Of Yeye and Snail Biscuits


I have few memories of my paternal grandfather who passed away when I was four.

Yeye’s final hours were spent doing things he enjoyed, he ate durian and watched a soccer game before going to bed. It was surreal seeing him in the coffin at the funeral wake which was held in the void deck of the HDB block where my grandparents lived. As we knelt around him, we were told to cry loudly which made an already bewildering situation more stressful as I struggled to squeeze tears out of my eyes. 

Hanging out with Yeye. This is the only photo I have of the two of us together.

My only living memory of my grandfather was of one weekend afternoon. Saturdays were when my dad and his siblings would come together to visit my grandparents. Yeye was resting in bed with the curtains drawn as my cousin and I wandered about the room. He asked me to bring a container of biscuits from the dining table which I promptly did. He then handed out one biscuit apiece to my cousin and me. 

I remember nibbling on this flat spiral biscuit that was larger than my outstretched hand. Since young, I have a penchant for taking my time to eat my favourite foods, devising ways to stretch my enjoyment of each of them. With this biscuit, I would chew along the curved lines, one layer at a time until there is no more. 

This spiral biscuit is one of my favourite childhood snacks. I call it “snail biscuit” as that’s what the pattern – a thin pale line wound around a thick brown layer – reminds me of. I’ve never been sure of its Chinese name as there does not seem to be a global consensus on it: 牛耳朵 / 猪耳朵 / 胡椒饼 / 咸切酥 / 五香螺旋饼. Some are inspired by animal ears (cow, pig, etc.) while other more literal names such as five-spice spiral and pepper crisps are based on its savoury taste.

When Chinese New Year was round the corner earlier this year, I thought of this nostalgic snack. Maybe it was because I was feeling homesick, not being able to be with my family for the past two years.  

I combined some recipes that I found on the Internet. I decided to be bold with the savoury ingredients, adding five-spice powder and red fermented bean curd as well as garlic and shallot. While some people would deep-fry the biscuits, I chose to bake them instead as I don’t remember them being oily. 

I was satisfied with how my first attempt at making snail biscuits turned out. Other than being mini versions of what I’d normally get at a shop, they looked like what I was aiming for, with the light-and-dark spiral dotted with sesame seeds. At first bite, I was thrown off by the garlicky onion taste. It had been a while since I’ve eaten a cookie with such flavours. It took two servings for my brain to adapt to this sweet-savoury combination, which came close to what I remember of this childhood snack!

Recipe for Snail Biscuit


Non-spiced layer
1 tbsp sugar
½ tsp salt
1 tbsp neutral oil
½ cup / 114g all-purpose flour
2 egg whites

Spiced layer
2-3 tsp red fermented bean curd 紅腐乳
¼ tsp pepper, preferably white
1-1½ tsp five-spice powder
⅓ tsp ground cinnamon
⅓ tsp ground ginger
½ tsp salt
5 tbsp smooth unsalted peanut butter
15g toasted white sesame seeds
1 garlic clove, peeled
1 shallot, peeled
1 tbsp neutral oil
½ cup / 114g all-purpose flour
30g icing sugar
2 egg yolks
Optional: ⅛ tsp ammonium bicarbonate – if you want to make this layer puff up


Prepare the non-spiced layer: Stir together flour and salt. Add sugar and oil, followed by egg whites, one at a time, until all is incorporated and dough is formed. Use hand or machine to knead until it become pliable and smooth. If the dough is sticky, add more flour (1 tbsp at a time) until it does not stick to the sides of bowl anymore. Set aside. 

Prepare the spiced layer: Blend the shallot and garlic until fine or paste-like in a food processor. Add sesame seed, fermented bean curd, pepper, five-spice powder, soya sauce, and salt and pulse until mixed. Add egg yolk, peanut butter, and oil, and continue to pulse. Add flour. Use hand or the processor to knead until it forms a pliable and smooth dough. If the dough is sticky, add more flour (1 tbsp at a time) until it does not stick to the sides of bowl anymore. Set aside. 

Combine the two layers: Generously sprinkle working surface with flour and roll out both doughs separately into rectangles of approximately 3-5mm thick. Place the spiced layer on top of the non-spiced dough. Roll up the two layers tightly. Wrap dough in cling wrap and chill overnight or until the dough is very firm. 

Prepare for baking: Preheat oven to 165-170°C. Cut into thin slices, around 2-3mm thick. The thinner they are, the crispier the cookies! Place slices on baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Bake for around 10 minutes, or until golden brown, flipping the biscuits mid-way. Cool on a rack before storing in an air-tight container. This would keep for about a week. Enjoy!

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