Sunday, November 15, 2015

Ivy's Chinese Almond Cookies

Crispy cookies with tasty almond flavor!

When I was a kid, I definitely fantasized about making some of the food my favorite AG characters talked about making and enjoying in their books. I know I've talked about this before, so it's probably not news or especially surprising to my readers, but it really was a big dream of mine. Now that I'm an adult who doesn't need supervision in the kitchen (most of the time), I get to actually put those plans in action, and it's always fun when I have an official AG recipe to go off of to help make these creations.

Of course, sometimes those recipes haven't worked out that well for me in the past, so I always go in with a little bit of informed risk. Considering the way these cookies are presented in the books, it actually might have been appropriate to run into a minor disaster while baking them!

Chinese almond cookies are featured as a minor plot point in Good Luck, Ivy!, the book told from Ivy's perspective and sold with the doll. In the book, Ivy's mother promises to make some for Ivy and her gymnastics team's bake sale, but is so busy with graduate school work and her job that Ivy and Julie decide to help out by making the cookies for her.

Without a recipe. Or any sort of idea of how to bake unassisted at all. Good plan, guys!

So surprise, surprise, the cookies turn out to be a total disaster. Mrs. Ling catches them and chides them for using the stove without permission and not asking for help, even if the gesture was sweet. They compromise so that Ivy and Julie do the baking with the direction of Mrs. Ling, who can sit in the kitchen and keep studying while the girls bake. These cookies come out better, and Ivy adds a small chunk of chocolate on top of each one to make Ivy's Chinese almond twisters, putting a new spin on a family favorite recipe. The new batch is so good, Mrs. Ling says she's pretty sure Ivy's just replaced her as the best almond cookie baker in San Francisco, and the cookies sell out quickly at the bake sale!

I decided to make my cookies the more traditional way because I'd never had a Chinese almond cookie before and wanted to try it in the original form before adding anything else to it. According to my grandparents, these used to be a traditional treat you could get for dessert at a Chinese restaurant, and they said the cookies looked and tasted just like the real thing. I can't remember ever seeing these on the menu at any of the Chinese restaurants I've eaten at. I wonder why they went out of favor? I guess it is easier just to put some fortune cookies on the table at the end of the day instead of baking your own cookies.

Unlike Ivy and Julie, I did not attempt to make these cookies without a recipe. Julie's Cooking Studio includes one in the "Favorite Foods" chapter, and it's a very simple, straight forward recipe, with minimal steps and basically no fuss. If you've ever made a cookie before, you can make these with no problem.

To begin, you take 1 cup of shortening (I almost only used 1/2 cup, which would probably have been a disaster...) and cream it with 1 1/2 cups of sugar until it's light and fluffy. Next, add in a lightly beaten egg and mix before adding 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract and 1 1/4 teaspoons of almond extract. The almond extra is really the essential ingredient here, because even though the final product will have an almond in it, this is what gives it the flavor you're looking for instead of just making it a basic sugar cookie.

Once your wet ingredients are all stirred together, you add 1 3/4 cups of flour, 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda and 1 teaspoon of baking powder. The recipe warns that the dough is supposed to be crumbly, so don't freak out when it doesn't seem like it's coming together the way most other dough does. Don't overmix it!

The dough gets rolled out into one inch wide dough balls. These should be placed about two inches apart on a baking tray, as they do expand a fair amount in the oven. I managed to get twelve on a tray perfectly, which worked out nicely because this recipe is supposed to make about three dozen cookies.

To decorate your cookies, you need blanched almonds. You can buy almonds that are already blanched, but it's super easy to do it yourself. All you need to do is dump whole almonds into a pot of boiling water for a minute, drain them, pat them dry and then squeeze the skin off them. Believe me, this works out to be a lot cheaper!

Each cookie gets one almond pressed into the top.

The cookies bake in the oven at 375 for 12 to 15 minutes, or until they're golden brown. Mine were done around 14 minutes.

Although a couple of them came out a little funny looking because they had larger chunks of shortening left in them, they actually came out in very uniform circles, which made storage very easy!

The result were delicious, crispy cookies with a good amount of almond flavor! I'm always a tiny bit wary of baking with shortening if only because I'm more familiar with using butter, but the cookies were pretty much the perfect texture - just enough crunch without feeling like you were breaking your teeth. The only thing I wasn't crazy about was the almond on top. I felt like they were a little gummy for me? But they do identify them as an almond cookie and weren't a horrible addition, so I think that might just be my personal preference. On the whole, though, these were really tasty, and I would definitely make them again. My almond loving family members were very on board with them as well, which gives them more points in favor of pulling them out again at some point.

The recipe easily makes enough cookies to share, too, and they store well. My brother has been picking away at them for the better part of the week, and they still seem pretty fresh and crisp after being sealed in an air tight container.

So while I have no idea how mine compare to Mrs. Ling's, I like to think I did a decent job! Next time, I think I'll make a couple with some chocolate on top to see if that really does make them almost better than the original. It's sort of difficult to see how that's possible, if only because these were really tasty on their own!

Too bad I don't have any bake sales to participate in!


  1. FYI, if you toast your almonds by themselves in the oven for a few minutes (just until they smell nutty), they won't be as gummy in your finished cookie. Toasting also enhances the flavor!

    1. Oh, awesome! I'll definitely give that a try next time. :)

  2. FYI, if you toast your almonds by themselves in the oven for a few minutes (just until they smell nutty), they won't be as gummy in your finished cookie. Toasting also enhances the flavor!