Why It Works
- The addition of baking powder lightens the dough so it fries up crisp and crunchy.
- Freshly grated citrus zest adds a bright flavor and a citrusy aroma.
Christmas is the perfect time for fragrant, crunchy chin chin, a small, sweet crunchy fried Nigerian snack that comes in a variety of shapes and sizes, from chunky cubes to straight noodles to thin flakes. While eaten year round, Christmas time is prime chin chin season and you’ll find people frying up huge batches at home to eat, to entertain guests with, and to give to others.
Chin chin starts with a soft sweet dough made from all-purpose flour, sugar, fat (such as butter, margarine, or oil), flavoring (nutmeg and vanilla are commonly used but Nigerian red dry pepper may also be present), eggs, and/or water or milk. My version features fresh citrus zest, either lemon or orange, which is an untraditional addition that has become a favorite of mine. The dough is rolled out by hand or passed through a pasta roller, cut into a variety of shapes, and fried. It’s common to eat chin chin both warm and cold: Freshly fried chin chin are soft and crumbly, but will harden and become crunchy once cool.
A number of things have changed with chin chin since I was a child in Warri, on the southern coast of Nigeria. Growing up, you couldn’t find chin chin in supermarkets. To get some, you either made it at home, bought it from street stalls, or ordered it from friends. My mom had a friend, Mrs. A, who we’d order tubs from just to have around. The tubs would arrive filled to the brim with golden nutmeg-scented chin chin. We would leave a tub out on the counter and stash the rest in the freezer where they lasted a few weeks. Once we were ready for another tub, we’d eat it directly from the freezer or thaw it out. Over the last ten years, commercially-made chin chin have emerged, lining supermarket shelves in convenient small snack packs and in jars. Many commercial versions don’t use eggs because of its impact on preservation. Instead, they rely on margarine and whole milk powder to increase shelf life and to add fat.
For many years, chin chin was almost exclusively found in its classic nutmeg flavor. Nowadays, there’s a lot of creativity when it comes to playing around with ingredients and flavors. For the dough, you can try adding gluten-free flours like almond and coconut flours, and mixing in different spices (like masala chai, pumpkin spice, apple pie), aromatics (like the citrus zest I like to use), extracts like vanilla or almond, and floral waters like orange flower and rose. You can also toss the fried chin chin with flavored syrups, caramels, cookie crumbs, and more. Feel free to experiment when making your chin chin. Once fried, you can enjoy it on its own, with your favorite hot or cold beverage, and even in a bowl covered with milk and eaten like cereal.
- 5 ounces (150ml) whole milk
- 1 teaspoon (5ml) vanilla extract
- 14.1 ounces all-purpose flour (400g; 3 cups plus 2 tablespoons)
- 3.5 ounces sugar (100g; 1/2 cup)
- 1 1/2 teaspoons (6g) baking powder
- 1 teaspoon (3g) Diamond Crystal kosher salt; for table salt use half as much by volume or the same weight
- 2 teaspoons (4g) freshly grated lemon or orange zest
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- 3.6 ounces unsalted butter (100g; 7 tablespoons), cold
- 2 quarts (1.9L) vegetable oil, for frying
In a small bowl, whisk together milk and vanilla extract until well combined and set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, zest, and nutmeg until thoroughly combined. Using the large holes of a box grater, grate butter over flour mixture. Using your hands, toss butter with flour mixture until butter is evenly distributed.
In the center of the butter-flour mixture, make a well about 4-inches wide. Slowly pour milk mixture into the well. Using a flexible spatula or wooden spoon, gradually stir butter-flour mixture into milk mixture until combined. Using your hands, knead dough against sides of bowl or on a lightly-floured work surface until it comes together in a soft, but not sticky, ball. Cover dough with plastic wrap or a clean kitchen towel and rest for 10 minutes. (Alternatively, shape dough into a flat, round disk, wrap tightly in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for up to 2 days or freeze for up to 6 months; bring to room temperature before rolling).
On a lightly-floured work surface, divide dough into 4 equal portions (about 195g each), and shape each into a ball. Working with one ball of dough at a time, roll out dough to form a 5-inch circle about 1/4 inch thick, adding more flour as needed underneath and on top of dough to prevent sticking. Using a sharp knife or pizza wheel, cut dough into 1/2-inch-wide diamonds, dipping the wheel or knife in flour as needed to keep dough from sticking. Transfer dough pieces to a lightly floured rimmed baking sheet, dust with flour, and gently toss to prevent sticking. Repeat with remaining dough balls.
Line a large strainer with paper towels. In a wok or large Dutch oven, heat oil over medium-high heat to 360°F (180°C). Divide the dough pieces into roughly 3 or 4 batches. Working with one batch of dough pieces at a time, add pieces to hot oil using a spider or slotted spoon and fry, turning pieces as they cook, until golden brown on both sides, about 3 minutes. Transfer chin chin to prepared strainer.
Return oil to 360°F (180°C) and repeat frying with remaining batches of dough. Transfer chin chin to a serving bowl and serve warm or let cool completely, about 15 to 20 minutes.
Box grater, pizza wheel (optional), wok or large Dutch oven
Make-Ahead and Storage
Cooled chin chin can be stored in an airtight container or zipper-lock bag at room temperature for up to 2 weeks or frozen for up to 3 months.