 years since we adopted Snickers (I need to do a post on that too!), plus it’s Chinese New Year on the 19th! Oh, and I guess there was Presidents’ Day on Monday, which really served as just a day to get caught up on all these other events!
Every Chinese New Year I’ve tried to make some traditional Chinese dessert, or at least something new year-themed. With one celebration after another this year, I didn’t have time to plan an elaborate dessert, and at the last minute decided to do the Chinese version of donut puffs.
It turned out to be the perfect choice since these are probably the easiest and quickest donut-type pastries I’ve ever made. Talking about Chinese donuts can be a little confusing since there are lots of deep-fried pastry items in Chinese cuisine, and translations vary everywhere. The type of donut I’m referring to here is called sai yong in Chinese, is basically made from a type of pâte à choux dough, is very sweet, and is meant to be eaten as dessert (because in Chinese cuisine you can enjoy fried donut-y items at any point of the meal – seriously, whenever I go to Hong Kong I can’t believe I don’t gain ten pounds every time).
The most common name I’ve found for this pastry in English is sugar egg puffs or just egg puffs. Again, also very confusing because there is yet another, entirely different Chinese pastry that is sometimes called egg puffs. You can see there’s a lot of lost in translation going on with my foray into Chinese baking!
I do like the name egg puff though, because it fairly accurately describes the dish – imagine a deep fried cream puff shell, crisp and sweet on the outside, moist and eggy inside. It’s the contrast between the delicate, ethereally crisp exterior and the rich interior that makes this puff so addictive. It’s almost like the idealized version of what I want cream puffs to be. What doesn’t a little deep-frying solve?
The batter is, as I discovered through a little research, essentially pâte à choux dough. It’s likely that Chinese chefs adapted the French classic into a dim sum staple. I should also not be surprised that I love these puffs so much, since they are pretty much the same as French crullers, which I already waxed rapturous about when I taught my donut class.
Here’s a shot of the batter: thick and silky smooth. It’s easiest to scoop it with an oiled measuring cup and use a spoon to push the batter into the hot oil. The egg puffs in Chinese restaurants can reach outrageously large proportions, but it’s easier to cook smaller-size dollops of batter. Watch for the puffs to expand dramatically about halfway through frying.
It also turns out that the French also have their own version of fried pâte à choux dough, called pets de nonnes, or nuns’ farts (I have to say this was some of the most entertaining food research I’d done in a while). Another famous fried pâte à choux pastry is, of course, beignets, which are very similar but often made with yeast. One of the reasons I’m so enamored of these sugar egg puffs is that there is no yeast, so you don’t need to wait for the dough to rise before frying. These really are the quickest and easiest (and delicious) donuts ever!
By the way, I also did not realize until now that February 17th was Fat Tuesday! It’s like an endless stream of reasons to make merry and eat well! So if you don’t time to make beignets for Mardi Gras, consider sugar egg puffs/pets de nonnes as a quick and simple version.
This is true for pretty much all donuts, but these egg puffs are at their best when super fresh: basically just cooled enough so you can roll them in sugar and bite into them without burning your mouth. They do not keep well – there’s not much point in trying to save in reheat them, so gather a few friends and have your own Chinese New Year/Mardi Gras celebration with some sugar egg puffs. You will be so happy to have someone else to share the sugar coma with afterwards.
Happy Year of the Ram! I hope this new year brings good fortune, happiness, and all things delicious to you!
- 1 cup (230 g) water
- 2 tablespoons (28 g) unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons (26 g) sugar
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup (125 g) all purpose flour
- 4 large eggs, room temperature
- vegetable oil for frying
- 1/2 cup (100 g) sugar for coating
- Combine water, butter, sugar and salt in a heavy bottomed medium saucepan and heat on medium high.
- Once the mixture is at a rolling boil, add all of the flour at once, reduce the heat to low and start to stir the mixture vigorously with a wooden spoon. The dough should come together into a ball. Continue stirring for another couple of minutes until it is completely smooth and soft.
- Transfer the dough into a bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat to cool it down slightly. Add in the eggs one at a time, beating after each egg has been added to incorporate it into the dough. The dough should be very thick and shiny but not liquidy.
- Heat at least 2 inches of oil in a heavy bottomed pot to 350 F. Carefully drop in 1/4-cup scoops of batter in the oil. Do a couple of puffs at a time - don't overcrowd the pot. Watch the temperature of the oil and make sure it doesn't drop too much.
- Fry until cooked through and crispy, about 8-10 minutes, flipping them over frequently. The puffs should double in size and become golden brown. Remove from the oil with a slotted spoon and place on paper towel-covered wire rack to drain and cool slightly.
- Place additional sugar in a bowl. Place puff in sugar and toss lightly to coat. Serve immediately.