Chinese almond cookies

Chinese New Year is just around the corner (starting on January 31st this year) and I actually have time to think about and anticipate it.  Growing up, Chinese New Year was a huge deal in Hong Kong, with a ton of preparations and many meals being cooked and eaten.  When we moved to New York (I was eight), Chinese New Year festivities scaled down a bit but it's still a big occasion to mark.  Truth be told, we enjoy Chinese New Year courtesy of our parents, who prepare the traditional foods and keep the customs alive for us.  Now that my son is getting older, I'm trying to be more mindful of those traditions.
Red is the traditional color of Chinese New Year (though I do have Valentine's Day on the brain, too)
With Chinese New Year on my mind, I made Chinese almond cookies.  I think the best way to describe them is they're slightly crisp almond-flavored butter cookies, with a sandy (almost cornmeal-like) texture to them.  And they're really more Chinese-American treats because while we certainly have Chinese desserts in the form of dessert soups, for instance, sweets as in cookies and such are not a huge part of Chinese culture.  The few cookies I did eat as a very young child were mainly those tins of Danish butter cookies and almond cookies. My favorite ones are actually the ones pictured below:
I have to mention them because they're really unusual cookies in that they're super crumbly and sandy - powdery on the surface, even - with full-on almond flavor and bites of almonds within. They're so fragile, the cookies - biscuits or "cake" as it's called on the tin - are individually wrapped and packed with bubble wrap inside the tin.  They're incredible, and while I love Italian-style soft and chewy almond paste cookies, these particular Chinese almond cookies above have a special place in my heart.
Chinese almond cookies are sandy in texture and essentially almond-flavored butter cookies
I know it's anti-climatic to say I'm not making those fragile cookies today.  I would love to know how they're made.  I've heard it involves shortening and clearly, there's some sort of mold involved.  In other words, not something easy to replicate at home so I think I'll have to settle for buying them. However, I'll still attempt to tip my hat to almond cookies and the crispy type typical of Asian cookies in the form of the Chinese-American ones I made.  They are likewise sandy and crisp in texture, with a buttery flavor accented with almonds from almond extract.

A little bit of egg wash on top gives the surface some splotchy touches of gold.  It's a familiar look for me when I think of cookies and buns from the Asian bakery - to me, that crusty golden top always signal a bit of crunch to come.  


The cookie dough takes minutes to make but you do need to remember to remove a stick of butter out of the fridge, cut it into pieces, and allow it to come to room temperature.  Then simply combine the dry ingredients while adding the butter pieces a little at a time into the stand mixer.  It will look like cornmeal but once you add an egg and the almond extract, you'll have a soft, slightly sticky dough that you can roll.
My cookies didn't bake up as round as I'd hope.  Looking back, I think popping the cookie dough balls in the refrigerator at this point to chill for a bit could have helped that.  

As the next step, flatten the cookies a little and then place an almond on top.  For some reason, I thought whole almonds might have been too much so I used whole as well as sliced almonds on some. I'd stick with all whole almonds next time because these cookies can definitely take it and it's nice to have a bigger bite of actual almond when you eat it.
You need a little bit of egg glaze, which is just a beaten egg in this case.  Brush it on top to give it a little golden hue after baking.  I hate to waste so I save the rest of the beaten egg to use elsewhere.  
These cookies are a little crunchy and sandy, reminding me of the texture of cornmeal.  I particularly like nibbling on the drier edges.  I wanted to give you an idea of what the texture is like but it's really hard to get a clear shot of the inside.  I hope the photo below gives you the idea.  It almost looks like a biscotti but not nearly as dry and hard since these almond cookies have a good amount of butter in them.  
I think these are best eaten just fully cooled from the oven, before they're covered up and stored away.  Naturally, they pair very well with a strong cup of tea!
  

Recipe:

Chinese Almond Cookies
From The Chinese Takeout Cookbook (just scaled down)

- Makes approximately 1 1/2 dozen cookies - 

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick unsalted butter, cut into pieces and softened
1 large egg, beaten
1 teaspoon almond extract
18 whole almonds
1 large egg, beaten, for glaze

Preheat oven to 325 degrees and place racks on upper and lower thirds of the oven.  Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

Mix flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. On low-speed, gradually add softened butter, a few pieces at a time, until mixture resembles cornmeal.  Beat in the egg and almond extract until a smooth dough forms.

