I don’t cook. Most Decembers, however, I will attempt to bake something. Usually it is either sugar cookies cut out with cookie cutters or oatmeal raisin cookies. Both recipes are ones that come from my inlaws, although I have slightly doctored the oatmeal raisin recipe by adding more raisins and subbing the “sweet milk” (my southern husband told me that is just regular milk versus buttermilk) for actual sweetened condensed milk. The past few years I have gone to a big annual cookie party. I wasn’t sure what to make this year. I decided to trot out the recipe that is synonymous with my Nana, the Almond Cookie (From the Chinese).
My Nana was a pretty regular baker. She usually had a tin of something at her condo and more often not it was these delicious almond cookies. They are reminiscent of almond cookies that you sometimes get in American Chinese restaurants. You know the ones — in the waxed paper baggies. I have made these cookies before but while they tasted correct, the texture was always wrong. Every time I made them, they were too chewy. Attempts made by my mom and aunt were the same. The flavor was spot on but it still wasn’t Nana’s cookie.
The recipe very specifically calls for 2 cups “soft shortening” which the recipe states is 2 sticks butter and 2 sticks margarine. Margarine is against my religion so I decided to try swapping the margarine for actual shortening – Crisco in bars. Behold! I think the code is cracked! Of course, I can’t be completely sure. My Nana died several year before I even considered trying to make these cookies so I can’t ask her nor can I pull just one more out of the cookie tin. But I think I got it as I remember which I guess is just fine nowadays.
It’s not totally random that I decided to make this cookie this year. I have just returned from a trip to mainland China. My Nana visited China in, I think, the early 80s. I don’t exactly remember when honestly but I was a fairly young kid. Her travels to exotic places fascinated me and really had an impact on me and my future love of travel. Nana was not exactly what you might think of when imaging an adventurous older traveller. She wasn’t particularly outdoorsy or a crazy glamorous Auntie Mame type. She was a long time widow who was curious to see what she had read about and had the means and the ambition to make it happen. She took to tours to China and India and other places, although the very exotic China and India stick the most in my mind. I assume that the relentlessly modern and industrial China that I just saw has little in common with the China that Nana experienced. I really wonder how she managed or what she would think about my travels now. I was not as close to Nana as I was with my other grandparents but the older I get the more I realize what an impact Nana and her travels made on me — and the more I look like her too! I don’t have any photos at the ready sadly but sometime I’ll post some for comparison. Here’s one of my favorite photos I took on this China trip instead.
I posted a baking photo on social media and someone asked me for this recipe. I figured since I was typing it out anyway I’d share the recipe and a little about Nana with all of you! Happy baking, Happy travels and very soon Happy Holidays!
Nana’s Almond Cookies (From The Chinese)
4 cups sifted flour
1 t. baking powder
2 cups butter
2 cups Crisco
1 egg, slightly beaten
1 1/2 t. almond extract
1 t. vanilla
1 egg yolk, slightly beaten
1/2 cup blanched almond slivers
Sift flour and baking powder into large bowl. Add next 5 ingredients. Knead mixture until thoroughly combined. Form dough into 2 inch pieces. Place balls 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheet. Flatten the balls. Combine egg yolk and 1 t. of water. Brush top of cookies with egg yolk mixture. Press a few almond slivers in center of each cookie. Bake at 350 degrees for 12-15 minutes or until golden brown.