Most of us have memories of particular foods that, when eaten again, take us back to a specific moment or time in our lives. Being transported to a memory, good or bad, by a single taste is what French novelist Marcel Proust wrote about in Remembrance of Things Past. For him it was a madeleine, a sponge cake baked in a shell-shaped mold, that brought his past to the present. A “foodie” like me has many food memory “triggers,” but in honor of Chinese New Year, let me share some of my Chinese cookie memories.
Little pig-shaped cookies are my “madeleines.” Eating these hard-baked, dry cookies, sold only during fall harvest, always reminds me of my childhood. Although I have not eaten one of these cookies in a very long time, just the thought of them makes me happy and transports me back to the streets of Chinatown. If I was lucky, my parents would buy me one of these cookies while I tagged along with them on their Chinese grocery shopping trips. Sometimes I would get the large Buddha-shaped cookie that had colored sprinkles scattered across his belly, but my favorite one was always the little pig-shaped cookie sold in a little plastic basket. Breaking off small bits and savoring each little bite until it was gone was the only way I could eat it.
Another cookie that transports me to my past is the Chinese Almond Cookie. I remember friends of my parents would come to visit and bring large boxes of these. They made a crumbly mess when eaten, but boy were they good! Sometimes I would pick off the almond and eat it first, so that it would not interfere with the enjoyment of the best part – the crunchy, almond-flavored cookie!
Here’s a recipe for Chinese Almond Cookies that are thin and light; they’re crisp on the outside and slightly chewy on the inside and have a wonderful almond flavor.
Chinese Almond Cookies
from the Sweet Spot Cookbook by Pichet Ong
1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1-1/4 cups almond flour
1 cup unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes and chilled
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
1 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 cup slivered almonds
1 large egg white, beaten
1. Sift together the flour, sugar, and baking soda and set aside.
2. Put the almond flour, butter, and salt into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat on medium speed until the mixture resembles cornmeal, about 3 minutes. With the machine running, add the egg and almond extract and mix until well incorporated. Turn the speed to low and add the flour mixture. Mix just until no traces of flour remain.
3. Transfer the dough to a large sheet of plastic wrap, flatten into a 1-inch-thick disk, and wrap tightly in the plastic. Refrigerate until hard, at least 30 minutes or up to 3 days.
4. When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
5. Form the dough into 1/2-inch balls and put 1 inch apart on the baking sheets. Use the palm of your hand to press balls into 1-inch circles. Press 4 slivered almonds into each cookie arranging them decoratively to form an X. Brush the tops of the cookies with the egg white.
6. Bake the cookies until golden and crisp around the edges, about 15 minutes. Cool completely on the baking sheets on a cooling rack. The cookies can be stored in an airtight container for up to 3 days.
Makes 3 dozen cookies.
1. Almond flour can usually be found either in the baking aisle or the health food section of your grocery store.
2. In step 5 it helps to wet your palms with a little bit of water first before pressing down on the dough balls. The water prevents the buttery dough from sticking to your hands. Also, the 1-inch circles were too small to press four pieces of slivered almonds into an X-formation. I only used two pieces per cookie, but if you like your cookies to be nuttier, use more!
3. For me this recipe made way more than the three dozen it specified. I counted 88 cookies in my batch! Double 8 – how lucky!
Gung Hay Fat Choy!