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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, February 10, 2010

3 tasty recipes for almond cookies


By Wanda A. Adams
Advertiser Food Editor

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Put a dab of red food coloring in the center of each cookie. You can use a chopstick whether big end or little end is your choice or a Q-tip or you thumb.

Photos by WANDA ADAMS | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

HOW TO FORM AN ALMOND COOKIE

Pinch off a piece of dough about the diameter of a quarter, roll gently between your hands. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet. Press gently with the palm of the hand to flatten the round of dough. Make a shallow well in the center with the pad of your thumb and decorate with red food coloring or a blanched almond.
A small (3/4-inch) ice cream scoop makes this task even easier; you may not need to roll it at all, just deposit it on the cookie sheet, flatten, decorate.

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TIPS

Try to avoid baking on very humid days.

Never double almond cookie recipes; make one batch at a time.

Cream shortening and sugar very well, until you can rub the mixture with your fingers and not feel a grain of sugar. This can take as much as 15 minutes.

Never use aluminum bowls; they tend to flatten the cookie.

To form cookies with ease, use a fl-inch ice cream scoop; if you scoop properly, you don't even need to roll between your hands.

If the dough seems dry, knead it a little and squeeze each ball of dough as you form it with your hands.

The amount of almond extract is very flexible; recipes call for as little as teaspoon and as much as 1 tablespoon. It's to your taste.

Many cooks swear by hard vegetable shortening for almond cookies; butter-flavored shortening can give you a richer taste.

Apply dot of red food coloring with the end of a chopstick (opinions vary on whether it should be the blunt end or the pointy end), a Q-tip or your thumb (if you don't mind the stain!).

Instead of the red dot, top cookies with a blanched almond or slivered blanched almond piece.

Try substituting cup ground almonds for cup of the flour.

An over-hot oven may cause cookies to spread and flatten too quickly.

Sources: Susan Fontillas, Brenda Leong, Hawaiian Electric Co. and others

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In my search for the Best Ever Almond Cookie, I was aided by a number of readers, by cookbook author June Kam Tong and her friend Brenda Leong, and by my cookbook collection.

Many of the almond cookie recipes sent to me were sketchily written.

I chose, with success, to use the classic cookie- and cake-making technique no matter what the recipe suggested: cream shortening and sugar, add egg and liquid flavoring, mix dry ingredients and add gradually.

Since the process of forming the cookie is the same for each of these recipes, I've outlined that in a separate note on this page.

Brenda Leong is renowned in the See Dai Do Chinese Society for her almond cookies. She makes them to give out as prizes when they hold competitions, and to take to board meetings, and she teaches members how to make the cookies in classes she gives periodically. (She's working on a walnut cookie to teach members about right now.) This is my favorite of all the recipes I tried, and after making it three times, I can testify to its reliability.

Here's her recipe:

BRENDA LEONG'S ALMOND COOKIES

• 1 cup butter-flavored solid shortening (she uses Crisco)

• 3/4 cup sugar

• 1 large egg at room temperature

• 1 tablespoon almond extract

• 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

• 1 teaspoon baking soda

• 1/4 teaspoon salt

• Red food coloring blanched almonds.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Using an electric mixer (preferably a hands-free stand mixer), cream shortening and sugar very well. Add egg and almond extract and cream again until built up and smooth. Mix together flour, baking soda and salt and gradually add to batter while mixing. Form and decorate cookies with food coloring or almonds on ungreased cookie sheet. These cookies spread. Be sure to place them 3 inches apart. Bake at 325 degrees for 15-20 minutes.

Makes about 30 cookies.

Per cookie: 120 calories, 7 g fat, 1.5 g saturated fat, 5 mg cholesterol, 85 mg sodium, 13 g carbohydrate, 0 fiber, 5 g sugar, 1 g protein

Here is a version of the recipe given in Hawaiian Electric Co.'s "100 Years of Island Cooking." I received at least a dozen recipes in the same 'ohana. This is the one I liked best.

HECO-STYLE ALMOND COOKIES

• 3 cups flour

• 1 teaspoon baking soda

• 1/4 teaspoon salt

• 1 1/4 cups solid shortening

• 11/3 cups sugar

• 1 egg

• 1 teaspoon almond extract (more or less, to taste)

• Red food coloring or blanched almonds

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda and salt. Set aside. With an electric mixer, thoroughly cream shortening and sugar. Beat in egg and almond extract. Gradually add dry ingredients, beating between. Shape cookies, decorate and bake at 325 degrees for about 20 minutes.

Makes 36 cookies.

Per cookie: 140 calories, 8 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 5 mg cholesterol, 70 mg sodium, 15 g carbohydrate, 0 g fiber, 7 g sugar, 1 g protein

I made this almond cookie recipe using peanut butter more out of curiosity than anything else. I was surprised that it came out so well, and that the peanut butter was such a muted presence. My husband said, "If I didn't know, I wouldn't know." This recipe also calls for lye water (sodium hydroxide), which aids in achieving the right crunchy texture and in causing the cookie to relax, spread and puff up a bit. The original cookie called for 2 cups vegetable oil instead of solid shortening but I had bad luck with oil-based recipes so switched to shortening. This would be best with creamy, not chunky, peanut butter.

ALMOND PEANUT COOKIES

• 2 cups solid shortening

• 2 cups sugar

• 1/4 cup peanut butter

• 1 egg

• 1 tablespoon almond extract

• 1 teaspoon lye water

• 1/4 teaspoon baking powder

• 1/4 teaspoon baking soda

• 1/4 tablespoon water

• 4 cups flour

Red food coloring or blanched almonds

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. With an electric mixer, thoroughly cream together shortening and sugar. Beat in peanut butter, egg, almond extract and lye water. Dissolve baking powder and baking soda in water and beat in. Gradually beat in flour. Form cookies and decorate on ungreased cookie sheet. Bake at 325 degrees for 15-20 minutes.

Makes 36 cookies.

Per cookie: 220 calories, 13 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 5 mg cholesterol, 100 mg sodium, 22 g carbohydrate, 1 g fiber, 12 g sugar, 3 g protein


Correction: An earlier version of this story included a wrong measurement for sugar.