Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Candied Sesame Walnuts & Snapshots of my Hometown

It's been a while (again)! But I have a better excuse this time; I've been away to my hometown Hong Kong (again) over my uni break and in going to the opposite hemisphere I left my blogging duties behind (yes, again). It isn't that I haven't been baking, either - I made a total of three cakes in three weeks of which I only took photos of two, but neither were particularly blog-worthy. And while it seems that writing a post on walnuts after one on pecans is overly nutty (pun intended - I'm hilarious), these candied walnuts are amazing. But more on that in a sec.

Because I felt so guilty about not posting for so long while I was in HK, I decided to attempt to at least give you a glimpse of my hometown and so I optimistically carried my camera out with me for a day. This expedition didn't turn out as well as I hoped it would and I had serious second, third and fourth thoughts about actually sharing any of these photos with you because I didn't think it really represented the beauty of HK. The day was hot, but cloudy, and the sky was gray, the photos are all limited to just one local area and were all taken on the run while I was on my way to doing other things - not really the best circumstances for photography. Then I looked over it again and decided that while these photos might not represent how beautiful a city HK is - and it can be really gorgeous, particularly at night - they do give you a small glimpse of HK's daily life, and that is really what makes up most of my own memories of this city.

The pictures you see here are all from Central, and as the name suggests, is one of the centers for everything in HK - shopping, eating, working. The golden piece of toast you see above is HK's signature french toast, which is a peanut butter sandwich that has been coated with egg and deep fried, then smothered with syrup and topped with a pat of melting butter. Can't beat that for comfort food. Above that is a giant turnip cake, which is not what it usually looks like (it's generally cut into squares) but is a staple at HK dim sum restaurants.

The remarkable thing about going back to the place you grew up in is how familiar it feels even when you notice all the changes that have taken place since you've last returned. Stepping back on the subway reminds me of the thrill I got when I was allowed to take it by myself for the first time. Exchanging words of  local Cantonese with the cashier in 7-11 immediately grounds me back to my roots, and it feels like I have never left. And while after four years in Sydney it feels as much of a home to me as HK does, leaving that sense of familiarity of a place that I spent my childhood and most of my teenage years living in also requires a mental readjustment when I get back to Aus. This process of readjustment is definitely helped by these candied walnuts.

These walnuts taste sweet and crunchy but surprisingly light, and they have a unique flavor that's achieved through the addition of maltose, which you should be able to find in an Asian supermarket. It's a little like glucose but firmer, and is more of a structural liquid, golden brown in color. When I was younger, for a sweet treat, my mom taught me to make maltose cracker sandwiches by sticking a chopstick into the pot and twisting it, like twisting spaghetti up on a fork, and forming a small ball of maltose to which you then stick two soda crackers on either side. Almost like an Asian s'more.

So OK, these walnuts aren't actually an HK specialty specifically - this is actually a very old Chinese snack, of which origin I can't seem to locate, but the tradition of candying nuts with maltose goes back to ancient China. But I remember having these walnuts as appetizers at Chinese restaurants in HK, served in one of those small dishes that are set out at the beginning of a meal along with a pot of tea. I actually haven't eaten them in a while, and probably wouldn't have for longer if my mom hadn't brought back a cookbook called 100 Chinese Desserts, flipped to the page with the candied walnuts, and told me I'd better make some soon. And so...

These walnuts are a favorite of my grandmother's, and when she visited HK a couple weeks ago I made a small half-batch for her to take home. She stayed for a week, and by the end of her stay I had made over a kilo of these walnuts, boxed and packaged to be taken with her back on the plane. That's how good these are.

I know the process of making these might look a little tedious and confronting - it involves boiling the walnuts in a sugar syrup and then deep frying it - but if I can do it, then you've definitely got nothing to be worried about. They can be made in more or less an hour. And if you feel that the deep frying part makes for something oily and gross, I can assure you that these don't feel like greasy food at all. 

If you're unsure, try a half batch first - the recipe below makes 500g. Just beware, these walnuts have a tendency to disappear quickly!

ALSO! I am featured on Holly's blog Mess Makes Food in her list of Student & Under 26 Food Bloggers, please check it out and show all these awesome young bloggers out there some support! 

Candied Sesame Walnuts
Adapted from 100 Chinese Desserts 

Note: if you're like me, the deep frying part of this recipe makes you want to hyperventilate. But I've made this recipe about 5 times now and I have managed to avoid any hot oil related incidents, which means this isn't too hard to get right. It's essential that the oil, when you first put the walnuts in, isn't too hot - so pay attention to when to turn the stove on and off. 

500g raw, shelled walnuts
2 tbsp white sesame seeds
1/2 tsp salt
300g white sugar
1 1/4 (300ml) cups cold water
2 tbsp maltose (if you can't find maltose, you could try replacing this with glucose or even honey)

In a dry wok, toast the sesame seeds until golden and aromatic, about 5 minutes. Put the toasted seeds in a small bowl and set aside. 

Put the walnuts into a large bowl and cover the nuts with water that's just been boiled (amount of water will depend on the amount of walnuts and the size of the bowl) - make sure all the walnuts are submerged. Add 1/2 tsp of salt and give this a quick stir. Allow the walnuts to blanch for 5 minutes, then drain and lay out on a towel to dry.

While the walnuts are drying, in a medium saucepan add the cups of cold water, white sugar and maltose. Cook over a medium heat until the sugar and maltose has dissolved. Once the mixture begins to bubble, let it cook for 5 minutes. 

Add the walnuts to the sugar syrup and cook for another 5 minutes. Drain and allow the walnuts to cool on a piece of parchment paper (to prevent sticking). As it cools, you should be able to see that the walnuts are coated with the syrup and look shiny and glossy.

In the wok you used to toast the sesame seeds earlier, heat enough oil to deep fry the walnuts (to use less oil, fry the walnuts in two batches). Heat the oil until it starts to smoke (or when drops of water will sizzle when thrown in). At this point turn off the heat. Allow the oil to cool for about 1 minute so that it becomes warm, and then add the walnuts to the oil. Once the walnuts are added, turn the heat back on to medium and deep fry the walnuts until a light amber color. Take out and drain off the oil, then sprinkle with white sesame seeds and give the mixture a quick toss. Serve. Store the walnuts in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.


  1. Hong Kong is one of my favourites places - and your photos are great. I've just been back to Melbourne for 3 weeks for the first time in a year and I saw it all in a whole new (good) light.
    'Home' means many things doesn't it if you live away from your family?
    Lucky grandma having a kilo of these gorgeous walnuts to take home with her!

    1. Always happy to find other people who love HK! It's always interesting to see somewhere you haven't been for a long time, there's always so much you never seem to have noticed.

  2. I am going to make this very soon! Gorgeous!


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