For North American diners, dessert typically represents the chef's triumphant finale, his last chance to perform before a captive audience.
Chinese cuisine is a little different. Mention the words Chinese food to most people and they tend to think of an assortment of stir-fried dishes, usually accompanied with rice and the ubiquitous cup of tea. While frozen ice concoctions may have originated thousands of years ago in China's snow covered peaks, desserts do not feature prominently in Chinese cooking.
There are several reasons for this. First, while westerners traditionally end their evening meal with a fancy dessert, the Chinese prefer to eat fruit (a much healthier custom). Not that the Chinese don't ever crave sweets. A frequent complaint from westerners is that the few sweet Chinese desserts that do exist are too sweet. However, they normally prefer to indulge their sweet tooth between meals, especially when entertaining company or celebrating special occasions such as the Moon festival.
Second, chilled desserts have never been overly popular in China, since until recently most homes lacked a refrigerator. (Ovens are also rare in Chinese kitchens, which is why cake recipes often call for the cake to be steamed rather than baked). Finally, Chinese restaurants - even those in the west - tend to avoid offering fancy desserts. This is understandable when you consider that many desserts have a lengthy preparation time and Chinese dinners normally consist of several fast-cooking, stir-fried dishes.
Still, a few Chinese desserts have caught on in the west. One is Peking Dust, a gooey concoction featuring fresh chestnuts and whipped cream. According to one source, Peking dust is not truly indigenous to China, having been invented by western residents of Peking in the 1920's. However, another source states that Peking Wall - a more elaborate version of the same dessert - was traditionally served to foreign ambassadors near the end of the Ching dynasty, which ended in 1911.
Another popular dessert is Almond Tea. In "Chinese Home Cooking", Helen Chen shares her mother's reminiscences of how Chinese vendors used to sell almond tea from door to door. In those days it was made by hand grinding raw rice and almonds; fortunately, today you can use rice flour and almond paste. Adding agar-agar or unflavored gelatin to Almond Tea gives you Almond Junket.
Another well-known treat - normally reserved for special occasions - is eight precious pudding (it may also be called eight treasure pudding or eight precious rice). This rice pudding is filled with an assortment of colorful fruits such as maraschino cherries and dates, each representing a "treasure" - a precious stone such as ruby or jade. One word of caution: some people find both this dessert and Almond Tea to be overly sweet.
Of course, you can always follow Chinese tradition and conclude your evening meal with
a piece of fruit. Cooks with access to an Asian supermarket will have trouble
choosing between an array of luscious tropical fruits - everything from mandarin oranges
to mangos and lychees may be available. Fruit can be served fresh, chilled, or marinated
with a liqueur. Many Chinese recipes feature steamed fruit covered with a honey syrup, and
references to steaming pears with honey and wine dates back to ancient times.
Fritters, batter-covered fruits fried in oil and sprinkled with sugar, are also
This Week's Recipes:
Bow Ties - children love these egg roll wrappers deep-fried with brown sugar
Durian Ice Cream
Egg Custard Tarts
Eight Precious Pudding
Five Spice Peanuts
Fortune Cookies - not an authentic Chinese dessert, but no restaurant meal at a North American Chinese restaurant would be complete without them!)
Ginger Ice Cream
Mango Ice Cream
Mango Pudding - a popular dim sum dessert
Chinese Steamed Sponge Cake
Sponge Cake with Coconut Icing - (like Hawaiian Haupia)
Steamed Pears - the pears are filled with honey before steaming
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