Chinese-style almond cookies are popular around Chinese New Year but also throughout the year. You can find them in Asian grocery stores and bakeries — or make them yourself so they’re extra fresh.
- The fat that you use in this cookie makes a big difference, in both the flavor and the texture. While many people seem to have an aversion to lard, in this cookie it really is a good choice. Using all shortening, rather than lard, makes a crisp/crumbly cookie similar to a lard cookie, but without its classic flavor. Using half butter and half vegetable shortening makes a cookie that’s less “sandy” in texture, but still tender and a bit crunchy. Using all butter changes the flavor and texture, but makes a very tasty cookie — just not exactly a Chinese almond cookie.
Chinese Almond Cookies
From The King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion
Yield: 24-30 cookies
- 2 3/4 cups (11 1/2 oz) all-purpose flour
- 1 cup (7 oz) sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 cup lard OR vegetable shortening OR cold unsalted butter
- 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 2 1/4 teaspoons almond extract
- 1 large egg + 1 large egg yolk
- 1/4 cup whole blanched almonds (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 325°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment, for easy cleanup. If you don’t have parchment, don’t grease the pans; it’s unnecessary.
- In a large mixing bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, salt, and baking soda.
- Cut the cold butter, lard, vegetable shortening or whatever combination you choose to use into cubes, then cut the cubes into the dry ingredients until the mixture is evenly crumbly.
- In a separate small bowl, stir together vanilla and almond extracts, plus the egg and yolk.
- Sprinkle egg mixture over flour mixture, then stir together until dough is cohesive when squeezed.
- Roll the dough into 1 1/2″ balls.
- Place them on the prepared baking sheets, spacing them 2-3″ apart.
- Flatten the balls to about 1/2″ thick. If desired, press an almond into the center of each cookie.
- Bake the cookies for 16-18 minutes, until they feel set (a fingerprint will remain if pressed in the center). Halfway through, rotate the baking sheets back to front and top to bottom. Check them after 16 minutes, because if you bake the cookies until they’re totally set (your fingerprint will spring back), they’ll be crispy to the point of rock-hard.
- Remove the cookies from the oven, and cool on rack.
Here is a variant on the plum sauce meatballs, which you can make for a quick and tasty weekday meal. These have chopped green onion and ginger to add a bit of spice.
Green Onion Ginger Meatballs
Yield: 20-24 meatballs
- 1 lb ground chicken OR pork
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 tablespoon corn starch
- 1 tablespoon oyster sauce
- 1 tablespoon rice wine
- 1 dash pepper
- 1 teaspoon ginger, finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons green onion, finely chopped
- 1/4 cup plum sauce (optional)
- Preheat oven to 400ºF. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.
- Combine ground meat, sugar, corn starch, oyster sauce, rice wine, and pepper in a large bowl (preferably metal or plastic).
- Stir in ginger and green onions.
- Place the bowl in the sink. Scoop up the meat mixture in one hand and throw it back down in the bowl hard.
- Repeat 10-20 times until you feel the texture change; the mixture will become more cohesive. (My mom recommends going up to 100 times if you’re in the mood.) You’ll want to do this step in the sink because until you get the hang of it, you might have bits of meat flying off.
- Shape the mixture into meatballs about 1 inch in diameter. I like to grab a handful of meat in one hand, squeeze out a rounded portion between my thumb and forefinger, and use a spoon in my other hand to cut off the meatball and place it on the baking sheet.
- If desired, drop about 1/2 teaspoon of plum sauce on top of each meatball.
- Bake for 15 minutes. You can cut open a meatball to check for done-ness.
I first tried Swedish princess cake on a visit to Lund, Sweden, several years ago and fell in love with it. It’s definitely a pretty involved recipe (and almost certainly won’t look perfect the first couple times you try), so you might want to make it with a friend, but it’s well worth the effort!
