The Lunar New Year is upon us, but this year’s lead-up to the festivities is hitting differently. Here in Malaysia (as well as most other parts of the world), the pandemic remains an omnipresent threat—in my area, inter-state travel is banned. The merrymaking that typically takes place this time of year will be muted, the celebrations curbed. There won’t be a tuan yuan fan (reunion dinner) with my relatives two state-lines away. There won’t be large gatherings with the din of lion dances and cacophony of firecrackers. There won’t even be many hong baos (red packets, an auspicious gift of money) passed around. (Though to my deep-pocketed friends and relatives: I’d like to note I’m now accepting hong baos via online bank transfers.)
Despite all that is lacking in this year’s new year, I can at least take solace in the one constant—snacks! From pineapple tarts to shrimp crackers, tapioca cookies to kuih kapit (coconut tuiles), snacks both sweet and savory are sure to invade the kitchens of those who celebrate the Lunar New Year. And of all the new year snacks out there, the ones I most look forward to gobbling down are peanut cookies.
The fragrant, overtly nutty cookies are traditionally made of whole peanuts, ground and pounded into a fine powder, kneaded into a cookie dough along with flour and sugar, then rolled into thumb-sized golden balls. They fall apart at the softest bite, coat your tongue and teeth with their toasty nuttiness, and give you the same satisfaction as eating peanut butter straight out of the jar, only a little more refined.
Though they are widely considered to be a Chinese pastry item, they are much more popular within the Chinese communities of Malaysia, Singapore, and other neighboring countries than in China itself. Growing up in Malaysia, I’ve had peanut cookies every single Lunar New Year for as long as I can remember. They’ve always been my go-to festive snack, and I would pop dozens into my mouth throughout the 15 days of the new year celebrations. I’d have the lingering taste of peanuts on my lips as I ran around with Pop-Pop firecrackers and sparklers; dropped cookie crumbs in between the sofa while watching Shaolin Soccer as it played on the TV every year; I’d even munch on these cookies during meals, in between bites of of hotpot and ham.
This year, I’m feeling especially impatient to get my hands on my favorite cookies. Long before the shops start to sell them in the lead-up to the new year celebrations, I made my own just to feed my obsession, and broke some rules in the process due to my impatience. While traditional peanut cookies are made by pulverizing peanuts with a mortar and pestle, I used peanut butter, condensing a 2-hour process into a mere 30 minutes. But beyond convenience, using pre-made peanut butter, particularly a natural brand or homemade version, also gave the cookies a touch more richness and mouth-meltiness, owing to the additional fat from the spread as opposed to the dryer ground peanut “flour.” The cookies were so fragrant, so intoxicatingly nutty straight out of the oven, I burnt my tongue as I popped one into my mouth.
So, weeks before the New Year, I’ve already had my fair share of peanut cookies, and am still planning on baking more. Some will be gifted to nearby friends and family, but most of them will probably end up in my belly. So, although this year’s festivities will be different, at least these peanut cookies bring about a familiar semblance of new year-cheer. —Jun
- Prep time 10 minutes
- Cook time 16 minutes
- makes 35 cookies
(250 grams) non-hydrogenated, chunky peanut butter (natural peanut butter works best)
(100 grams) all-purpose flour
(50 grams) granulated sugar
peanut oil, plus more if needed
(75 grams) whole roasted, unsalted peanuts, shelled and skinned (about 35)
large egg, beaten
- Preheat the oven to 350°F (fan-assisted convection) and line a baking tray with parchment paper or a silicon mat.
- In a large bowl, stir together the peanut butter, flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, and peanut oil with a spatula until the dough comes together and there are no streaks of flour. The dough should be thick but malleable. If it sticks to your hands, add a bit more peanut oil to it, one teaspoon at a time.
- Divide out the dough into 2 teaspoon-portions (about 12 grams each). You should end up with around 35 pieces. Roll a piece of dough in the palms of your hands to shape it into a ball, then place it on the prepared baking tray. Repeat with remaining dough leaving at least a 1-inch gap between each ball. (They won’t expand too much but this is just to make sure there’s good airflow and the cookies bake evenly.)
- Press a roasted peanut into the center of each dough ball, which should flatten each cookie a little. Brush a light coating of beaten egg over each cookie.
- Bake the cookies for 16-18 minutes, until they’re nicely bronzed, just a shade darker than the peanut butter you started out with. When they’re done baking, remove from the oven and let it cool on the tray for 10 minutes before eating.