These cute smiling sesame balls are popular Chinese New Year snacks. They are slightly sweet, crisp on the outside like a cookie, and soft inside like a cake. All the tips you need to make sure the balls crack open and smile at you.
Chinese new year is always filled with food and goodies that have auspicious meaning. Here’s another one 🙂 These smiling cookie balls or some call them laughing balls or 開口笑 (literally means open mouth and laugh) are popular Chinese new year snacks. They are named as such because of the way the dough ball cracks open when it is fried, resembling a smile or a laugh. The way they crack open reminds me of fatt koh or huat kueh and ji dan gao 🙂 Don’t confuse this for the Chinese sesame balls (Jian Dui), which is totally different from this.
These little balls are very addictive! They are sweet with that texture hybrid of cake and cookie, oh my! It’s hard to stop at one!
The recipe rundown
Taste: They are sweet and slightly nutty
Texture: Crisp on the outside like a cookie and soft like a cake inside
Pros: They are tasty and easy to put together. They don’t need any special or exotic ingredients
Cons: They are deep-fried 🙂
1. Cake flour
I strongly recommend using cake flour to give you that soft tender texture on the inside
2. Cooking oil
I use neutral-tasting cooking oil
Granulated or caster sugar can be used
4. Baking powder
5. Baking soda
How to make sesame smiling cookie balls
Place the flour and oil in a mixing bowl
Roughly mix with a spatula
Then use your clean hands to rub the oil into the flour. The result will resemble crumbs. This will make tender and finer crumbs
Add sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Stir to combine.
Crack one large egg in a bowl and then beat it. Pour only half of the beaten egg into the flour mixture. Save the other half for other use. Add 1 Tbsp of milk
Combine with your hand to form a dough. If it’s a bit too dry, add a bit more milk. You should be able to form a rough dough. Cover and let it rests for 15 minutes or up to 1 hour (I only do 15 minutes)
After 15 minutes, make a hole in the middle of the dough
Gently stretch it and pull it open into a long log and roll it into a smoother dough
Cut into 16 equal pieces of dough. Keep them covered and work with one dough at a time
Roll them into round balls. Keep them covered with a damp towel or plastic wrap. Work with one at a time
Prepare a cup of water. Wet your fingers and slightly wet each ball and then roll in sesame seeds to cover all the surface of the balls.
Repeat with the rest
Preheat about 2 inches of oil. The temperature of the oil is important when it comes to frying these smiling balls. If the oil is too hot, the balls won’t crack open and smile. Oil should be maintained at 285 F (140 C), which is about between medium and low heat. Fry about 5-6 balls at a time. The balls will sink to the bottom of the oil at first and there won’t be any bubbles around them yet.
A few minutes later they will start to float up
Gently roll them around as they fry (don’t be tempted to crank up the heat)
Continue to fry at this level of heat until they start to crack open nicely and nicely golden brown.
Remove from the oil to an absorbent paper towel. Repeat with the rest. Measure the oil again to make sure it’s not too hot or cold. Let them cool down a bit before serving
1. Check your baking powder and baking soda to make sure they are still fresh. The balls rely on this to puff and crack open.
Check baking powder by using 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder in a bowl and pour 1/4 (60 ml) of boiling water and it should bubble up immediately. If it doesn’t, the baking powder is no longer good. To check baking soda, put 3 Tablespoons of vinegar into a small bowl. Add 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda. Give it a stir. The mixture should bubbles up almost immediately. If there is no reaction, your baking soda is no longer active/fresh and do not proceed with the recipe.
2. The temperature of the oil is important. I recommend checking the oil temperature with a thermometer
3. Gently roll the balls around as they fry so they puff up evenly and cracks open nicely
Can I air fry these sesame smiling cookie balls?
I wish they could, but they didn’t look like what they should be. They become flat like cookies and won’t crack and smile, but they taste really good, just like cookies, crusty on the outside and soft inside. If you don’t mind about the look, here’s what I did:
1. Preheat air fryer at 300 F (150 C)
2. After rolling the balls into sesame seeds, I brushed with some oil
3. Spray the air fryer basket with a bit of non-stick spray or you can line with parchment paper to prevent sticking
4. Arrange the balls in there with some space, mine can fit in 8 balls at one go
5. Set timer to 8 minutes (time is just for reference, yours might need shorter or longer time)
How to store sesame smiling cookie balls
1. Let them cool down completely
2. Transfer to an air-tight container and they can be kept at room temperature for 2-3 days
3. You can freeze them by keeping them in a freezer bag, push all the air out and seal. It can be kept frozen for up to one month
4. When ready to serve, they can be reheated in a toaster oven, air fryer, or oven at 325 F for about 10 minutes or until they are crispy again on the outside and warm inside
Did you make this recipe?
