5 Recipes You Should Be Baking to Celebrate the Lunar New Year

January 25 kicks off the Lunar New Year, a 15-day-long celebration of the beginning of the new year in the traditional Chinese calendar. For those who celebrate, the very light takes on a bright red hue. For these 15 days in China and all other countries that celebrate the Lunar New Year, the cheery glow of red lanterns illuminate the roads, with red paper pasted over windowpanes and doorways for good measure. At night, fireworks shout across the horizon in rapid succession and burst in dazzling, rhythmic fashion—an unsurpassed spectacle considering the Chinese invented fireworks. At the close, thousands of lanterns are lit and sent to the sky, with hopes and dreams scrolled on the paper that will soon be consumed by the growing internal flame. 

But perhaps the quietest tradition is the most important: the reunion dinner, held on Lunar New Year’s Eve. The entire extended family gathers around the dinner table to dine on an multicourse meal made up of dumplings, rice cakes, and more. Food plays an integral part in welcoming the new year, and there is much to feast on. Start this new year, the Year of the Rat, in sweet fashion with our five home baker-friendly recipes featured in our January/February 2020 issue. We’re sharing two of our favorites here, but pick up a copy of the issue for the rest!

Walnut Cookies (hup toh soh)

A common treat found in pastry shops in China year-round, during Chinese New Year, home bakers often make hup toh soh as a crunchy treat to welcome visitors and family to their home. Supposedly, the original walnut cookies contained no walnuts in the dough. The “walnut” in the name might have been used to refer to the cookie’s crunchy texture, or its wrinkly, golden appearance. 

Pineapple Buns (bolo bao)

Instantly recognizable with its crosshatch design on top, pineapple buns are a treasure to have come out of Hong Kong bakeries in the 20th century. Contrary to what its name would have you think, no pineapple is used in making these buns. Instead, the title refers to its similarity in appearance between the crispy top and a pineapple’s bumpy exterior. The base bun is made of a milk bread dough—sweet and fantastically fluffy.

Coconut Almond Rice Cake (nian gao)

For Chinese New Year, a number of rituals ensure luck and fortune: wearing red, not cleaning, burning fake money and coins, and, most deliciously, eating nian gao. This traditionally steamed sticky rice cake is almost 2,000 years old, first coming to prominence around AD 200. The cake’s potential luck is due to being a homonym, with nian gao sounding similar to the Chinese characters for “higher year,” meaning you’ll have a bountiful year by eating a slice of this iconic rice cake. Of course, consuming cake is always lucky in our book. Click here for our recipe!

Sweet Egg Tarts (dan tan)

Hailing from the city of Guangzhou in the 1920s, the Chinese variation of the egg tart features a crisp, crumbly shortcrust made with lard and a luminous, egg-rich custard. Once the dish came to Hong Kong, it transformed again, getting a tender cookie-like pâte sucrée crust but keeping the reflective custard. Though a relatively new addition to the Lunar New Year feasting, the egg tart is one more sweet way to celebrate the new year. 

Barbecue Pork Buns (char siu bao)

A Cantonese and dim sum classic, this bao is special because it is steamed rather than baked, making it both fluffy and sturdy. Once steamed, the dough will form a chewy skin while staying snowy white and gently heating a tender filling of barbecue-style pork (or char siu). Pork is symbolic during the Chinese New Year, standing for strength, wealth, and blessings. Click here for our version of this dum sum classic.

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Pear Cardamom Buns

With a mesmerizing yet easy-to-execute shape, these buns are spiced with bold, complex cardamom—the ideal companion for the subtly flavored pear. Slathered in every twist and curve of the golden dough, the homemade Pear Butter is a great way to make use of overripe pears and melts in your mouth with every bite. 

