Thursday, December 25, 2008

THE ALMOND COOKIE CHRONICLES

Several months ago, I read an engaging book called The Fortune Cookie Chronicles.

It told the stories of people who simultaneously won a multi-million-dollar lottery (because they all bet on the numbers found inside of fortune cookies) interspersed with the saga of how Chinese restaurants spread like wildfire across America. It's a very interesting book.

Today, I hope you’ll try the other great Chinese restaurant dessert-- The Almond Cookie.


THE STORY BEHIND MY CHINESE ALMOND COOKIES

Every year ever since I can remember, people have always asked me “What do Jewish people do for Christmas?

I usually answer, “Nothing special,” or “They sit around complaining that all the restaurants are closed.” But, that’s not entirely true...

It’s become kind of a cliché (there are even a few songs on YouTube about this), but many Jewish people eat Chinese food and go to a movie. Why?

It's probably beacuse many Chinese people are Buddhist and do not celebrate Christmas either, so most Chinese restaurants are open!

I’d always assumed this was a New York custom, but when I moved to Virginia, I found out it was more widespread than I imagined.

This year, my family is having a joint Christmas-Chanukah dinner with friends on Christmas Day, so I decided to serve a Chinese dinner (take-out) on Christmas Eve instead.

The dessert, however, is home-baked.

I started baking almond cookies in the 1980s. I was freelancing for Dover Publications and found it in their Around-The-World-Cooky Book .

It was a reprint of a book published in 1948 and each recipe is attributed to the person who submitted it. The original recipe came from Jessie Wong of Cleveland, Ohio. It called for shortening instead butter and all of the ingredients were beaten or kneaded by hand.


WONG’S ALMOND COOKIES

1 cup sugar
1 1/2 sticks butter or shortening
3 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 Tbsp almond extract
1 egg, lighten beaten
34 whole almonds


Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Lightly grease a baking sheet.

In the bowl of a food processor, cream the butter and sugar. Add flour, baking powder and extract and mix well. Turn dough out into a large bowl. Dough will be dry and crumbly. Knead it a few times, then pinch it to see if will hold together. If it crumbles, add a few drops of water.

Make small balls, then flatten them either by placing them on the cookie sheet and flattening them, or flattening them in the palm of your hand.

Use your thumb to make an indentation in the center of each cookie, then brush each cookie with the beaten egg.
Quickly place an almond in the center of each indentation.
Bake for 25-30 minutes in order to develop their characteristic hard crunch. For those with sensitive teeth, bake only 15 minutes for a softer cookie. Remove from oven and let cool on the pan. Makes about 34 cookies.

I like to serve the cookies with Jasmine tea.


HOLIDAY GIVEAWAY UPDATE:
On January 1st, I'll pick one winner from everyone who has left a comment from now until midnight on the December 31st.
Tomorrow, I will be announcing what the fabulous prize is!

13 comments:

Cathy said...

Hi Barbara,

I found the Cookies from Sicily site. OMG!!!!! Awesome, thank you.

Pithencusa is difficult to explain but I will try.

First you roll out one very large, very thin circle from dough onto a flowered table. You drizzle oil on the dough and rub it all around with your hands. Then you sprinkle cinnamon and sugar over the entire circle ~ rub it all around the and mix with oil.

Next you make another one exactly the same. On this circle you make a row going across about 3" wide with chopped walnuts, currents and raisins which have been plumped up in water. You flip the dough over the 3" of filling and cut. Now you begin at the end of the row and roll it up jelly roll style until you have a large circle approx. 3"t with all of the raisins, nut, etc. facing the top. You take this and place it in the center of the other dough circle. Continue doing this until your pastry is about 1' in diameter.

Finally you rip a thin strip of white cotton fabric about 1" wide. Lift up the sides of the original pastry dough so it is holding the entire pastry together. Tie all around the 3" edge with the cotton strip. Trim dough so all layers are even.

Gently slide VERY HEAVY pithencusa onto a floured pizza paddle and place onto a cookie sheet (I think it was lightly greased). I also don't remember how long my mother baked it or at what temperature.

We made several dozen of these super human pastries over a one week period. I'm guessing my mother doubled and tripled the recipe!

