The origins of Chinese Almond Cookies aren't entirely clear. I'd always heard -- but never confirmed -- that the almond-topped cookies occasionally offered by Chinese restaurants were likely developed by Chinese immigrants to America. But as I researched the recipe, I discovered that similar cookies are a fixture in Cantonese bakeries in mainland China, as well as in Hong Kong and Macau.
Chinese bakeries often use lard, and commercial American bakeries tend to use partially-hydrogenated oils, so I sought to make a kosher version with a healthier fat source. Butter yields a delicious, shortbread-like cookie, while coconut oil renders the cookies pareve, so they can be enjoyed after a meat menu.
On the Holiday Table: I happened to be working on this recipe shortly before Tu B'Shevat -- the Jewish New Year of the Trees -- and it dawned on me that this is a perfect recipe for the holiday. Why? In Israel, almond trees are among the first to bloom as winter ends, and their blossoming as a harbinger of Tu B'Shevat is even the subject of a popular Hebrew song. Planting trees and enjoying the produce they bear are two ways of celebrating Tu B'Shevat, so this recipe is a natural -- not to mention giftable -- fit.
Miri's Recipe Testing Notes and Tips:
Crafting a dairy-free version of this recipe wasn't as straightforward as a simple ingredient swap. Non-hydrogenated margarine produced an off taste and unpleasantly salty cookie, while oil proved tasteless. I was happiest with virgin coconut oil, which imparts a complementary nutty flavor of its own. Because of it's distinctive flavor, and to avoid greasy cookies, the recipe uses a smaller quantity of coconut oil than butter.
Butter produces a softer dough that will spread a bit during baking, while coconut oil yields a stiffer dough that tends to keep its shape. If you use butter, it's a good idea to chill the dough before shaping the cookies for easier handling. The coconut oil dough can be used right away.
- 2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
- 1/4 cup confectioners' sugar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/4 teaspoon fine sea or kosher salt
- 1 cup unsalted butter OR 2/3 cup virgin coconut oil
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup almond meal (aka almond flour or ground almonds)
- 2 large eggs
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
- Whole raw almonds to garnish
1. Preheat the oven to 350° Fahrenheit. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper.
2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, confectioners' sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
3. In a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, or in another large bowl using electric beaters or a wooden spoon, cream together the butter or coconut oil, granulated sugar, and almond meal. Add the eggs, beating until the mixture is smooth and lemon colored.
Add the vanilla and almond extracts and mix well.
4. Add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients in 3 additions, mixing well after each addition until no streaks of flour remain, and the dough pulls into ball. (If you are using butter, the dough may be soft and sticky. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes for easier handling, if desired.)
5. With clean hands, roll walnut-sized pieces of dough into balls. Place 1-inch apart on the prepared baking sheets. Flatten the dough balls slightly with the heel of your hand, then press a whole almond into the top of each cookie.
6. Bake the cookies in the preheated oven for 15 to 18 minutes, or until they are firm and the undersides are slightly golden. Transfer to cooling racks. When the cookies are completely cool, place in an airtight container. The cookies will keep for up to a week at room temperature, for 3 months in the freezer.