Tuesday, January 24, 2012

A Sweet Start to the Year of the Dragon

Gong hei fat choy! The Chinese/Lunar New Year is upon us once again (it officially began yesterday), and this year, we're celebrating the Year of the Dragon, supposedly the luckiest of the 12 Chinese zodiacs. The year has certainly started off lucky, as I've been stuffing my face non-stop with delicious New Year's foods.

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To celebrate the occasion, I decide to make some treats for Chinese New Year's, some traditional, and some inspired by traditional flavours. First off, I made Black Sesame Shortbread Cookies, which I first made this past Christmas. They were very popular in my family so I wanted to make it again for them. The other two treats are very typical Chinese sweets: peanut candies and walnut cookies.

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My mom keeps telling me about these peanut candies she used to have as a little girl that were soft, but after lots of digging around, I couldn't find a recipe for something that might be similar to what she was talking about. Many of the recipes out there are for the harder version, the Chinese's answer to peanut brittle I guess. I based the recipe from this one here, but made some adjustments by heating the sugar mixture to the softball temperature, about 245˚F, so that the resulting candy wouldn't be as hard. I also used salted peanuts so that I that salty-sweet contrast that I love so much.

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Lastly, I made walnut cookies. I loved these during my visits to Hong Kong. They're crispy, light, and melt-in-your-mouth. Ironically, most commercially-made walnut cookies don't actually contain walnuts in them—if you're lucky, you'll get a walnut on top. However, I really wanted to get some intense walnut flavour into these cookies, so I added some toasted ground walnuts to the dough. How did they turn out? Absolutely perfect, in appearance, texture, and taste. Best of all, they're not too sweet, making them a great little afternoon nibble with some Chinese tea.

Wishing you all in this Year of the Dragon a happy, healthy and prosperous 2012!

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Chinese Walnut Cookies / 合桃酥
Makes about 2 dozen

45g unsalted butter, softened
30g vegetable oil
50g brown sugar
15g castor sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla essence
2 tablespoons lightly beaten egg, keeping the rest for the egg wash
1/2 teaspoon baking soda, dissolved in 1 teaspoon water
160g cake flour, sifted
57g walnuts, lightly toasted and ground
Heaped 1/4 tsp baking powder
Pinch sea salt
Walnut pieces, for topping

Preheat the oven to 350˚F.

In a small bowl, stir together the cake flour, ground walnuts, heaped 1/4 teaspoon baking powder and sea salt. Set aside.

In another bowl, cream the butter, oil, and both sugars until creamy and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add in the vanilla extract and 2 tablespoons beaten egg and mix until well combined. Slowly stir in the flour mixture and mix until just combine. The dough should be very soft and a bit tacky but will hold together when rolled into a ball. If the dough is still too wet, sprinkle in a little bit of flour.

Divide the soft dough into about 1 1/2-inch balls. Place each ball on a parchment-lined baking sheet, placing them 2-inches apart, and flatten with your fingers into a round disc. Brush the cookies with egg wash and top each disc with a walnut piece. Bake in the centre of the oven for about 12 to 15 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove from the oven and cool completely on a wire rack. Cookies will keep in an airtight container for up to 5 days.


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