Chinese Almond Cookies

Chinese Almond Cookies from Cakewalker

 

A Chinese Calendar

The memory returns with such clarity that the experience of it could have been yesterday. I don’t think I was much more than 6, but the impression it made on me began a lifelong love of Chinese food. My introduction to the cuisine was under the guidance of my grandparents and my aunt and uncle. I was visiting at the home of my relatives when the elders decided to go to a local restaurant for lunch. Being a 6-year-old, my initial thought at the mention of going out was to the drive-thru at Jack-in-the-Box. Do you remember what the 1960s version of a Jack-in-the-Box restaurant was? Your order was taken by a huge cartoon-looking clown head, with a frilly, colored collar in hues of the rainbow—and it spoke back to you when you were done! I used to think it was magical…but I digress.

 

 Blanching almonds

 

The real magic came when I entered the Chinese restaurant. I was excited and curious, but a bit trepid about trying the food. There were only two things I knew about it: chop sticks were used to eat the food, and there was a dish called Chop Suey. Once past the threshold of the door, I was transported to an enchanting place. There were paper lanterns hanging from the ceiling, a wash of bright red color on the walls, and graphic black symbols painted on grass paper scrolls hung by tassels. No deuces, 4-tops or banquette seating. Instead there were long family-style community tables, each seat marked by the quintessential paper place mat depicting the Chinese calendar, with an inverted tea cup on a red napkin and a pair of—you guessed it, chop sticks. The aromas wafting from the kitchen were savory, pungent and intriguing. It wasn’t until much later in life that I learned I was being romanced by the scents of ginger, soy sauce and sesame oil at work in a searing hot wok. A gracious and humble server, an elderly Asian man quickly brought an ornate pot of fragrant jasmine tea. He carefully poured each of us a cup, nodding to every member of our party as he went along, with a genuine grin that went from ear to ear.

 

Blanched almonds

 

The food that followed was divine! I now know I was served the basics, classics really, consisting of egg flower soup, egg roll, BBQ pork spare ribs and Sweet & Sour Pork with steamed white rice. Did I mention the fried, crunchy and curly Chow Mein noodles? I think I was brought a finger dish of them for back-up…just in case. There was a curry selection and an entrée with long, bright red chili peppers in it passed among the adults, but I was content with the dishes that circulated my way—me, my pork and a Chinese calendar. I was a happy camper!

 

 Portioned almond cookies

 

Not engrossed by the adult conversation, I studied that calendar. I found my birth year and discovered I was born in the Year of the Ox. Much later I learned the Chinese Lunar Calendar consists of 5 cycles lasting 12 years each. It names each of the twelve years after an animal. Legend has it that the Lord Buddha summoned all the animals to come to him before he departed from earth. Only twelve came to bid him farewell. To reward them, he named a year after each one in the order they arrived. The Chinese believe the animal ruling the year in which a person is born has a deep influence on personality. Oxen are born leaders and they inspire confidence in everyone they come into contact with. The down side is they can be too demanding. My children might attest to that! Methodical and good with their hands, oxen make fine surgeons and hairdressers. I guess a baker falls into that category?

 

Chinese Almond Cookie by Cakewalker 

 

At the end of the meal, the delightful server who was fast on his feet brought me a small, colorful square dish. I was instantly smitten. On this plate was a cookie. A Chinese almond cookie! It was round with crackly lines on top and smelled of sweet nuttiness. At the center of it was a plump whole almond under a shiny yellow glaze. Upon first bite I gave into its spell with the burst of almond flavor enveloping my mouth. The intensity of the almond flavor as it commingled with the sugary, crunchy texture was a food experience like none other.

Though many moons have come and gone since that day, and the boy is now a man, I can still remember it like it was yesterday.

 

Chinese Almond Cookies by Cakewalker

On January 31, 2014, the 15-day celebration of the Chinese New Year begins. According to the Chinese calendar, 2011 is the Year of the Horse. Make your festivities extra special with some of these almond cookies! They are flavorful and crispy which makes them a perfect companion to some green jasmine tea.

