For someone who isn’t terribly fancy, I’ve had a lot of ten course meals.
Growing up, my family was pretty involved in a Hakka cultural association- in particular, one with a lot of Hakka Chinese people who had come from Jamaica. It was really nice to know so many people with a similar cultural background, though confusing- we’d call all the adults “auntie” or “uncle” and I used to think my family was way larger than it actually is! One of the events we’d go to with this association was an annual 10-course meal (a lot of seafood) at a huge Chinese restaurant. There were a lot of cool things I recall from those dinners- we got to hang out with our cousins, there were a lot of lion dances (which low-key frighten me to this day), and some other interesting demos. But one thing I remember particularly well is the dessert.
By the time the dessert course rolls around, you’re pretty full- they’re small portions over a few hours, but 10 portions add up. Dessert usually meant red bean soup and a platter of little golden almond cookies mysteriously surrounded by a ring of red Jello cubes tossed in dried coconut shreds. Despite having eaten a big meal with a child-sized stomach, I always had room for these treats. Our kids’ table would finish the desserts and then go grab extras from the adults, and these little almond cookies were like a tiny prize for sitting through a long dinner in fancy clothes.
Chinese almond cookies are crispy but crumbly, like a slightly airier shortbread. I love the mottled, crackly tops- to me, they’re a sign that the texture inside is going to be perfect. The cracked tops happen when the outside sets ever so slightly before the inside is done rising, so baking powder (which is active in the oven!) and a tender dough are ideal for this. To get that tender dough, I like to use pastry flour- its low protein content makes it harder for the cookies to become tough and chewy instead of delicately crunchy. A small amount of almond flour helps to further maintain this tenderness since almond flour doesn’t contribute to gluten formation, and boosts the almondy-ness of the cookies.
When you get almond cookies in stores or at restaurants, they can sometimes be almost neon yellow. My version doesn’t involve food colouring so they’re a little less neon and a little more golden. You can add food colouring if you’d like, but to naturally boost the colour you can opt for organic, free-range, or free-run eggs: those tend to have the most vibrant yolks because of what the hens eat.
- To decorate the tops of the cookies, you can use blanched almonds, sliced, slivered, whatever. I’ve included instructions at the end if you have raw almonds you’d like to blanch but you can leave the skins on if you’d like, or omit the almonds on top if you’d prefer.
- For the almond extract, I would recommend against using more than 1/2 tsp in this recipe- any more and it can get a bit cloying. You can use a bit less if you’d like. I like Nielsen Massey’s pure almond extract, but you can use whichever kind you have.
Chinese Almond Cookies
Makes about 3 dozen small cookies
- 200g pastry flour
- 30g almond flour
- 1/2 tsp baking power
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1/8 tsp kosher salt (or pinch fine salt)
- 115g (1/2 cup) butter, softened to room temperature
- 100g (1/2 cup) sugar
- 3 large egg yolks (about 60g), divided (keep 1 separate for the egg wash)
- 1/2 tsp almond extract (no more than 1/2 tsp)
- Optional: 1/2 cup blanched (or sliced, or slivered) almonds, for decoration
Preheat the oven to 325°F.
In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment or in a large bowl with a hand mixer, cream together the butter, sugar, and salt on medium speed until slightly pale, about 2 minutes.
Gently beat the egg yolks in a small bowl to break them up, then add them to the butter and sugar mixture with the almond extract and mix on medium for about 1 minute, pausing to scrape the bowl and beater once halfway.
Whisk the flour, almond flour, baking powder, and salt together in a medium bowl, breaking up any lumps with the whisk.
Add the flour mixture to the rest of the ingredients and mix on low until combined and the cookie dough starts to come together as a cohesive mass, about 1-2 minutes.
To make the egg wash, whisk the third egg yolk with a tablespoon of water in a small bowl until smooth.
Scoop the cookie dough out into 1 tablespoon portions. If you don’t have a scoop, they’re about 14g or you can eyeball them- just make sure they’re all the same (keeping in mind that they’ll have to bake a couple of minutes longer if they’re larger). Roll the dough portions in your palms to create little dough balls, and place them about 2 inches apart on a parchment-lined baking sheet.
Gently press the dough balls down with your index and middle fingers so they have a flat top, and are about 1 cm thick. Brush them lightly on the top and sides with egg wash and decorate with almonds. I like to use one blanched almond in the middle, but you can use sliced almonds, sprinkle with slivered almonds, etc. if you prefer.
Bake the cookies for 18-20 minutes, rotating the trays once around the 15-minute mark. Remove the cookies from the oven when they’re slightly golden brown along the edges. Transfer to a wire rack after a few minutes to cool completely.
Store in an airtight container for up to 1 week.
To blanch almonds:
- Bring a pot of water to a boil.
- Once the water is boiling, drop in the almonds and boil for no more than one minute.
- Pour them out into a fine mesh strainer and immediately rinse with cold water until no longer hot.
- Drain and lay them out on a paper towel while you remove the skins, which should appear wrinkled.
- To remove the skins, pinch the almond on the narrower end. The almond will shoot out, so cup your other hand around to catch it! Repeat with the remaining almonds.
- Lay the skinned almonds out on a paper towel while you make the cookie dough.