Swedish Princess Cake
Adapted from Global Table Adventure
Yield: Tall 8″ cake
For the pastry cream:
- 2 cups milk
- 1 vanilla bean, split and scraped OR 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 4 egg yolks
- 1/3 cup cornstarch
For the cake:
- 2 cups cake flour OR 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour+1/4 cup cornstarch
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 4 eggs
- 1 cup sugar
- 3/4 cup warm water
For the filling and topping:
- 1/2 cup seedless raspberry jam
- 3 cups heavy cream, whipped stiff (sweetened as desired)
- 21 oz (3 packages) marzipan (although it’s expensive and you can get away with 14 oz)
- green food coloring (preferably gel colors), optional
- red food coloring (preferably gel colors), optional
- powdered sugar, for dusting
Prepare the pastry cream:
In a saucepan, heat up milk with vanilla bean scrapings OR extract and sugar.
Meanwhile, whisk together yolks and cornstarch in a mixing bowl.
When milk is hot, whisk a little at a time into the yolk mixture, taking care not to curdle it.
Strain mixture back into saucepan, return to stove, and cook until thickened, whisking often so that it doesn’t clump up or stick.
Set aside custard until cooled to room temperature. (If you’re impatient, you can cover it in plastic wrap and put it in the freezer, checking frequently to make sure it doesn’t freeze.)
Prepare the cake:
Preheat oven to 350ºF. Grease and flour an 8″ cake pan. Insert a circle of parchment paper in the bottom.
In a mixing bowl, whisk together flour and baking powder.
In a stand mixer, whip eggs with sugar on high speed until fluffy and pale yellow.
Stream in water, then fold flour mixture into egg mixture.
Pour into prepared cake pan and bake 40-45 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.
Color the marzipan (optional):
If using food coloring, make an ounce or two of the marzipan pink, for the rose(s).
Next, work on the green. The best way to do this is to mix the green into a handful of marzipan until smooth. Make it darker than you need (and save a pinch of this dark green for leaves). Then work this dark green into the remaining marzipan and work until smooth (break it apart, mash it, break it apart, mash it, and so on until the color is even).
- If not using food coloring, just reserve enough marzipan to make a few roses and leaves.
Roll out the marzipan:
Once the (green) marzipan is really warm from being worked with your hands, roll it out. Place between two sheets of parchment paper and roll out in a circle, until 2 mm thick and about 16-17″ wide (although you might want to measure your cake after you assemble it, with a tape measure, just in case you need more or less).
Remove the parchment paper at the very end and roll out marzipan to get rid of any lines the parchment paper may have pressed into the marzipan.
Keep under tightly pressed parchment or saran until needed (so it doesn’t dry out).
Assemble the cake:
Using a long, serrated knife, slice cake into three even layers. If you want to be really precise, you can measure up from the bottom of the cake and put toothpicks at the same height all around to guide your knife. (I didn’t.)
Place one layer onto a serving plate and top with raspberry jam and a scoop of whipped cream. Keep jam away from the edge of the cake to prevent it from oozing out once you press the layers together.
Add second cake layer. Top with vanilla custard, and then a mini-mountain of whipped cream. Use your spatula to smooth it into an even mound.
Add final cake layer, pressing down with your hands on the edges to encourage it to curve. (The Swedes don’t use this third layer of cake, but it helps achieve the dome shape.)
Use the last bit of whipped cream to cover the entire cake.
Drape with (green) marzipan and smooth it out as best you can. You should rotate and smooth, rotate and smooth. If you still end up with pleats near the bottom of the cake, don’t worry about it; you can hide them with a ribbon. You can dust your hands with powdered sugar to keep the marzipan from sticking.
Make rose(s) and leaves from the reserved marzipan and decorate cake.
This is one of our favorite veggie pizza topping combinations. The fresh minced garlic in the tomato sauce really makes a big difference to the flavor.
Onion Mushroom Tomato Pizza
Yield: 12-13″ pizza
- 1 portion Quick and Easy Pizza Crust
- 6 oz tomato paste
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 8 oz Italian shredded cheese mix
- 4 oz mushrooms, sliced
- 1/2 onion, sliced
- 1 tomato, sliced
- Prepare pizza dough (you can even do this the night before, and store the dough in a covered bowl overnight in the refrigerator), roll out into a crust, and place in pizza pan.
- In a bowl, stir together tomato paste and minced garlic. You may need to add a little water to thin the paste to a spreadable consistency.
- Spread tomato paste over crust, leaving 1/4-1/2″ border around the edge.
- Sprinkle about half of the cheese evenly across the top.
