Saturday, 30 January 2010

Traditional Chinese New Year Peanut Cookies (Fah Sang Peng)

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*Also available under Chinese New Year Cookies to Order- $20 per box of 30 pcs

Chinese New Year is 2 weeks away, and having missed out on all the festivities back home for the past 6 years, I decided 2010 was the time to more actively recreate some of the buzz all the way here in London, at least on the baking front.

I urge you SERIOUSLY, even if you're not Chinese and don't celebrate CNY, to try this recipe. If your life's experience of peanut cookies has been limited to chunky Western versions made with peanut butter and a criss-cross fork pattern, these little devils will be a revelation- crisp to the bite, then crumbly as you first chew, then melt-in-the-mouth, then unbelievably fragrant as the salty nutty flavour hits your tongue. Well-made fah sang peng are an exercise in taste and textural heaven akin to a cross between buttery shortbread and melting moments, except better, because of the added oomph and aroma of peanuts. :)

The recipe below is simple and easy too, the only slightly time consuming bit being the shaping of the cookie with a bottle cap. Most people choose to add more oil so they can roll the dough into smooth solid balls- I prefer to keep the pastry short and crumbly, and I like the rustic and uneven end result with the little cracks around the edges. Just beware- once baked, you'll have one (just to try), two (just to be sure), and before you know it you'd have had thirty.

Don't say I didn't warn you :)

Traditional Chinese New Year Peanut Cookies (Fah Sang Peng)
Makes about 60 cookies, depending on the size of your bottle cap

Blitz 200g roasted salted peanuts in a blender/spice mill until a finely ground powder/paste is formed.
*Note: I used a ready-to-eat Asda Smartprice pack (which was insanely cheap, only 27p!) that was already roasted, salted and had added vegetable oil, hence a more pasty rather than powdery result. If you prefer you can use raw nuts and dry fry/roast from scratch, but remember you'll be adding salt and oil later anyway.

In a large bowl, sift together:
200g (approx. 1 1/2 cups) plain flour
100g (approx. 3/4 cup) icing sugar (essential for the fine texture- do not substitute with normal sugar)
1/2 tsp baking powder
Dash of salt (more if you used unsalted nuts)

Chuck everything into a food processor (or a mixing bowl if kneading manually), add a good glug of vegetable oil- I used rapeseed, but any mild variety like corn, sunflower or groundnut will do- and blend at high speed (or work with your fingers) until a crumbly, dry, short dough that looks like this is formed:

If the mix is still floury, add more oil gradually and keep blending/kneading until the "grainy sand" look (like shortcrust pastry before liquid is added) is achieved, and forms a solid tightly packed mass if compressed. Be sure not to pour in too much oil at one go- you don't want a greasy mess.

To shape each cookie, place a piece of cling film over a clean bottle cap
(I used the plastic top of an HP sauce bottle, about 3cm wide and 1.5 cm deep)
and press in dough tightly. Yank out the cling film to release the cookie and place on a lined baking sheet. Repeat until all dough is used up.

Using the back of a spoon, brush each cookie with a bit of egg wash (1 egg yolk diluted with 1 tsp of water).

Bake at 160 C fan-assisted (or 180 C for non-convection ovens) for 20-25 minutes until golden brown.

Let cool, then devour!:)

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Little Hanoi Vietnamese Restaurant

Little Hanoi Vietnamese Restaurant 22 January 2010
147 Curtain Road
The City
London EC2A 3QE
Tel: 0207 729 6868

Rule no. 1 at this little family-run institution: stay away from the bog-standard Chinese trappings on the menu, get head waiter Michael Luong to help you order correctly and your tastebuds are in for the feast of their lives! Super-talented chef Phai (Michael's father) dishes up mouthwatering, robust Vietnamese dishes using the freshest of seafood, meat and vegetables paired with the most flavourful of herbs and spices that will leave you salivating for more.

Located above the club Plastic People on Curtain Road (near but not on the "Pho Mile" that is Kingsland Road), there is no doubt whatsoever that Little Hanoi more than holds its own. I will leave the pictures to speak for themselves :)


Grilled Scallops on Shell (£10.50 for 4 pcs- they looked so good Arivind ate one before I could take a picture!)- DIVINE, an absolute must-try. Topped with crunchy peanuts and a luscious tangy sauce,
no wonder some call it the best scallops in London!

Fresh Summer Rolls (£3)- packed with prawns, crunchy lettuce and carrots with a
thick hoisin dip. Good and generous, but pales in comparison to the
scallops (but then again most things would...)

King Prawn Sweet Potato Pancake (£6.80)- fabulously fried,
crisp and crunchy on the outside and chewy inside.


Grilled Venison (£12)- Mmm mmm MMM! So tender, so moist, so deliciously charred
yet sweet yet peppery all at the same time... a true work of art. Little Hanoi claims to be
the only place that serves this divine creation in the whole haven of Viet cuisine
that is Shoreditch- if that isn't reason enough to go I don't know what is!

Grilled Salmon in Banana Leaf (£12)- Praise. The. Heavens. OMG. I thought the
scallops and venison were my favourites, till waiter Michael plonked this gorgeous
melt-in-the-mouth slab of perfectly cooked flaky pink goodness with a beautiful
fragrant sauce in front of us. Totally SUBLIME with hot steamed rice.

A new discovery in July 2010- Phai's genius creation of deep fried giant scallops with Parma ham.
Priced the same as the previous scallop dish if I'm not mistaken.

Vietnamese Pork Chops (portion here shown for table of 10, can't be certain of the price as it was for a party)-
grilled to sweet succulent perfection

Some crab dish (again for a table of 10)- no idea what it's called but it comes with a
mouthwatering spicy sweet gravy!

Vietnamese pho- personally I still prefer Song Que's version of this, but Phai's
is delicious and comforting nonetheless.

Little Hanoi don't do desserts (traditionally the Vietnamese finish meals with fresh fruit or liquor), but you can rest assured you'd be too stuffed anyway to want anything else. If you have the opportunity to give 24-hours notice in advance of your visit, I would also highly recommend these two other specialities which they are happy to arrange for you on special order as long as you call beforehand:

Dover Sole Boat (£50)- fleshy chunks of dover sole served on a crispy "boat"
made of the fish's skeleton, deep-fried til it's crunchy and edible

Lobster (£70)- can't remember the exact name sorry, but it is YUM.

If you've previously walked into Little Hanoi for nothing more than their cheap lunch buffet or Chinese standards, I implore you to return and go for the ala carte specialities as this is where their true strengths lie. Good food at good prices- GO TRY IT!

Yummy in our tummy!:)