Roll dough into 1 1/4 inch balls using the palms of your hands.  Place the dough balls onto baking sheets, about 2 inches apart to allow for spreading.  (If your kitchen is warm, try placing the baking sheets with the dough balls in the refrigerator for about 20 minutes to help the cookies bake up rounder.) Gently flatten the top of each dough ball using the palm of your hand and place an almond in the middle of each.  Brush the top of each cookie with egg glaze.

Bake for 18 to 20 minutes, rotating the baking sheets halfway through baking, until cookies are golden on top.  Let cool on baking sheets for a few minutes before transferring to a cooling rack to cool completely before eating.  I think these taste best freshly made (no surprise, I suppose) but you can store the cookies in an airtight container at room temperature for 3 to 4 days.

  


47 comments:

  1. Perfect looking Chinese almond cookies!

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    1. You're too kind. Many of them came out far from round but oh well - tastes the same and I find a little strategic positioning helps them look much neater. ; )

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  2. These are such gorgeous cookies! I would love to try these!

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    1. Thanks! Always make room for a cookie or two, right? : )

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  3. I love Chinese almond cookies, we always used to get so excited whenever our parents got some for us at the bakery :) Yours turned out really nice Monica, I love that you added the almonds in the middle too! I always have room for almond cookies since they definitely hold a special place in my heart too:) Thanks for bringing back such nice memories and can't wait for the CNY festivities and all the yummy food :)

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    1. Ironically, I rarely got these at the Chinese bakery. I'm really into all the buns and egg tarts. : ) So many good eats, so little room, I suppose. Thank you for the comment, Kelly! Have a great week!

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  4. I don't think I've ever tasted these lovely cookies. The almond in the centre reminds me of our traditional 'nankhatai'- eggless cookies. Amazing how many cookie recipes can be created with the same ingredients. I like the golden tops and the texture appears similar to the amaretti. Hope you have a great New Year celebration.

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    1. There's nothing really mystical about these. They're essentially butter cookies with almond flavor from extract. I thought about adding some ground almonds in there for a little more almond kick but didn't in the end. I do love the crispy edges to them. Great with tea. : ) Btw, I love amaretti. These are not quite that crisp and more buttery...

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  5. ...always looking for good almond cookies. Yours look fantastic :) ela

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    1. Yes, I think we share a love for almonds. : )

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  6. i ADORE chinese (american) almond cookies: they're one of my favorite things to get when we grab takeout. yours look perfect, and i should tell you i was minutes away from searching for a good almond cookie recipe (same reason, twin brains, i made something for the blog having to do with chinese new year) for myself...i will look no further. :)

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    1. Hi Shannon - you probably know more about these than me! Why is it us "bloggers", "foodies" seem to have a lot of the same thing on our minds?! Maybe because we're thinking about and looking at and craving food practically non-stop? That fairly applies to me, at least. : ) I wondered about adding a little almond flour in place of regular flour (not too much because that would make it too 'wet') but didn't. I'd love to try that.

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  7. I too love almond cookies! These look wonderful, Monica.

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    1. Nuts are magical! Love 'em all. Thanks, Angie.

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  8. These look great Monica! And look at soft and moist they are inside? Major yum!

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    1. Thanks, Pamela. They're sort of moist and soft inside but crispy at the edges. You get that combo most when it's freshly made and cooled... Take care!

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  9. I'm always up for a good cookie, never tried Chinese ones though, very curious :)

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    1. I think typically, Chinese cookies are more on the crisp side (rather than gooey) and these are that way. Other than that, it's essentially an almond infused butter cookie. That little bit of egg wash on top always makes me associate them with Chinese cookies. :)

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  10. Oh I would love to give these a try! I adore anything almond flavored - I can never get enough. Especially when it's something I can enjoy with tea or coffee - just something about it! I love that these are a little sandy - that is such a nice texture!

