One of my all-time favorite things was going out for Chinese food with my parents. Back then, tofu was called bean curd. There was a small restaurant in Glendale called Yung Kyung. The Mrs ran the show and the Chinese husband ran the kitchen. The food and hospitality were unparalleled and I miss that place dearly. My parents always ordered too much food and I had to try a bit of everything, after which, I looked anxiously for those Chinese Almond Cookies. The original recipe was brought to the US in 1951 by a Chinese baker who owned a small corner shop in downtown Los Angeles. That bakery is long gone, but the world’s best almond cookie is still yours to snatch, still packaged in the signature pink box with dragons pressed in red ink. And, now, you can bake them fresh right in your very own oven.
For a while, I’d pick up a box whenever I’d see it, rushing home with excitement to stuff my face, only to be disappointed at the stale taste of the contents. Perhaps they’re not as widely appreciated as they should be and spend too much time on the shelf. No matter. We can now make our own. Here’s how.
TWIN DRAGON ALMOND COOKIES
Makes 2 dozen 2-inch cookies
Prep: 15 mins
Oven: 350 *F
Bake: 20 mins
3 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
pinch of salt
1 cup blanched almonds or almond meal
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
3 sticks butter
1 tsp almond extract
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 free-range egg, @ room temp
24 whole almonds for garnish
1 free-range egg, lightly beaten for brushing
Soak almonds in hot water for 30 mins.
Pinch one end and the peel will slip right off!
Preheat oven to 350 *F.
Sift flour, baking soda and salt over the bowl.
In a blender, grind 1/2 cup blanched almonds to a fine powder.
Add to the flour mixture.
Cream the sugar, butter, almond & vanilla extracts and egg in another bowl.
Roll dough into 1-inch balls and arrange 2 inches apart onto a baking sheet.
Press one of the remaining almonds in the center of each ball, while flattening with a drinking glass.
Brush each cookie lightly with beaten egg.
Bake 20 mins, til golden on the edges.
Nothing signifies good luck and cheer than the plump figure of Hotei, the Happy Buddha. One look at his cute smile and your sinking ships will sail once again toward the sunny horizon. My little fella compliments these Chinese Almond Cookies beautifully as he represents the ancient Asian culture. He’s tasty, too! All you need is a mold and some almond paste or mazipan.
There is a difference between the two, marzipan and almond paste. I can never remember why they’re called by different names, and, no matter, because either will work perfectly in our mold. Look for them on the top shelf of the baking supplies aisle. Cost Plus World Market always has the stuff. Just be careful not to get the chocolate-covered ones. If you do, you will be left with the arduous and painful task of peeling the chocolate off the marzipan and eating it all by yourself!
Cut off a slab of marzipan and work the dough in your hands to soften it.
Press it firmly into the mold. Add more if needed to fill the mold well.
Let the dough sit in the mold 30 mins or so.
Flip over and press onto Buddha’s belly to pop the figure out.
Gently let it rest on the cutting board another hour or so to dry.
Use the paintbrush to apply gold dust.
These Chinese Almond Cookies are delightful. Mom always asks for them and I’m more than happy to oblige. They have a rich nutty flavor and are impossible to resist. If you bake a batch this morning, you’ll be ready come 3 o’clock when you’re struck with a hankering for something sweet. Grab your slippers, put the kettle on and enjoy a treat in a quiet little corner of your home with a view.