In honor of the Chinese Lunar New Year (which lands on February 18th this year), I wanted to bake something, well, Chinese. But we Chinese are not widely known for baked sweets except, maybe, for egg custard tarts (dahn taht in Cantonese). Other known baked goods would be fortune cookies and almond cookies. The origin of both cookies is unclear and might be American not Chinese creations. In any case, I decided to modify a recipe I found in a local newspaper for Chinese almond cookies.
The cream of tartar adds a sort of old-fashioned crispness to the cookie and the nutty, spicy brown sugar topping is a departure from the typical whole almond fossilized on top. You can use any spices in the topping, but I used cinnamon, ginger, star anise and clove. These cookies turned out to be more like snickerdoodles than Chinese almond cookies, but my family and friends really liked them. So celebrate the Year of the Boar with something sweet!
Spicy Almond Sugar Cookies
(4 dozen cookies)
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp cream of tartar
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened at room temp.
1 1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1/3 cup blanched almonds, toasted lightly and chopped
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground star anise
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1 egg, beaten
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Line cookies sheets with parchment paper.
Sift together the flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, cinnamon and salt.
Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in egg and almond extract. Mix in the dry ingredients. The dough will be crumbly but moist. Gather the mixture together using your hands or a spatula into a cohesive mass.
To make the topping, mix together the almonds, brown sugar, and spices in a small bowl.
Roll dough into 1 1/2-inch diameter balls. Place 2 inches apart on your prepared cookie sheets and flatten to about 1/2-inch thickness. Then lightly brush top with the egg wash and generously sprinkle with the topping. Bake for 11-12 minutes.