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    1. I'm a huge almond/nut fanatic so I'll give anything almond a try, too! If you ever see an Asian bakery around, take a look around and give some of the crispy cookies a try. : )

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  11. I love the almond flavoring! These look and sound so unique and delicious!

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  12. these look so delicious and moreish... I think if I had one I would have to eat them all!

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    1. Thanks, Trisha. The problem with cookies is they're a little like chips...bet you can't just eat one! ; )

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  13. Your description of these makes me want to eat the whole tray! Almond cookies are one of my favorite kinds as well, and yours look super delicious! And what a crumb, these sound divine!
    Can't wait to try these!
    Have a nice week Monica! <3

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    1. Thank you, Consuelo! I'm glad we have room for all sorts of cookies and they are best with nuts! : )

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  14. These sound great! I have a great fondness for Chinese sweets. They're not too sweet, they're just right. Plus, my favorite food in the whole world is beans, so I adore the desserts made with beans, too.

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    1. You're spot on. If there's one thing I hear all the time is complaints about sweets being "too sweet" from my people. : ) And such a good point about beans. I love anything with red/azuki beans!!

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  15. I need to try to make this almond cookies...they are perfect with a cup of tea...
    Thanks for sharing the recipe and hope you are having a wonderful week Monica :D

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    1. I drink so many cups of tea daily, Juliana! I need lots of things to eat it with. : )

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  16. These are so cute and look amazing!

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  17. These almond cookies wonderful Monica! I love the glaze on top and can just imagine the 'crunch' with the gorgeous almonds inside. Delicious :-) Happy Chinese New Year, by the way

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    1. Thank you, Jo! I love your fortune cookies and that type of crispy wafer! So good of you think of Chinese New Year. : )

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  18. Monica that was a very interesting post! I love the shot of the inside of your almond cookie - it really shows the texture you mentioned. Love almonds and especially almond flavor. Happy New Year! I didn't know you have Chinese heritage - would love to hear more about the traditional foods :)

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    1. I went back and read your "about you" page - I must have read it a long time ago and forgot - you are so pretty! Love your blog and your recipes - They are always well written, honest and beautiful. Have a good weekend.

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    2. Wow - where do I begin, Tricia! Thank you, thank you! Clearly, you are too kind and obviously the sweetest mom. I can feel that from here. I really appreciate all your kind words (though I really don't deserve them!) and that you stop by and check out my ramblings and experiments. xoxo
      P.S. - Being born in Hong Kong and moving here when I was 8, I'm sort of in that "in-between" place where I don't quite have a good fit in either space! But I like reading up, trying recipes, and tasting things to get to know both sides. It's all about food, right! : )

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  19. I would love these cookies. Almond is my favorite flavoring for sweets. Especially almond extract. Sometimes I just like to open the bottle and smell it :)

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    1. Oh Christin - that made me smile because I am totally with you! I also like to open that bottle and inhale! I thought I was the only "crazy" person who loved almond extract that much! : )

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  20. Oh, I missed this post! These look so good Monica! Love almond cookies, especially with big almonds right on top!

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    1. Almonds are the best, Nazneen. I know you agree! Thanks for checking in...appreciate it!

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  21. I think your cookies look great! I remember growing up and eating these, and saving the almond center for last because it was my favorite part. I've never tried making them myself, though maybe I should this year. They make me feel kind of sentimental!

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    1. Aww..thank you, Tiffany! I would have totally saved the center almond as a kid too. Nowadays, I find myself going for my favorite thing/parts first...isn't that funny. I suppose we do change as we get older in some ways. Thanks!

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  22. Yum! These almond cookies look adorable and delicious. I love the Chinese new year holiday. My mom would make red bean paste-filled coconut almond bars that are oh-so-chewy, fragrant, and delicious. I think it's great that you're trying to keep traditions alive with your son (:

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    1. Those almond bars of your mom's sound A-mazing!! I love anything chewy like that and you've got red beans and almonds in one line so I bet it's incredible. : )

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  23. Happy New year Monica!
    These are so good, I love chinese almond cookies. I will make them soon.
    Have a great week.

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