Today is arbitrarily National Chinese Almond Cookie Day… in other words, it’s an excuse to talk about, make, and eat almond cookies after Chinese New Year has already passed.
A bit of confusion surrounds the origins and variations of this cookie; there’s the crispy crunchy version that probably originated from the traditional walnut cookie (合桃酥), and there’s the melt-in-your-mouth variety that seems to have its roots in the peanut cookie (花生饼). I enjoy both, but the former I tend to associate with cheap takeout as it sometimes replaces the less authentic fortune cookie.
For that reason, the recipe you’ll find below results in a buttery, crumbly, melt-in-your-mouth cookie made much simpler and healthier by using whole spelt flour and substituting mild olive oil (or any neutral-flavoured vegetable oil) for the lard used in many traditional Chinese pastry recipes. I’ll admit that the results were far better than I could have hoped; the texture suffers in no way. You could also use butter with good results, but I prefer to give the aromatic almond flavour space to come through.
Almond flour is widely available here in a land where its inhabitants exalt the bakewell tart, but you can easily grind whole almonds in a food processor until fine… just make sure you don’t grind until you end up with delicious but—for this recipe—unsuitable almond butter. In fact, I imagine substituting with any kind of finely-ground nut would work, especially peanuts or walnuts. Just thinking about an unorthodox pistachio variation makes me want to start preheating the oven.
I used unrefined brown sugar called muscovado for a subtle molasses flavour and ever-so-slight crunch, but really you can use any kind if you’re okay with some differences in final texture. Caster/icing sugar would be ideal for superfine crumb.
Chinese Almond Cookies
(makes about 25)
- 100g (~½ cup) ground almonds
- 150g (~½ cup) spelt flour
- 70g (~⅓ cup) muscovado sugar
- ¾ t baking powder
- ¾ t baking soda
- pinch of salt
- roughly 100ml (~½ cup) olive oil
- 1 egg yolk, for glazing
Preheat oven to 180ºC.
Combine all dry ingredients, then trickle in the oil until a cohesive dough is formed. Roll into 1-2 T balls and place on a baking tray lined with parchment paper. Repeat until dough is used up. If it’s difficult to form balls that don’t fall apart, add some more oil.
Brush lightly with a glaze of beaten egg yolk and bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the cookies’ surfaces are cracked and slightly golden. At this point, a little (okay, a lot) of self-control will pay off. Wait for about an hour until the cookies are cooled; this will ensure that they no longer smell like the egg wash and have transformed from sandy to firm in texture.
The Year of the Snake is looking good. Not tasting too badly, either.