Adapted from the Press-Telegram. Circa 1975

CHINESE ALMOND COOKIES

Prep Time: 20 minutes

Cook Time: 15 minutes

Total Time: 50 minutes

Yield: About 2 dozen cookies

Serving Size: One cookie

CHINESE ALMOND COOKIES

The delicate flavor of almond reigns supreme in this Chinese almond cookie recipe. Whenever you desire, a sweet taste of the orient can be made in your kitchen.

Ingredients

  • 2 3/4 cups sifted all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled
  • 1 large egg beaten well
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 teaspoon milk
  • 2 teaspoons almond extract
  • 30 whole blanched almonds

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 350˚F.
  • Sift together the flour, sugar, soda and salt into a mixing bowl. Transfer the flour mixture to the large bowl of a food processor that has been fitted with the blade. Cube the butter; add to the processor. Pulse the mixture 20-25 times until it resembles coarse meal.
  • Add the almond extract to the beaten egg and mix well. With the power running on the processor, pour the egg mixture in through the feeding chute. Process until the blades incorporate the wet and dry ingredients—the mixture will quickly come together and form into a ball. When the ball appears and begins to rotate in the bowl, turn the power off. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured board.
  • Using a 1 to 1 1/2 inch scoop (or roll into balls about an inch or so in diameter), portion out the dough. Place onto ungreased cookie sheets at least 3 1/2 inches apart. The cookies spread, so the more space between them, the better. With the heel of the palm, slightly flatten the cookies. Press one blanched almond into the center of each cookie. Mix the egg yolk and milk to make a glaze, and lightly brush the tops of each cookie.
  • Bake for 14-15 minutes until the cookies are golden. Remove them from the baking sheets to cool completely on racks. Store in an airtight container.

Notes

If you can't find almonds already blanched, it's simple! Bring a saucepan of water to a slow boil. Drop the desired number of raw almonds into the pan and turn off the heat. Allow the almonds to soak in the hot water for 30-45 seconds. Strain the almonds from the water and quickly place them into an ice bath. Let them chill for about a minute, strain them again and you're ready to remove the skins easily. Pat dry on a paper towel.

http://cakewalkr.com/chinese-almond-cookies/

Comments

  1. What a great job tying in the indelible memoires of your boyhood with this post, Brooks. I’ve had almond cookies before, but I dare say none as lovely looking or authentic as these. Very fine work, again, my friend. More from you, please!

    • Brooks Walker says

      Thank you, Dan. I’ll bet your clan would enjoy the cookies, and yes, it’s my plan to share more in 2014. Stay tuned!

  2. I also remember being entranced with crispy, sweet almond cookies after inhaling more cha sui bao than any 12 year old had a right to eat in San Francisco’s Chinatown. It was only after my belly was stuffed beyond capacity that I studied my Chinese Lunar Calendar place mat long enough to see that I was born in the year of the Pig. My family took a little too much pleasure in that fact.

  3. Brooks, I love the story of your introduction to Chinese food. Growing up in Philadelphia we ate Chinese food as soon as we got off baby food. The best Chinese I ever had! Anyway, love the cookies and the presentation in the little red dish. Perfect!

  4. So much tastier than fortune cookies! I have wonderful memories of my first time at a Chinese restaurant, too…with a big group of families…sampling my first hot black tea, won ton soup, egg rolls and lots more. We were vacationing in Aspen in the 70’s and it was a rare restaurant visit for us kids! I loved reading about your experience.

    • Brooks Walker says

      No doubt, Liz…in our day, few and far between restaurant visits were a privilege.

  5. YUM! One of my favorites for sure!

  6. Marjorie Leatherwood says

    Brooks: I haven’t fell off the earth, but I had to go to Vanderbuilt Med. Cen. in Nashvile, TN. On 1-20-14 & I had major back surgery on 1-27-14 & came home to Sevierville, TN. on 1-30-14. I am in a local N.H. & I am having therapy 5 days a week. I am doing well, I walked 6 steps today & they are getting my muscles stronger.
    I just got my Yfi a couple days ago & I feel like I finally am connected with the outside world. It will be a while before I cook again, but I enjoy reading the recipes. Hope everything is going well with you &
    your recipes & cooking. Marjorie Leatherwood

    • Brooks Walker says

      Marjorie, I’m glad to hear your recovery is coming along nicely! It’s so good of you to stop by, and yes, I’m well, thanks. Take the therapy slow and steady—before you know it, you’ll be in the kitchen cooking. Until next time, be well.

