Monday, April 17, 2017

Flourless almond cookies chez Huang

Are you going to be in Manhattan this coming Sunday afternoon, April 23? Then stop by and meet me and the husband!

We are going to be speaking at MOCA-NY (Museum of Chinese in America - New York). J.H. Huang will be presenting a MOCAREADS talk on The Art of War (aka Sun Tzu, or Sunzi, or Sun-tzu). 

J.H.'s book was rereleased by Harper Collins as a Harper Perennial Modern Classic, and it has received accolades from many military legends, such as Norman Schwarzkopf and Colin Powell. 

I come up after him with a chat about The Dim Sum Field Guide and how to write about food. I'll even give you a totally free temporary dim sum tattoo. (P.S., I never knew before I took this picture that our three books were so color coordinated.)

This should be fun. I'll be in town for the Beard Awards. Hope to see you there!

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I have been a sucker for Chinese almond cookies since probably forever. They were one of the few things I always had to have as a child whenever my family visited San Francisco Chinatown, infrequent a treat as that might have been. My perennial wish list always included almond cookies, dried lychees, coconut candy, and some sort of Chinese doll.

But as I grew older, the appeal of those traditional almond cookies started to pale. Maybe it was age, maybe they weren’t made the same way, or maybe my memory was just playing tricks. I couldn’t really tell you. They tasted like little more than sugar and fat and flour, and aside from the almond stuck on the top, I couldn't find much in the way of a nutty flavor. They were, in short, boring.

I wanted to make my own version of Chinese almond cookies, so as I tried to figure out what it was that I really loved and why, a couple of lofty goals were formed:

First, the cookie couldn’t be too sweet. I wanted to taste the toasty flavor of almonds above anything else in there. It had to be the dominant flavor, period.
Fresh almonds provide pizazz

Second, the less flour, the better. In fact, if I could 86 all the flour, that would be perfect. This cookie wasn’t going to be 100% healthy no matter how hard I tried – after all, this was a cookie – but if healthy almonds were the main ingredient by far, I would be able to snack with relative abandon.

Third, it needed a salty edge. These had to be cookies for grownups, and salt was the ticket. Done right, these taste like little bar snacks, in a way, and in fact I’d heartily recommend that you serve these with beverages that would benefit from a nice almond snack, like whiskey.

So, one day I was perusing Emeril Lagasse’s wonderful children’s cookbook, There’s a Chef in My Soup!, and a flour-free peanut butter cookie recipe grabbed my attention. I made it and it tasted great – though way too sweet – but I could definitely glimpse the promised land.

I played with this recipe many, many times, and this rendition is my favorite. It’s not too sweet and is is quite crunchy once the cookies cool off. By the next day, though, the cookies will turn chewy, which is also a very good thing in my book.

The super dark sugar in here gives these a slightly caramelized edge, and of course caramel is one of my favorite things ever. Lots of chopped almonds punctuate each bite with even more nuttiness, while the egg binds everything together. A wisp of good flaked salt completes the picture and nicely balances the sweetness.
Crisscross the tops with a fork

Super easy to make, super cheap, and super tasty, this recipe is a keeper.

Super delicious almond cookies chez Huang
Huángjiā chāoxiāng xìngrén sū 黃家超香杏仁酥
Nouvelle cuisine
Makes 30

1 cup (275 g) natural almond butter, crunchy or creamy, salted or unsalted
¾ cup (140 g) black or dark brown sugar
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1¾ ounces (50 g) whole almonds, coarsely chopped (about 50 whole almonds)
Good flaked salt, like Maldon

1. Arrange two racks in the oven toward the center and then heat the oven to 350°F (170°C). Line two baking sheets with Silpat or parchment paper.

Flaky salt makes all the difference
2. Mix together the almond butter, sugar, and egg (a stand mixer is easiest, but use whatever you have). Stir in the chopped almonds.

3. Roll the dough into nuggets about the size of Ping-Pong balls. Place them on the lined baking sheets about 2 inches (5 cm) apart. Lightly flatten each cookie and then press a fork into the top to form hatch marks. Sprinkle each cookie with the salt. (You don’t need a whole lot of salt on each cookie, but there should be enough so that both the eye and the mouth notice it.)

4. Bake the cookies for a total of 12 minutes, rotating the sheets top to bottom and front to back halfway through the cooking time. Slide the sheets with the cookies onto a counter so that they stop cooking on the bottom, and nudge the cookies free once they have cooled. Store them in an airtight container.