When I saw the Domestic Goddess and Alberto's announcements for the joint SHF/IMBB Cookie-Swap, I was so happy as I love cookies. Although in my family, cookies are more of a Chinese New Year thing, I am so in the festive mood (fa la la la....) that I decided to celebrate with cookies this Christmas.
Ever since I can remember, my mother has been making three traditional cookies for Chinese New Year. They have become our family's signature cookies and everyone will wait in anticipation to receive a box from us during the festive season. Only close relatives and good friends were privileged to get these cookies as a lot of work goes into preparing them. I'll be sharing two of the cookies with you all this time round as I managed to persuade my mother to give me a refresher's course on making them as it has been a while since I helped make them.
Most Malaysians will be very familiar with this cookie as you see versions of this everywhere especially during the festive season. They kinda remind me of Mexican Wedding Cookies but the Malaysian version is made from peanuts as this is a more popular and cheaper alternative.
The key to this delicious and fragrant cookie is toasting the peanuts and adding a sprinkling of toasted sesame seeds. Another very important bit is you need to choose the right peanuts as there are quite a few varieties; some for soups, deep frying or toasting. I usually go to our Chinese dry goods stall and ask them to select the peanuts for toasting and they will pack them accordingly. We use the traditional way of toasting them in a cast iron wok over low fire, constantly stirring them so they become brown evenly. Once they are browned sufficiently, you will need to peel out the skin. Sometimes when you fry them, the skins may come out in the process. If not, you can use a basket (as seen below) to shake out the bits and pieces of the skin. If you are not sure how toasted the peanuts should be, do a taste test. Set it aside and leave it to cool, then taste them to see if they are crunchy enough. Remember that if they are too burnt, you will need to discard them or else your cookies will be bitter. Don't skin them before toasting them as the skin helps prevent the peanuts from burning too fast.
Left: Toasted Peanuts in basket, Right: Cookies ready with egg wash for the oven
Once toasted, cool them and you can keep them in an air tight jug. Although making the cookies does not take long, it's the preparation of toasting the peanuts which is a bit back breaking so do this ahead and keep the peanuts ready when you want to make your cookies.
I got into a bit of a festive mood so I dragged out my Christmas decorations to jazz up my cookies. Here they are with a bit of holly and ribbon, all ready for a yummy Christmas. They melt in the mouth and you can taste the toasted peanuts and sesame seeds.
150 grams toasted peanuts, finely grinded
2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
150 grams plain flour
125 grams icing sugar
4 to 4 1/2 ounces of cooking oil (sunflower)
1 small egg yolk
Pinch of salt
Grind the toasted peanuts and add to sifted plain flour and icing sugar. Mix them thoroughly together with the toasted sesame seeds. Add the cooking oil slowly and mix till evenly coated. Roll a little ball of dough and place on a greased baking tin. You can use a marker pen lid to make the circle or add a toasted peanut on top for decoration. Beat the egg yolk and salt together, brush a bit on top as this will give colour to your cookie. Preheat your oven to 150C and bake for twenty minutes. Remove from oven and cool before removing cookies from the tin. Once cooled, pack in air tight container.
During Chinese New Year, serving pineapple jam tarts or like my family's version, pineapple balls is essential. This is because the Chinese believe it brings good luck since the chinese term for pineapple is "Wong Lai" that also sounds like luck is coming.
Like the peanut cookies, a lot of work goes for the preparation and this time it's the pineapple jam. Nowadays, you can actually get pre-made pineapple jam at the bake shops so if you wish to skip this part, just do so as it saves you a lot of time. We like to make our jam from scratch and it keeps pretty well especially in the freezer. The best part of making this jam is you can actually take your time to do it, i.e. stop halfway and say continue the next day.
First, you need to get fresh pineapples from the fruit stall. Do tell them that you plan to make jam so they can pick you the riper ones. You will need to take out the "eyes" of the pineapple and core them. Once that is done, cut them into small pieces and blend them till it becomes almost a pulp. Don't make it too fine as you want some texture to the jam. Put this into a large saucepan(metal) and stir it over a medium fire so it dries out. You need to constantly stir the jam or else it will burn. Once it is almost dry, add the sugar, switch to low fire and stir constantly. It's important that you keep stirring or else the sugar burns and your jam will be ruined. Keep stirring until the sugar caramelises and the mixture becomes sticky plus pulls away from the bottom of the saucepan. Once that is done, cool the jam and store in the fridge or freezer until you are ready to make the cookies.