  7. Kathleen Falls says

    Let me start with – as an adult, I now love Chinese food. However, as a child I did not appreciate it’s deliciousness.
    My family always ordered it in for New Years Eve as a special treat.
    I remember when I was about eleven years old, my Grandma was placing our traditional order for delivery – I interrupted her and insisted ” and a hamburger! ”
    Upon delivery of our much anticipated meal…I tore open the bag – but could not find my hamburger.
    Wondering if we had been charged for the allusive burger, my Grandma began to read the bill.
    The only hamburger on the receipt was delivery to Anna Hamburg and our address.
    That was fifty years ago but I remember it like it was yesterday.LOL

  8. I made your delicious cookies today. My daughter will take them to a family gathering celebrating Chinese New Year 2015. The flavor of the cookies is very good – the almond flavoring comes through nice and subtle. The look is beautiful, just found I couldn’t go a minute over 14 minutes. But it seems in comparing my cookies to you pictures mine may have been a bit thicker than yours. I “slightly flattened” the balls with the heel of my hand – they were about 1/2″ high. Maybe it was too thick. Should it be more like 1/4″ before baking?

    Thank you for the recipe. Will definitely be making these again. I also skinned my own almonds for the very first time – very fun and easy!!

    Terry

    • Brooks Walker says

      Hi Terry, I’m delighted to hear you enjoyed the cookies. You’re right within the suggested baking time, 14 to 15 minutes, but yes, the cookie thickness prior to baking and oven temperature are variables which could affect the overall bake time. So you know, I portion the cookies out using a #60 spring-loaded scoop (see: TIP JAR for a photo example), which is one tablespoon. From there I roll into balls and slightly flatten them per the directions as you did, so mine are likely somewhere between 1/4 and 1/2-inch high. You make me proud for skinning your own almonds. Thank you for reporting back, and Happy Chinese New Year to you & yours!

      • Hi Brooks!

        I am making the cookies again today! I got RAVE reviews with your recipe when I made them this Chinese New Year, everyone loved them! and I even had pictures sent to me with 3 of the cookies surrounded by little red envelopes 🙂
        Thank you so much for this recipe and for your tips about the size of the cookies. I will keep this recipe to be used every year from now on! Love the story too. I can sure relate to your memories!

        Take Care,

        Terry

        • Brooks Walker says

          Wonderful, Terry. You’re most welcome for the recipe, and I’m thrilled to know the cookies were a hit. Thanks for taking the time to share the news!

  9. When I was a kid, the Chinese restaurant was exotic and mysterious, the food fabulous! Your cookies are just perfect and look like the best almond cookies from the best Chinese restaurant. Kudos to you!

    • Brooks Walker says

      Chinese cuisine is indeed exotic and mysterious, Jamie. Thank you for the lovely comment!

  10. Cynthia Bliss says

    I loved your story. It reminds me of all the stories written about a much beloved ( but not Chinese ) restaurant here in Orlando, F.L. I think I’ll try making these,but, I try using Almond flour instead. I’ll let you know how they turn out.

    • Brooks Walker says

      Thank you, Cynthia. It’s always a treat to hear back from readers, and I appreciate you taking the time to let me know you enjoyed the post. Best wishes with the cookies; I look forward to hearing how it went!

  11. The recipe is great, needless to say, but I LOVE the Chinese character font! Very clever, I’ll have to remember that next year! As always, I find something new and delicious on your site, Brooks!

  12. Kasey Zendejas says

    I am so sorry to say ths, but the cookies did not turn out well at all. I was so looking forward to them, and they were a Father’s Day gift for my baby brother and step-dad. I am an experienced baker, and the only reason I can think of to explain the cookies, was that it was 104 degrees outside. Anyway, I still thank you for your recipe! Best regards,

    • Brooks Walker says

      Hi Kasey, you’re welcome for the recipe and I’m sorry it didn’t turn out as you had intended. The high temperature outdoors will affect the fat content and how it will or will not interact with the flour; even if the dough is prepared under interior air conditioning. In this case, it’s advisable to allow the dough to rest in the refrigerator before portioning and baking. Best wishes for future baking endeavors!

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