5.0 from 1 reviews

Pear Cardamom Buns

Makes 16 buns
  • 1 cup (240 grams) warm whole milk (105°F/41°C to 110°F/43°C), divided
  • 2¼ teaspoons (7 grams) active dry yeast*
  • ⅓ cup (67 grams) plus ¼ cup (50 grams) granulated sugar, divided
  • ⅓ cup (76 grams) unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
  • ¼ cup (60 grams) sour cream, room temperature
  • 1 large egg (50 grams), room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons (8 grams) vanilla extract
  • 4½ to 4¾ cups (563 to 594 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons (6 grams) kosher salt
  • 1¼ teaspoons (2.5 grams) ground cardamom, divided
  • ½ teaspoon (1 gram) ground cinnamon
  • 1¼ cups (360 grams) Pear Butter (recipe follows)
  • 1 large egg white (30 grams)
  • 1 tablespoon (15 grams) whole milk, room temperature

  1. In a medium bowl, stir together ¾ cup (180 grams) warm milk and yeast. Let stand until mixture is foamy, about 10 minutes.
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, stir together ⅓ cup (67 grams) sugar, melted butter, sour cream, egg, vanilla, and remaining ¼ cup (60 grams) warm milk until combined.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, salt, ¾ teaspoon (1.5 grams) cardamom, and cinnamon. Stir 4 cups (500 grams) flour mixture into sugar mixture. With mixer on low speed, add yeast mixture, beating just until combined. Beat in remaining ½ to ¾ cup (63 to 94 grams) flour mixture. (Dough should be slightly sticky.) Switch to the dough hook attachment. Beat at low speed until dough is smooth and elastic, 4 to 5 minutes.
  4. Turn out dough onto a lightly floured surface, and shape into a smooth round. Spray a large bowl with cooking spray. Place dough in bowl, turning to grease top. Loosely cover and let rise in a warm, draft-free place (75°F/24°C) until doubled in size, 1 to 1½ hours.
  5. Punch down dough. Refrigerate for 15 to 30 minutes.
  6. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
  7. Turn out dough onto a lightly floured surface, and roll into a 20×16-inch rectangle. Spread Pear Butter onto dough, leaving a ½-inch border on short sides. In a small bowl, whisk together egg white and room temperature milk. Brush one border with egg wash. Fold dough in half crosswise, trimming if needed to create a 16×10-inch rectangle. Gently roll over dough to ensure filling is even. Cut dough into 16 (1-inch-wide) strips. Twist each strip, spiral dough, and tuck end under. Place on prepared pans. Cover and let rise in a warm, draft-free place (75°F/24°C) until puffed, about 30 minutes.
  8. Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C).
  9. Brush buns with egg wash. In a small bowl, stir together remaining ¼ cup (50 grams) sugar and remaining ½ teaspoon (1 gram) cardamom. Top buns with cardamom sugar.
  10. Bake, one batch at a time, until golden brown and an instant-read thermometer inserted in center registers 190°F (88°C), 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool on pans for 10 minutes. Serve warm, or let cool completely on wire racks. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days.

*We used Red Star® Active Dry Yeast.


5.0 from 1 reviews

Pear Butter

Makes about 3 cups
  • 4 pounds (1,814 grams) Bartlett pears (about 8 large pears), peeled, cored, and roughly chopped into ½-inch cubes
  • 1 cup (240 grams) water
  • 1 tablespoon (3 grams) lemon zest (about 1 lemon)
  • ½ cup (120 grams) fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon (5 grams) grated fresh ginger
  • 1 whole star anise
  • 1 cup (220 grams) firmly packed light brown sugar
  • ½ cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon (18 grams) vanilla bean paste
  • ½ teaspoon (1 gram) ground cardamom
  • ½ teaspoon (1 gram) ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon (1 gram) ground nutmeg

  1. In a large stainless steel stockpot, bring pears, 1 cup (240 grams) water, lemon zest and juice, ginger, and star anise to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium; boil gently, stirring occasionally, until tender, 20 to 25 minutes. Discard star anise.
  2. Working in batches, transfer mixture to the work bowl of a food processor; purée just until a uniform texture is achieved and no large chunks remain. (Do not liquefy. It should look like applesauce.)
  3. Return mixture to pot; add sugars, vanilla bean paste, cardamom, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until sugars are dissolved. Reduce heat to medium; boil gently, stirring frequently, until mixture thickens and holds its shape with a spoon and liquid does not separate, 45 to 55 minutes. Refrigerate for up to 1 month, or freeze for up to 1 year.



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