A Tale of Two Almond Cookies

Welcome the start of Lunar New Year today with Chinese almond cookies. Two different kinds, to be exact.

After all, you can never have too much of a good thing — especially when it comes to cookies.

Oh sure, you could take the easy route and buy a tub of almond cookies at the store. But please, make your own. They’re so much better and fresher. Try either of these recipes, and you’ll be glad that you did.

In one corner (right one in photo), we have the recipe for “Chinese Almond Cookies” from “Classic Stars Desserts” (Chronicle Books) by Bay Area Pastry Chef Emily Luchetti. (If you missed my fun Q&A with her, just click here.)

In the other corner (left one in photo), we have another recipe for ”Almond Cookies” from one of my all-time favorite Chinese cookbooks, “Every Grain of Rice (Clarkson Potter) by Ellen Blonder and Annabel Low.

I know what you’re thinking: “But Food Gal, which cookie recipe is better?” (You are thinking that, right?)

The answer is that they’re both wonderful, but it just depends on what you like.

The recipe by Blonder and Low will probably appeal to the almond cookie purist, the one who wants the exact same look and texture as the ones found in the stores or that arrive on the tray with the check at Chinese restaurants. These cookies have pretty crackles on top, and bake up sandy and crumbly from the addition of shortening.

Luchetti’s version is more for the modern almond cookie aficionado. Her almond cookies are crispy on the edges, and sort of cakey in the center. They are made with butter, and get a jolt of fresh almond flavor from sliced almonds incorporated right into the dough.

So which contender will it be?

Go ahead, make both. What better way to say, Gung Hay Fat Choy!

Almond Cookies (From “Every Grain of Rice”)

(makes about 36 cookies)

1 cup vegetable shortening (or lard)

1 1/4 cups granulated sugar

1 large egg

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon almond extract

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

36 blanched almonds

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

With an electric beater, cream together shortening and sugar until fluffy. Crack egg into a small bowl, beat it well with a fork, and reserve 1 tablespoonful. Beat rest of egg, and vanilla and almond extracts into sugar mixture until well combined.

Stir together flour, baking powder and baking soda onto a piece of wax paper. Add to creamed mixture and stir until just blended. The dough will be crumbly but should hold together when squeezed into a ball.

Form dough into 32 to 36 balls, each about 1 inch in diameter. Place them 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheets. Press a blanched almond into the center of each ball. The edges of the dough will crack slightly. With your fingertips or a small pastry brush, brush tops of cookies lightly with reserved beaten egg.

Bake 12 to 15 minutes, until cookies are golden brown. With a spatula, remove cookies to a rack to cool. Store in an airtight container.

Chinese Almond Cookies (From “Classic Stars Desserts”)

(makes 36 cookies)

1 tablespoon water

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

8 ounces (16 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature

2 cups confectioner’s sugar

2 large eggs

3/4 teaspoon almond extract

2 cups all-purpose flour

1/3 cup (about 1 ounce) sliced almonds, toasted

Flour for dusting

36 whole natural almonds, toasted

In a small bowl, stir together water baking powder, and baking soda. Set aside.

Put butter in bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat on medium speed until smooth, about 1 minute. Slowly add sugar, again beating until smooth, about 30 seconds. Add water mixture and beat until combined, and then beat in 1 egg and almond extract. Reduce speed to low, add flour and sliced almonds, and mix until dough comes together, about 15 seconds. Cover dough and refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

On a lightly floured work surface, divide dough in half. Shape each half into a log about 9 inches long and 1 inch in diameter. Cut each log crosswise into slices 1/2 inch thick. (If cookies do not stay round when you cut them, the dough is too soft. Refrigerate until firm enough to slice, about 30 minutes). Place cookies on prepared baking sheets, spacing them about 2 inches apart. Press a whole almond into the middle of each cookie. In a small bowl or cup, lightly beat remaining egg. Brush cookies with beaten egg.

Bake until golden brown, about 10 minutes. At the midway point, switch the baking sheets between the racks and rotate them 180 degrees to ensure even baking. Let cool on baking sheets to room temperature.

Planning ahead: The cookies may be made up to 2 days in advance. Store in an airtight container at room temperature.

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