- Scatter sliced tomatoes, mushrooms, and onions across the top.
- Sprinkle the rest of the cheese across the vegetables
- Bake 15-20 minutes, or until crust is golden brown.
- Let baked pizza cool for 5 minutes before serving.
Here is a fancy vanilla chiffon cake that you can bring to birthday parties.
Vanilla Chiffon Cake
Adapted from a cooking class
Yield: 9″ cake
- 4 eggs, separated
- 2 tablespoons + 4 tablespoons sugar, divided
- 1/2 cup cake flour
- 1 tablespoon corn starch
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 7 teaspoons water
- 7 teaspoons flavorless oil, such as canola
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon cream of tartar
For filling and topping:
- 1 (3-oz) package Jello strawberry gelatin
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 2 tablespoons powdered sugar
- Separate eggs when cold and bring them to room temperature.
- Preheat oven to 350ºF. Set aside a 9″ springform pan. Do NOT grease it!
- In a large mixing bowl, whisk together egg yolks and 2 tablespoons sugar.
- Add cake flour, corn starch, baking powder, salt, water, oil, and vanilla extract. Whisk until smooth.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, or in a large bowl with a hand mixer, beat eggs whites and cream of tartar until foamy.
- Add 4 tablespoons sugar, one tablespoon at a time, and continue to beat until egg whites form soft peaks.
- Carefully stir a large scoop of whipped egg whites into egg yolk mixture to lighten it.
- Add the remaining egg whites in 3 additions. Gently fold into the batter using a large wire whisk, making sure to scrape down the bottom of the bowl frequently.
- Pour batter into pan and gently smooth top with a rubber spatula.
- Bake 25-30 minutes without opening the oven door. The cake is done when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, or when the surface springs back immediately after pressing on it with a finger.
- As soon as you remove cake from oven, cool cake completely upside down on a wire rack. This step is important, because otherwise the cake will sink.
- While cake is cooling, line a 9″ baking pan with plastic wrap and prepare Jello according to instructions on the package. Pour Jello into pan to a thickness of 1/4 inch and let set in the refrigerator. Let the extra Jello set as well, because you can crumble it to decorate the top of the cake.
- In a large bowl, beat heavy cream and powdered sugar until it forms soft peaks. The frosting will look smoother if the whipped cream is slightly under-beaten.
- When cake is completely cool, run a thin knife around the sides and underneath the cake to loosen it from the pan.
- Cut the cake into 2 layers, making the bottom one slightly thicker because the weight of the Jello will compress it.
- Place the bottom layer into the pan with Jello, flip the pan over, and peel off the plastic wrap.
- Fill and frost cake with whipped cream on a serving platter. Break up leftover Jello and decorate the top.
The base recipe for this carrot cake comes from a friend’s mom, who clipped it from Bon Appetit about 40 years ago. Drawing inspiration from Betty Crocker, I added chopped crystallized ginger; I also paired it with candied orange. Enjoy!
Carrot Cake with Crystallized Ginger
Adapted from Bon Appetit
Yield: 9″ x 4″ loaf cake
For the cake:
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 2 teaspoons cinnamon
- 1 cup flavorless vegetable oil (such as canola)
- 4 eggs, beaten
- 3 cups shredded carrots
- 1 cup pecans OR walnuts, chopped
- 1/4 cup crystallized ginger, chopped
For the frosting:
- 8 oz cream cheese, softened
- 1/4 cup butter, softened
- 1-3 1/2 cups powdered sugar (depending on how sweet you want it)
- 2 teaspoons vanilla
For the topping:
- Preheat oven to 350ºF. Grease 9″ x 4″ loaf pan.
- In a large mixing bowl, sift or whisk dry ingredients together.
- Add oil, eggs, carrots, nuts, and ginger. Mix well with a wooden spoon.
- Pour batter into pan and bake 1 hour 5 minutes to 1 hour 20 minutes, or until the center is done.
- Cool completely. While cake is cooling, prepare 1 candied orange.
- In a clean mixing bowl, beat together cream cheese and butter until fluffy.
- Beat in sugar and vanilla.
