If you renounced all sweets on New Year’s Day, think about abandoning that resolution. Prepare a traditional Chinese dessert to usher in the Year of the Rooster on Jan. 28. Denying yourself might be bad luck.
Food to celebrate the Chinese New Year is filled with symbolism, and this is especially true of sweets. The round shape of sweet rice dumplings signifies the unity of the family. Candied kumquats are valued for their golden color, a sign of prosperity. Peanut brittle and candied peanuts are eaten for longevity and good health. Walnut cookies stand for happiness.
Walnuts hold a special place in Chinese culture, part health aid, part status symbol. They are prescribed in traditional Chinese medicine to nourish the lungs, relieve coughs and prevent gray hairs. Whole shelled walnuts have been used as far back as the Han Dynasty to gently exercise the hands and improve circulation.
As the nuts roll around in the palms, they supposedly acquire a spiritual value, taking on the characteristics of the individuals who hold them. During China’s recent economic surge, walnuts became sought after by wealthy Chinese collectors, attracting speculators and causing the prices to skyrocket. The bottom dropped out of the walnut market in 2016, but China remains the world’s largest producer and consumer.
Today, walnuts are valued by Eastern and Western doctors alike for their nutritional value. Rich in antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids, they may boost cognitive function and have protective effects against cancer and cardiovascular disease. Cooks across the world are drawn to walnuts for their earthy, fruity flavor. Loaded with healthy fats, they add luxurious richness to cookies.
Chinese Walnut Cookies are a cross between a conventional drop cookie and a powdery Russian tea cake or Mexican wedding cake. Cornstarch in the dough gives them an extremely tender texture, while an egg holds them together. Served after dinner or given as gifts, they are sure to bring happiness to whoever tastes them.
CHINESE WALNUT COOKIES
1 3⁄4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1⁄4 cup cornstarch
1⁄2 teaspoon baking soda
1⁄4 teaspoon baking powder
1⁄4 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1⁄2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
1⁄2 cup sugar
1 large egg
3⁄4 cup finely chopped toasted walnuts
16 walnut halves
1 egg white, lightly beaten
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cornstarch, baking soda, baking powder and salt. In a large bowl with an electric mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes. Mix in the whole egg.
3. With the mixer on low, gradually add the flour mixture until it is incorporated. Add the chopped nuts and stir until incorporated.
4. Roll heaping tablespoonfuls of dough into balls and place on the prepared baking sheet, an inch or 2 apart from each other. Gently press a walnut half into each ball. Brush with egg white and let stand on the baking sheet for 10 minutes.
5. Bake the cookies until golden, 16 to 20 minutes. Slide the cookies, still on the parchment, onto a wire rack and cool completely. Makes 16 cookies.