These treats are very popular in South China to serve to the guests as a snack during the Chinese New Year. It is so named because the round dough balls, when deep fried, will crack open like someone laughing. It carries a meaning of being able to laugh throughout the year.
Melt the lard in a skillet (frying pan) and set aside to cool.
Sift the flour, baking powder, and baking soda (bicarbonate of soda) onto a pastry board or clean work surface. Make a well in the center and add the sugar, egg, lard, and 4 tablespoons cold water. Using your hands, gently bring the flour toward the center of the board and push down to form a dough. Using a scraper, gently fold the dough for 4–5 minutes, press down with your hands—do not knead the dough otherwise gluten will form and the right texture won’t be achieved.
Cut the dough into strips and then into small pieces, each weighing about 1/4 oz/7g. Roll each piece into a small dough ball, dampen the balls with a little water, and roll them in the sesame seeds. Roll each dough ball again, using your fingers to press the sesame seeds firmly into the dough.
Heat the oil in a wok or deep saucepan to 300°F/150°C, or until a cube of bread browns in 1 1/2 minutes. Put the dough balls, in batches, onto a spider strainer or a large slotted spoon and carefully lower the balls into the hot oil. Reduce the heat to 265°F/130°C and deep-fry for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally with chopsticks, or until the donuts have opened up. Increase the heat to 300°F/150°C, and cook for 1 minute, or until golden brown. Use a slotted spoon to carefully remove them and drain on paper towels. Repeat with the remaining dough balls.
They can be served immediately or stored in an airtight jar where they will keep for 2–3 days.
Adapted from China: The Cookbook by Kei Lum and Diora Fong Chan (Phaidon, 2016)