China: Hang Geen Beng
Very few cattle are raised in China, so dairy products such as milk, cheese and butter are hard to come by and rarely used in traditional Chinese dishes. They do raise pigs and so they generally will use the pork fat or lard as a substitute for the butter. As a matter of fact, pork is so prevalent in the Chinese cuisine that it is commonly referred to as simply "meat".
Hang Geen Beng (hahng geen bee-EHNG), traditional Chinese Almond Cookies, are a traditional treat found in bakeries across China as well as Chinese restaurants around the globe. Like many Chinese dishes, these crisp, tasty treats do use lard. You can substitute vegetable shortening, but the the taste won't be nearly the same. Many people also use butter in this recipe. Cookies made with butter tend to not be as crisp as those made with lard or shortening, and the crispness of these cookies is what makes them so good. (I've also seen these called Hang Yen Bang. Beats me who's right!)
Hang Geen Beng (Chinese Almond Cookies)
2-1/2 cups flour
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 cup sugar
1 cup lard (or vegetable shortening)
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tsp almond extract
1 tbs cold water
4 dozen whole, blanched almonds
1 egg yolk
1 tbs water
Sift the first four ingredients together into a large bowl. Cut the lard (or vegetable shortening) in with a pastry blender, or rub it between your fingers until the mix is very crumbly.
In a small bowl, combine the beaten egg with the almond extract. Add the egg mixture to the dry ingredients and combine. Add in the tablespoon of cold water and use your hands to quickly form a firm ball of dough. Cover in plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least one hour.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease baking sheets.
Remove dough from refrigerator and form into 1-1/2 inch balls. Place the dough balls on baking sheets and flatten gently with the bottom of a glass. Press one whole almond into the center of each cookie.
For the glaze, mix one egg yolk with one tablespoon of water. Using a pastry brush, brush some of the glaze over each cookie.
Bake approximately 12 minutes or until the cookies are very lightly browned. Remove from oven and baking sheets and cool in wire racks.
Yield: 4 dozen