After 24 hrs. we thinly poured honey all over the top of the pastry from a squeeze bottle. This was done several times over the next few days until the pastry was saturated. (I know this sounds like Baklava, but it is nothing like it in looks or ingredients).

Once ready for gift giving, they were placed in a tin large enough to fit the pastry. One last drizzle of honey before you give as gift t your favorite friend or relative.
You would definitely "love them dearly" after this much work! And in fact, my mother only gave them out sparingly to her very special friends and family ONLY. If they received one, they knew what it meant.

To serve, you cut a small pie shaped sliced and serve. I don't remember using a fork to eat it since we were kids. But I believe that would be the only polite way to eat it if you were in the company of others!

To this day the only person I ever knew who made these was our neighbor Mary Borelli and she put wine in her dough.

Unfortunately the true recipe passed on with my mother 31 years ago. I have made them once since she passed. It is back-braking work and extremely time consuming and although there are many people who have a small piece of my heart. I can never bring myself to make them again. My heart breaks for my family and the sheer fact that they are longer with me keeps me from the thought of this major undertaking. Although my cousin Janet and I have spoken many times about how important you had to be to receive one and how amazing they looked and tasted from any other dessert we had ever seen.

I have never seen them since I was a young teen or ever met someone who knew what they were. I would love to know if you know anyone that knows more about them.

Thanks for asking, it brought back a rush of sad but beautiful holiday memories which I cherish.

I hope you had a great holiday season.

xo Cathy

TattingChic said...

Those almond cookies look delish! Merry Christmas and Happy Hannukah!

Michelle said...

Happy Hanukkah! I have all of the ingredients for these cookies.I'll be baking them tomorrow. YUM!

NeereAnDear said...

Fascinating readin this story form Cathy... I too have never heard of these cookies... reading what is involved and the tremendous undertaking to make them sounds amazing...

I love to hear about these types of traditions...

Well I for one can not wiat to find out what exciting gift is in store for the winnder of your giveaway

LOTS OF HUGS

JO

NeereAnDear said...

ps.. those almond cookies are looking mighty sweet..

Thank you also for sharing the story of what Jewish people do at Christmas...

I do hope you enjoyed celebrating the two traditions on Christmas day with friends and family ... what fun that must have been to combine the two together

Sher's Creative Expressions said...

Hi Barbara, I want to try those Wong Almond Cookies and just want to clarify the ingredients. The written recipe says to add SODA, but the picture is of baking POWDER. I just want to make sure I use the proper item or maybe both are to be used and one was left out. Please let us know.

Thank you!!

Blessings,

Sher

The Painted Garden said...

Hi Barbara,
Your Chanukah blog posts have been one sweet treat after another. I am planning an afernoon tea party for New Years Day and will add Wong's Almond cookies as one of the cookies I will serve.
Thank you for sharing your Chanukah recipes and traditions with us.
Best wishes to you an your family.
Erin

Barbara Jacksier said...

RECIPE CORRECTION

Good Catch! The recipe is right. I usually use baking soda.

I was behind in my baking and I guess in my haste, I used (and photographed) baking powder, instead.

The cookies came out fine. So I guess it's a small detail that doesn't matter that much!

carole said...

Hi Barbara:
I remember that cookbook as a little girl (I am almost 60 and my Mom is 99). She was our small town's creative baker. Her yeast dough cinnamon rolls were better than the best you can imagine. Home made almond cookies are so good during Chinese New Year especially if your next door neighbor is old world Chinese.
Yikes, you brought up a lot of youthful super cool memories.
Peace in the coming New Year
carole

Barbara said...

So much to take in on cookies here Barbara.

Thanks for your good wishes and I wish you a very happy and blessed new year.

nikkicrumpet said...

Those cookies look yummy. But now I'm hungry for Chinese lol. I'm glad you stopped by my blog. I saw your header picture and I though..."dang I'm kicking of my shoes...I'm gonna like it here"! And if you have cookies...I may never leave!

Coastal Sisters said...

Hi Barbara:

Thank you so much for visiting my Blog and leaving a comment on my Giveaway for this week. I have put your name in the candy jar for this lovely necklace :)

Holiday Blessings,
LuLu Kellogg
Coastal Sisters

NeereAnDear said...

Too bad I dont look at my comments when I am finished.. my spelling is atrocious!!

HUGS

JO