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.