Left: Pineapple jam bubbling away, Right: Rolled up pineapple balls.
You will need to make the pastry and remember to use good quality butter (I used SCS brand) or else you do not get the buttery plus melt in the mouth texture. Unlike the tarts, pineapple balls are softer and more buttery. I distributed some of the pineapple balls to my friends and they said the pineapple balls are so sinfully buttery, they need to hide them in their fridge or else they will finish them in one sitting. One of them even called these cookies "evil little butter balls" and is restricting herself to them bit by bit.
More Christmas decorations and I have placed the pineapple balls on top of a purple velvet ribbon all ready to be wrapped up in some silver paper.
Approximately 4 to 6 ounces of sugar
Cut the eyes and core of the pineapple. Chop into small pieces and place in a blender. Blend until it is pulp but not till it is so fine it becomes juice. Place in a metal saucepan and over a medium fire. Stir constantly until it almost dries out. Add the sugar slowly and taste to make sure it is not too sweet. The amount of sugar to be added depending on whether the pineapple is tart or not so go slow on adding the sugar till you taste it. Once the sugar is added, stir the jam constantly to make sure it does not burn. Once it gets sticky and caramelised, switch off the heat and cool. You can roll them in balls as seen above to be used to make the cookies.
16 ounces butter
20 ounces plain flour
Pinch of salt
4 tablespoons of sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
Cream the butter and sugar until it changes colour. Add the vanilla essence and beat it in. Fold in the flour and the salt until it is mixed thoroughly. The dough may be too soft, check to see if you can manage rolling it. If not, add 1 1/2 tablespoon of flour to make it less sticky and leave it uncovered for half and hour. Once the dough is not so sticky, take a bit into your hand and flatten it. Place the jam ball inside the dough and roll the dough to cover the jam. Make sure it is properly covered and the thickness of the dough is even. Roll into a ball and place in the paper cases. Brush the top with egg wash. Bake in an oven heated up to 160C for thirty minutes.
Chocolate Brownie Cookies
Finally I made something which I have been eyeing for a long time, these famous Chocolate Brownie Cookies from The Last Course by Claudia Fleming. I bought the cookbook quite some time back during a Borders sale after reading the wonderful desserts that J of Kuidaore made for her blog. I don't regret making these as they are so fudgy and chocolately that when you open the jar they are stored in, you can breathe their heady chocolately smell. It's also not too sweet since bittersweet chocolate was used for this cookie. For the picture, I added some silver and gold ribbons on top of some Christmas wrapping paper and these cookies really feel like Christmas is here. (ho! ho! ho!)
Chocolate Brownie Cookies
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 tablespoon brewed espresso
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
5 ounces extra bittersweet chocolate, chopped
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
3/4 cup mini chocolate chips
Preheat the oven to 375F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside. In a bowl of an electric mixer, briefly whip the eggs to break them up. Add the sugar, espresso and vanilla and beat on high speed for 15 minutes until thick.
While the eggs are whipping, place butter on top of a double boiler or a metal bowl suspended over a pot of simmering water and scatter the chopped chocolate on top. Heat until the butter and chocolate melt. Remove the boiler top from the water and stir the chocolate and butter uintil smooth. Gently fold the chocolate mixture into the egg mixture until partially combined (there should still be some streaks). Add the flour mixture to the batter and gently fold in. Fold in the chocolate chops. If batter is very runny, let it rest till it thickens slightly, about 5 minutes. Drop the bater by heaping tablespoons onto prepared baking sheets and bake till puffed and cracked, about 8 to 9 minutes. Cool on wire rack before removing from baking sheets.
Hope you enjoyed my cookie fest as I had lots of fun making all these. I distributed quite a few to different taste teams too so I hope they enjoyed it. The pineapple balls were also stolen by the ginger kitten during a photo session and he seemed to like the buttery pastry too as he ate it all up. I can't wait to see the other cookies and do remember to visit the Domestic Goddess and Alberto's blog for the yummylicious round-ups.
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