I love it when you guys snap a photo and tag to show me what you’ve made 🙂 Simply tag me @WhatToCookToday #WhatToCookToday on Instagram and I’ll be sure to stop by and take a peek for real!
Chinese Sesame Smiling Cookie Balls / Laughing Balls (笑口枣)
For the dough:
- 150 gr cake flour 1 cup + 1 Tbsp, plus more for dusting. See notes
- 25 gr cooking oil 2 Tbsp
- 80 gr granulated sugar 6 1/3 Tbsp
- ¼ tsp baking powder
- 1/16 tsp baking soda
- ⅛ tsp salt
- ½ large egg from 1 large egg, about 56-58 grams with the shell
- 1 Tbsp milk Start with this amount and add as needed
To coat the dough balls:
- ½ cup sesame seeds
Prepare the dough:
- Place the flour in a mixing bowl. Add oil and roughly mix with a spatula then use your clean hands to rub the oil into the flour. The result will resemble crumbs. This will make a tender and finer crumbs
- Add sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Stir to combine. Crack one large egg in a bowl and then beat it. Pour only half of the beaten egg into the flour mixture. Save the other half for other use. Add 1 Tbsp of milk. Combine with your hand to form a dough. If it's a bit too dry, add a bit more milk. You should be able to form a rough dough. Cover and let it rests for 15 minutes or up to 1 hour (I only do 15 minutes)
- After 15 minutes, roll the dough into a long log and roll it smoother and then cut into 16 equal pieces of dough. Roll them into round balls. Keep them covered with a damp towel or plastic wrap. Work with one at a time
Coat the balls in sesame seeds:
- Prepare a cup of water. Wet your fingers and slightly wet each ball and then roll in sesame seeds to cover all the surface of the balls. Repeat with the rest
Deep fry the balls:
- Preheat about 2 inches of oil. The temperature of the oil is important when it comes to frying these smiling balls. If the oil is too hot, the balls won't crack open and smile. They will just fry into small round balls. I recommend measuring the oil temperature with a thermometer. It should be maintained at 285 F (140 C), which is about between medium and low heat
- Fry about 5-6 balls at a time. The balls will sink to the bottom of the oil at first and there won't be any bubbles around them yet. A Few minutes later they will start to float up. Gently roll them around as they fry (don't be tempted to crank up the heat). Continue to fry at this level of heat until they start to crack open nicely and nicely golden brown. Remove from the oil to an absorbent paper towel
- Repeat with the rest. Measure the oil again to make sure it's not too hot or cold. Let them cool down a bit before serving
I found that the balls disintegrated when frying at both a low and when we tried at a higher temperature. Do you have any suggestions as to what we maybe did wrong?
You didn’t do anything wrong I don’t think. I just realized that I accidentally typed the wrong amount of baking soda in the recipe. It should be 1/16 tsp, which is a tiny pinch of baking soda. I had it at 1/4 tsp of baking soda (gasp). I think that explains why the balls disintegrated when frying, because it’s too much air! My apology for the typo and the inconvenience caused! The amount of baking powder is correct!
Would love to try making these.
May I ask if we could air fry these instead of deep frying ?
If so, how do we go about doing this?
Many thanks in advance.
Hi Arlena, I haven’t tried it with an air fryer. You can definitely do so to cook the dough, but I’m not sure if it will give you the “laughing” result or not. These sesame cookie balls need to be fried at a lower than average temperature. With an air fryer, I would suggest at 250 F (120 C) for about 10 minutes or so and then check to see. I will experiment with air fryer if I make it again in the future.
HI Arlena, I tried to air fry them this morning. I brush with a bit of oil on the outside and air fried at 250 F at first, but they didn’t split open and take too long to cook, then the next batch I bake at 300 F and they didn’t split open too and they are flat like cookies (not round shape) but they taste really good though, like cookies, crusty on the outside and a bit soft on the inside. So, the air fryer won’t work if you want them to turn out like a round ball witha nice crack on it.