BAKING cookies for Chinese New Year has been a family tradition ever since I was a child.
It is a time-consuming labour of love that occurs about once a year.
I remember coming home from school when mum had just baked a fresh batch of almond slices and how wonderful those cookies tasted.
As I grew up and learned to make cookies, I became fascinated with Danish butter cookies.
Throughout my school days, I tried to replicate that delicate, crispy texture with light buttery flavour, but somehow it eluded me.
I tried combinations of different types of flour, sugar, vanilla and leavening but never got it right.
However, at a chance assignment a few years ago with the then editor of Kuali, Yuhalini Poopalasingam, I discovered the right recipe, which yielded the exact results of the ideal butter cookie.
And it was the simplicity of the recipe that made these butter cookies taste so magical.
Just plain flour, unsalted butter, icing sugar, egg whites, baking powder and salt. No vanilla essence and no egg yolks.
The original recipe called for only one-third the amount of ingredients, but because I did not want to waste the egg yolk, I scoured old recipe books and rediscovered a cookie recipe that called for three egg yolks.
By tripling the recipe, I get a huge batch of butter cookies that uses three egg whites and a small batch of chocolate cookies that uses up the three egg yolks.
I recommend that all the ingredients be beaten by hand because an electric mixer will incorporate too much air into the already very light dough and cause the cookies to become too crumbly.
In fact, the chocolate cookie dough needs to be kneaded a bit or the cookies will become too crumbly once baked.
I usually pipe the dough with a cookie press or icing bag into Viennese whirls, but you may shape them into any pattern that you wish.
The easiest way is to refrigerate the dough, cut it into logs, then slice to about half-centimetre-thick.
Baking the cookies while the dough is cold helps hold their shape.
Because they do not expand very much, they do not need to be placed very far apart in the trays, so about one centimetre is sufficient.
Depending on your oven, baking time can vary from 20 to 25 minutes.
Do check and rotate the baking trays frequently for even baking.
I find that using the convection function allows me to bake two trays at a time, thus reducing waiting time between batches.
Remember to cool them completely before storing in jars or they will get soggy and spoil.
750g unsalted butter, softened
300g icing sugar
3 egg whites
900g all-purpose flour
12g baking powder
Cream butter and sugar by hand until fluffy, but do not use an electric mixer so it won’t be over-beaten. Beat in egg whites until incorporated.
Sift in flour, baking powder and salt, and stir until well mixed.
Form into cookies on a baking tray and bake at 160°C for 20 minutes until light golden.
Chocolate butter cookies
250g unsalted butter, softened
115g soft brown sugar
3 egg yolks
250g all-purpose flour
30g cocoa powder
Cream butter and sugar by hand until fluffy. Again, do not use an electric mixer to prevent the mixture from becoming over-beaten. Beat in egg yolks until incorporated.
Sift in flour and cocoa powder, and knead briefly until well mixed.
Form into cookies on a baking tray and bake at 160°C for 20 minutes until firm.
You can form cookies from both doughs in a few ways: by piping into Viennese whirls or Langue de chat; roll into 1-inch logs, refrigerate overnight and slice into discs; press into a parchment-lined baking pan to about 1-inch thick, refrigerate overnight, then cut into blocks and slice into squares; or roll into 1-inch balls and press flat with a fork onto a baking tray.
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