Chinese New Year fortune cookies provide tasty cultural treat
February 3, 2012
Running from January 22, the eve of the New Year, until February 6, the eagerly anticipated lantern lighting festival, Chinese New Year is filled with fun festivities highlighting Chinese culture. This year the zodiac symbol used to represent the New Year is the dragon, the only legendary sign, and considered the luckiest. The 12 zodiacs aren’t the only symbols used to dictate the year. A 10-year cycle of earthly stems, rotating through metal, water, wood, fire and earth, and an every-other-year of Yin versus Yang are included. We are currently in the year of the Water Dragon. Throughout this two-week celebration, activities vary significantly based on the geographical region. However one thing remains the same, the importance of cuisine. As Confucius said, “Eating is the utmost important part of life.”
Chinese New Year is filled with tantalizing meals and desserts that are shared with family just as wishes of good health, wealth, and luck in the New Year are shared. The Chinese really take this to heart as they prepare elaborate dishes enjoyed by all.
Desserts enjoyed include the most popular nian gao (sticky cake), Peking dust, almond cookies, egg custard tarts, zeen doy (sesame seed balls), five-spice peanuts, sweet red bean soup, and fortune cookies. Nian gao, symbolizing togetherness and a rich life, is made with rice flour, filled with dried fruit, and steamed. This sticky cake often fed to the Chinese kitchen god ensures the family is in favor when he returns to heaven.
Possibly a more known treat in our region, fortune cookies, though an American creation, are widely enjoyed by many festival attendees. I can assure you, homemade fortune cookies have a unique flavor that far surpasses that of take-out extras. Forming them is tricky, and I recommend watching a how-to video. I urge you to be patient as the reward of turning out a beautifully formed fortune cookie with a hand written fortune neatly tucked inside is well worth your time.
Good Fortune Cookies
Yield: 12-15 cookies
1/2 c. sliced almonds (slivered works also)
1/2 c. sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 c. flour
2 egg whites
1/4 c. cooking oil
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. almond extract
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Write funny fortunes on strips of paper (4-inch x ½-inch). Grind the almonds in a food processor, add the sugar and continue to grind them until the mixture is sandy. Add the salt and flour, and pulse to combine.
2. Use the fork to lightly beat the egg whites, oil, vanilla extract, and almond extract together in the mixing bowl. Add the almond mixture and mix.
3. Spoon a heaping Tbs. of batter on a greased cookie sheet. Use the back of a spoon or tip the cookie sheet to spread the batter into a circle about 4 inches across. The batter should be superthin. Bake the cookie 7 to 8 minutes, until the edges begin to brown.
4. The cookie will be extremely hot, so it’s recommended to wear thin cotton gloves to form them. You’ll have to work fast. Use the metal spatula to flip a cookie into your hand. Lay a fortune on it. Fold the cookie in half over the fortune, and pinch it closed. Gently pull the corners down over the lip of the coffee mug. Put the finished cookie in a muffin tin to hold its shape as it cools.
5. Repeat steps 3 and 4 with the rest of the batter. If your cookies split when you fold them, you need to spread the batter thinner. Always let the cookie sheets cool before you put more batter on them. Notes:
The cookies will be very hot when you are forming them, once they begin to cool they will crack. It’s best to start with one or two cookies until you get the hang of forming them fast and even then it’s better to keep the number of cookies on a single sheet low so you don’t risk them cooling too fast. This is a good recipe to make with someone else so you can work together to form them quick.
Brittney Pfenning-Wendt is a columnist for the Student Voice.