Chinese Cookies: A Guide to Classic Treats

February 1, 2024
Chinese Cookies
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Chinese cookies have a delicious history steeped in tradition. While many associate fortune cookies as the quintessential Chinese cookie, there are actually many different types of cookies in Chinese cuisine. The cookies can range from crispy and crunchy to soft and chewy, coming in sweet and savory flavors. From almond cookies to sesame balls, mooncakes to peanut cookies, Chinese cookies make for tasty snacks as well as decorative gifts and treats.

A Brief History of Chinese Cookies

Most likely, cookies first appeared in China during the Song dynasty more than a millennium ago. Chinese bakers started honing their craft, and soon baked delicacies were ingrained in Chinese culture and celebrations. Cookies were baked as gifts, consumed during holidays, and offered as a tribute to ancestors. With time, a variety of cookie varieties appeared, each with unique ingredients and forms that reflected regional customs and cultures.

Some major developments in the history of Chinese cookies include:

  • Tang Dynasty (618-907 CE) – TCookies were mentioned in the first Chinese cookbook, proving their existence at this period in Chinese history. Later, China was introduced to new baking techniques by Portuguese traders.
  • Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) – Mooncakes were well-known as a biscuit during China’s Mid-Autumn Festival during the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644). The moon was mirrored in their circular form.
  • Qing Dynasty (1644-1912) – More refined sugar was accessible, which made cookies crispier and crunchier. China’s various areas each evolved their own distinctive cookie designs.
  • Early 1900s – Chinese immigrants introduced sesame balls, fortune cookies, and almond cookies to America in the early 1900s. They developed into mainstays in Chinese-American cooking.

Chinese cookies are still a staple of festivals, weddings, new year’s festivities, and holidays today. People all throughout the world are still enthralled with their sweet flavours and crispy textures.

Popular Types of Chinese Cookies

China has a diverse range of cookies that vary by region. Here are some of the most popular types of traditional Chinese cookies:

Almond Cookies

  • Contains ground almonds, sugar, eggs. May also contain sesame seeds or shredded coconut.
  • Crisp and crunchy texture. Sweet almond flavor.
  • Common gifts during Chinese New Year. Symbolize good fortune and prosperity.

Fortune Cookies

  • Thin, crispy vanilla cookie with a paper slip of fortune inside.
  • Originated in early 1900s America, likely inspired by Japanese tsujiura senbei. Not authentically Chinese.
  • Served as dessert in Chinese-American restaurants. Fun, lighthearted tradition.

Mooncakes

  • Dense, round cookie with sweet filling encased in pastry crust. Traditional fillings are red bean, lotus seed paste.
  • Eaten during Mid-Autumn Festival. Round shape represents the moon. Often decorated with Chinese characters.
  • Given as gifts to family and friends. Represent family reunion and happiness.

Peanut Cookies

  • Made from peanut butter or ground peanuts, sugar, flour. Crunchy and crumbly, with nutty peanut flavor.
  • May have imprinted pattern on top made with cookie press. Imprints represent blessings and good fortune.
  • Popular for Chinese New Year, birthdays, weddings. Give as gifts or serve with tea.

Sesame Balls

  • Deep-fried dough balls coated with sesame seeds on the outside, filled with sweet red bean paste.
  • Eaten as a dessert or snack. Served warm or at room temperature.
  • Traditionally made for Chinese New Year. Symbolize prosperity and good luck for the new year.

Walnut Cookies

  • Made with walnuts, flour, sugar, lard or vegetable shortening. Variations may add spices like cinnamon.
  • Crunchy and nutty flavor. May come in ball shape or stamped with pattern.
  • Often made for weddings, engagement parties, Chinese New Year. Represent blessing for newlyweds.

How to Make Chinese Almond Cookies

Almond cookies are a classic Chinese cookies. Here is an easy recipe to make crunchy, nutty almond cookies at home:

Ingredients

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup granulated white sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp almond extract
  • 1 cup sliced almonds

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until smooth. Beat in egg and almond extract.
  2. Stir in flour until a dough forms. Fold in sliced almonds.
  3. On a lightly floured surface, roll dough to 1/4 inch thickness. Use cookie cutters to cut into shapes.
  4. Arrange cookies on parchment lined baking sheet. Bake for 12-15 minutes until lightly browned.
  5. Allow cookies to cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

For a pretty presentation, decorate cooled cookies with drizzled icing, sprinkles, or additional sliced almonds. Store in an airtight container for up to 1 week. Enjoy these crunchy almond treats with tea or gift to family and friends. The almond shape or flavor represents prosperity and good fortune in Chinese culture.

Common Questions About Chinese Cookies

Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about Chinese cookies:

1. What ingredients are commonly used in Chinese cookies?

Popular ingredients include nuts like almonds, walnuts, and peanuts; seeds like sesame; dried fruits; spices like cinnamon and star anise; flours like wheat and rice flour; sugars; and sweet fillings like red bean paste or lotus seed paste.

2. Do the cookies have symbolic meaning?

Yes, many Chinese cookies are made specifically for holidays, festivals, and special events. Their shapes, imprints, and ingredients often have auspicious meanings and symbolize blessings, good fortune, prosperity, and happiness.

3. How do you gift and serve Chinese cookies?

Cookies are often gifted in decorative boxes or on trays during holidays and parties. They may be served with tea or eaten as dessert. Certain cookies are only eaten during specific festivals. Mooncakes, for example, are eaten during the Mid-Autumn Festival.

4. Where can you buy Chinese cookies?

Check Asian grocery stores, Chinese bakeries and restaurants. Around the Lunar New Year, shops will have wide selections of Chinese cookies. You can also find recipes to make many varieties at home.

5. What is the difference between Cantonese and Mandarin cookies?

Cantonese cookies use more egg and less leavening, creating a dense, fine texture. Mandarin cookies use more leavening like baking powder, creating a fluffier, crisper cookie. Fillings also differ between the styles.

6. Do fortune cookies actually come from China?

No, despite the name, fortune cookies originated in California in the early 1900s. They likely drew inspiration from Japanese tsujiura senbei crackers but are not authentically Chinese.

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