Lunar New Year
13 Lunar New Year Dessert Recipes to Devour
From nutty cookies to chewy cakes to tender tarts.
Whether you follow traditions from the Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Japanese—or another East or Southeast Asian—perspective, when it comes to Lunar New Year celebrations, you simply can’t skip dessert.
“The biggest holiday of the year, Chinese New Year, is the time when families reunite, cook a large feast, and admire a new year’s moon,” writes Kristina Cho in her cookbook Mooncakes & Milk Bread. “We enjoy my pau pau’s steamed cakes, their tops bursting to signify the luck and prosperity you hope for in the year ahead.” To hear a bit more about Cho’s work, stay tuned for an upcoming episode of Genius Recipes Tapes podcast (even better, make a batch of the steamed cakes while you listen).
“Gifting and eating sweets during Lunar New Year is an integral part of the Vietnamese Tet tradition,” writes Andrea Nguyen in her recipe for keo lac vung, a traditional nutty candy eaten during the holiday, featured in the New York Times. “Throughout my weeklong Tet celebration, I look forward to munching on keo lac vung, a fragrant crunchy peanut and sesame candy. It’s one of many confections that I nibble on while thinking sweet, positive thoughts for the year ahead,” she adds in the companion essay. Bonus: You’ll find a couple of Nguyen’s nutty cookie recipes below.
JinJoo Lee, who writes the blog Kimchimari, likes to serve melt-in-your-mouth dasik, a sesame tea cookie. “During the Shilla and Goryeo Dynasty, these Korean cookies were served with traditional tea—something usually enjoyed only by nobility and royalty,” she writes in a blog post. Today, they’re made for any welcome guests, as a way to share “good health and fortune in the New Year.”
Whether you prefer tender cookies, creamy tarts, or chewy cakes, any of these 13 Lunar New Year desserts make a festive addition to the table.
Pau Pau's Fa Gao
“Fa gao is also sometimes called ‘prosperity cake,’ because the bigger and taller the cake tops bloom, the more prosperous your new year promises to be,” writes Cho of her grandmother’s cupcake recipe. Though typically made with a specific self-rising flour that’s easily found in Hong Kong, in the U.S., Bisquick pancake mix is actually the closest substitute.
Korean Sesame Tea Cookies
Though traditionally made with a mold, Lee notes that these no-bake dasik, a bite-size hangwa, can also be rolled into balls by hand.
Banh Hanh Nhan
“Viet food takes a lot of cues from Chinese cuisine, and the almond cookie (banh hanh nhan in Vietnamese) is a good example of that,” writes Nguyen of this Chinese-style almond cookie dough, which she developed for her cookbook Into the Vietnamese Kitchen.
Chinese Peanut Cookies
Nguyen notes that hua sheng bing are often sold in tall plastic containers at the markets, but she still thinks these peanut cookies (the recipe for this version comes from Karen Shinto) are always better homemade.
New-Classic Chinese Peanut Cookies
Recipe developer Yi Jun Loh ate the classic peanut cookies every Lunar New Year as a kid in Malaysia, but decided to simplify the recipe (and create a richer cookie!) by making them with peanut butter.
“Jian dui—crispy, chewy Chinese sesame balls—are not only delicious, but also have great meaning behind them,” writes recipe developer WoonHeng Chia. “The way they inflate during cooking signifies prosperity. The balls rise up in the hot oil, and so this dish is often made to wish a person good luck.”
Though eaten year-round these days, recipe developer Cynthia Chen McTernan notes that the Chinese version of the treat, “nian gao, literally translates as ‘year cake,’ and that means it’s currently mochi high season.” Try this simple mochi recipe, or see below for another nian gao recipe.
“While growing up, my mom often made ‘mochi cake’ to bring to potlucks with other Taiwanese-American families,” writes recipe developer Joy Huang. “The consistency was always very chewy (a texture called ‘QQ’ in Taiwan), and my mother usually studded the cake with dollops of sweetened red bean paste.”
Pichet Ong's Tangerine Pies "Kuey Tarts"
Though in Singapore these tarts are flavored with pineapple, not tangerine, as Chef Pichet Ong notes, the citrus is a sought-after gift during Lunar New Year, so he shapes the classic treat as such: “Traditionally, people give away fresh tangerines, a homonym for ‘gold’ in Chinese.”
“Though these tropical treats don’t always grace tables in celebrations across mainland China, within Chinese communities in Taiwan, Malaysia, Singapore, and several other countries, they take center stage,” writes Loh of this riff on pineapple tarts (this time, fashioned like the Ashkenazi Jewish treat hamantaschen—Purim is right around the corner, after all).
Kue Semprong "Love Letter" Cookies
As a kid in Singapore with a Chinese-Indonesian family, recipe developer Pat Tanumihardja looked forward to two things during Lunar New Year: “red packets filled with cold hard cash; and an assortment of new year goodies ranging from savory foods such as bak kwa (Chinese pork jerky) to sweet treats like Indonesian kue semprong.” This variation on the treat is made with a pizzelle-maker instead of the traditional molds.
Similar to the Chinese-style egg tarts (a sweet, egg-based custard inside shortcrust pastry) that are commonly served during Lunar New Year celebrations, these tarts are filled with a simple mix of soy milk and gelatin, which sets into a jiggly texture reminiscent of silken tofu.
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