Monday, February 27, 2017

Crunchy walnut cookies

Photograph by Scott Peterson, Edible East Bay
Edible East Bay's newest issue has an interview with me that features the husband and the bunnies. 

This was a lot of fun to do, as we made steamed bunny and hedgehog buns filled with red bean paste and walnuts. 

A huge shoutout and thanks to writer Anna Mindess, publisher Cheryl Koehler, and photographer Scott Peterson! 

And if you want to make your own edible critters (Little Bean obviously does not approve of that in this picture), check out the video in the middle of the article, while the recipes are right here.

P.S., I'll be a featured speaker and offering a culinary workshop at the Tucson Festival of Books on March 11 and 12, so hope to see you if you there!

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Walnut cookies have been an old standby in Cantonese bakeries around here for as long as I can remember. The only real problem is that they tend to be hefty, sweet, and more than a little light in the walnut department.

On the other hand, these dainty little morsels from Jiangsu (the province that lies just above Shanghai) are delicate, barely sweet, and packed with all of the natural flavor and texture of fresh walnuts. They’re really crunchy, too, and that makes me totally happy.

Like most Yangtze River tea snacks, these are designed to be savored in the afternoon alongside a hot cup of green tea. They’re not made with kids in mind (although no child I know of would ever refuse a handful) because these sophisticated Nanjing-style pastries emphasize that nutty flavor over sweetness, balance the fat and flour with an assured hand, and are meant to be enjoyed in three or so measured bites.
Perfect tea nibbles

If you are a Cantonese cookie aficionado like me, the absence of baking soda in here will immediately grab your attention. The best Cantonese bakeries around here in the Bay Area almost always have fresh almond cookies for sale, and occasionally even walnut ones will also be displayed. However, southerly cookies from lesser commercial bakeries tend to have a heavy whiff of something alkaline, and when that comes up against poor quality fat and too much sugar, you really can’t taste much else. And that’s why you want to have a recipe like this up your sleeve.

Make a batch of these and prepare to be converted.

Crunchy walnut cookies
Táorén sūbĭng 桃仁酥餅
Chop up toasted walnuts
Makes 36 cookies

2½ cups (400 g) cake or pastry flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon sea salt
½ cup (100 g) white shortening or lard, room temperature
½ cup packed (90 g) black or dark brown sugar
2 large eggs, lightly beaten, room temperature
⅓ cup (80 g) chopped, toasted walnuts, cooled

1 large egg, lightly beaten
36 walnut halves or quarters

1. Heat your oven to 375°F (190°C) and set 2 racks in the center. Line two baking sheets with Silpat or parchment paper.

2. Use a whisk to toss the flour, baking powder, and salt together in a medium work bowl. Beat the shortening and sugar together in a large work bowl with a stand or hand mixer until the mixture is light. Add the dry ingredients, eggs, and walnuts to form a crumbly, sandy dough that forms a ball when compressed in your fist. (If it does not come together easily, sprinkle a little bit of water on the dough and mix it in thoroughly.)
Sandy texture

3. Form the dough into approximately 36 smooth balls about the size of a walnut (around 20 g each) and set them on the lined baking sheets. They do not have to be too far apart, as they will rise a bit, but will not spread much. Use the palm of your hand to lightly flatten each ball into a disc.

4. For the topping, brush each disc with the extra beaten egg, and then press a walnut half or quarter into the center before dabbing a little bit of egg on the nut, too. Bake the cookies for around 18 minutes, rotating the sheets from front to back and top to bottom about halfway through. The cookies are done when they are a light golden brown and the egg wash has turned the color of tea. Remove from the oven and slide them onto a heatproof surface to cool. The cookies are best when they are no longer warm, as this gives them a chance to turn crunchy. Store the cooled cookies in an airtight container.


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