Friday, April 12, 2013

Cookies for the weekend: Chinese Almond Cookies

I made these cookies to serve at our last class on Chinese take-out you can make at home (see here and here). They were a big hit! They aren't hard to make, but the recipe makes quite a few, so it does take some time (and multiple cookie sheets). There are a couple of versions of the Chinese Almond Cookie: one that is more like shortbread and very crispy, and another that is chewy. This is the chewy version and it gets its chewy texture from the addition of egg whites. We use a mixture of butter and shortening (look for shortening with no hydrogenated fats, such as Spectrum's palm oil-based shortening). Lard is traditional but high-quality lard that hasn't been hydrogenated is nearly impossible to find nowadays.

Chinese Almond Cookies
(makes about 4 dozen)

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder (see Note)
¼ teaspoon salt
6 Tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
6 Tablespoons non-hyrogenated vegetable shortening
½ cup white sugar
1 teaspoon almond extract
2 large egg whites mixed with 1 Tablespoon water
⅓ cup white sugar for rolling cookies in
about 4 dozen whole almonds, with skin or blanched, for garnish

Cover 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper or foil.

Set two racks in the oven so they divide the oven into ⅓'s. Preheat oven to 325 F°.

In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside. In a large bowl, combine butter, shortening, ½ cup sugar, and almond extract. Beat with an electric mixer until soft, light, and fluffy. Set mixer to its lowest setting and stir in ½ of the flour mixture. Add the egg whites and beat. Stir in the rest of the flour, scrape down the sides of the bowl and mix thoroughly by hand.

Place the ⅓ cup sugar in a small bowl. Take 1" pieces of dough (a spoon is good for the scooping) and roll in your hands. Roll in the sugar. Place on the prepared cookie sheets about 2" apart. Place a whole almond on each ball and press into cookie dough. When you have filled the 2 cookie sheets, place in the oven and bake for 14 minutes. They should be slightly golden brown on the bottom and not browned at all on top. Remove from the oven. Transfer the cookies on the paper/foil to racks to cool. Let sheets cool for 5 minutes, recover with paper/foil, form cookies with the rest of the dough and finish baking.

Note: I've adjusted this recipe to work at Boulder, Colorado elevation, 5400 ft. If you are at sea-level, increase baking powder to 1 ½ teaspoons.

Adapted from Cookies Unlimited by Nick Malgieri. He uses lard and says don't substitute shortening for the lard because it isn't like the cookies he remembered growing up in New Jersey. Point taken, but since I don't have that memory, they taste just fine to me made with shortening.

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