Chinese desserts are necessary for a complete Chinese New Year’s celebration as sweet treats symbolize a sweet life.
The following are several popular Chinese New Year desserts, each with an auspicious symbolism.
1. Nian Gao – Increasing Prosperity and Promotions
Nian Gao (Steamed New Year cake) is China’s most famous and most popular New Year dessert. Its Chinese name is 年糕 (niángāo), a homophone for “year higher” (年高), which symbolizes increasing prosperity and promotions year after year.
This sweet (a salty cake is also available), temptingly squishy cake is mainly made from glutinous rice flour and brown sugar. Its round shape represents togetherness and completeness.
2. Rice Balls – Family Togetherness
Rice dumplings play their most important role in the Lantern Festival, which is the last day of the Chinese New Year period. Therefore, they are one of the top Chinese New Year desserts.
These sweet rice balls are often infused with black sesame seeds or mashed peanuts. Eating this auspicious dessert signifies unity within the family.
3. Steamed Sponge Cake – Prosperity
The Chinese name for steamed sponge cake is 发糕 (fāgāo), reminiscent of the Chinese for making a fortune (发财). It is a traditional sweet food and many Chinese people eat it for breakfast.
Because glutinous rice wine is used when making this brown or white steamed sponge cake it has a special fragrance. It will become cold and hard so just steam it again and then you can enjoy the spongy cake.
4. Sesame Seed Balls – Fullness
Sesame seed balls area tasty type of fried food made from glutinous rice flour that is filled with red bean paste, rolled in white sesame seeds, and fried. They are crispy on the outside and soft on the inside.
Sesame seed baguettes are fried until the inside becomes crispy, and is shaped like a cylinder. They have a longer shelf life so are much more poplar during the Chinese New Year period. Packed sesame seed baguettes can be found in supermarkets, while sesame seed balls are mainly available at bakeries.
5. Eight-Treasure Rice Pudding – Good Luck
Eight is a lucky number in Chinese culture, hence the name of ‘eight-treasure rice pudding’. It is true to the dessert’s name that the pudding really has eight types of “treasure”, including red jujubes, lotus seeds, dried longans, and other various dried, candied fruits.
The steamed pudding is soaked in sugar and butter, and the top is interspersed with the eight treasures.
6. Fried Dough Twists – Reunion
This fried food is a little bit harder than a sesame seed baguette. Two or three bars of dough paste are twisted together and fried until they are crispy. It is much more popular in North China.
The fried dough twists produced in Tianjin are the most famous in China, due to their renowned crispy texture, rich flavor, and creative ingredients. They are a specialty of Tianjin.
7. Peanut Brittle — Longevity and Good Fortune
This is another popular way to eat peanuts, especially during the Chinese New Year period. This sweet, crispy, and fragrant dessert is mainly made with shelled peanuts and malt sugar.
In markets, you can find beautifully packed peanut brittle, as well as peanut brittle sold by the meter.
8. Walnut Cookies – Happiness
It is a popular Chinese New Year dessert and almost the whole of China shares the same manufacturing method.
The main ingredients are walnuts and flour. The temptingly yellowish cookies have many cracks in them, with a soft texture and walnut fragrance.
Reference: China Highlights