- Cut cake into 3 layers. Place bottom layer on a serving platter and spread with 1/3 of the frosting. Cover with the middle layer of the cake. Spread with 1/3 of the frosting and arrange a layer of candied orange slices on it. Repeat with the final layer of cake. (You might have some candied orange slices left over, but they taste good on their own anyway.)
Called Buchteln in Austria and Rohrnudeln in Bavaria, these are sweet, soft buns filled with a pocket of jam. They’re pretty addictive, especially fresh from the oven, and well worth the time it takes to make yeasted dough.
- I recommend measuring the ingredients by weight.
Buchteln (Jam-Filled Buns)
Yield: 12 buns
- ½ cup plus 2 tablespoons (150 ml) warm milk
- 1 ½ teaspoons (5 g) active dry yeast
- 3 tablespoons (40 g) sugar
- 1 large egg
- 5 ½ tablespoons (77g) melted butter
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 325 g (about 2 ½ cups) all-purpose flour
- About 5 tablespoons apricot jam with fine texture (no chunks)
- 3 tablespoons melted butter for the pan
- Confectioners sugar for dusting
- In a large mixing bowl, sprinkle the yeast over the warm milk and set it aside for 10 minutes for the yeast to dissolve and activate.
- Stir in sugar, egg, melted (lightly cooled) butter, vanilla, and salt with a hand whisk.
- Stir in about 1 ½ cups (200 g) of the flour to get a thick batter and stir vigorously with the whisk until no lumps remain. Use a sturdy (wooden) cooking spoon to gradually stir in the rest of the flour.
- When all ingredients come together, fold the edges into the center for a couple of minutes. Keep your dough in the mixing bowl for that. The dough will be sticky, but refrain from adding more flour. It helps if you oil your clean hands before you knead a sticky dough. Knead until smooth, about 5 minutes.
- Let the dough rise, covered at warm room temperature until doubled in volume (about 3/4 to 1 hour).
- Transfer the dough onto a lightly floured surface and divide it into 12 equal parts. It is easiest to do this by weight. Keep pieces you don’t need right away covered.
- Fold the edges of each piece into the middle a couple of times so you will get a nice ball with a smooth surface on the bottom side. Flatten each ball with your palm to a circle with a diameter of 3 to 3 ½ inch, keeping the center slightly thicker than the edges. Usually this part works without using any additional flour. If the dough keeps sticking to your countertop, add some.
- Put 1 teaspoon of apricot jam (not more) in the center of every circle. Wrap the dough around the filling, pinching and sealing it tightly. Round the buns again, creating a bit of surface tension. If you use too much filling, it’s difficult to seal them. Also avoid getting jam onto your edges, because this way it is almost impossible to seal them. Put every Buchtel with the sealed side down onto a lightly floured surface until you have finished filling all of them.
Troubleshooting: If you do get jam near your edges, remove it with a paper towel before you try to seal them. If the jam oozes out while pinching, clean your jammy hands and dough, and try to pinch it again. If this doesn’t work and you are close to throwing the whole Buchtel away, pinch off some dough of another unworked piece, flatten it and generously put this layer of dough atop the problematic area. Try to seal it tightly and place it, seam side down, in the pan. You can just bake it in a paper lined muffin tin, seam side down.
- Melt about 2 ½ tablespoons butter (you might need a little more) in a small bowl. Brush a baking pan (such as an oval 11″ x 7″ ceramic pan or 9″ round glass dish) with melted butter, just until coated.
- Arrange Buchteln in the pan and brush each bun with remaining melted butter. You can do this tightly packed (traditional way) or give them a little, but not too much space. They will still rise during the second proofing and baking. If you feel there are too many of them, you can place the remaining ones in a lined muffin tin.
- Let them proof a second time for about 20-30 minutes at warm room temperature until puffy. It is best to cover the whole pan with a lid or cling wrap in this step. If you have a rather shallow pan, don’t cover the Buchteln, since they will stick to the plastic wrap. If you couldn’t cover them and they seem kind of dry before baking, you can brush them another time with melted butter.
- Bake them at 375 °F in the preheated oven (center) for about 25 minutes (minimum 20 minutes). When they are golden-brown in color, take them out of the oven.
- Let the Buchteln cool for 5-10 minutes and serve them dusted with confectioner’s sugar. Enjoy!