The early morning light is my bolthole before the day’s heartbeat ramps up. Right now I hold a small morsel of chocolate shortcake from my school library’s café, ashamed it’s not exactly what’s featured in today’s post, but its texture is reminiscent of just that.
Chinese New Year is still in the works, but its official advent last week was all the prick I needed to get myself busy in the kitchen, playing and toying with random festive ideas to half fool myself into thinking, as the only Chinese in the house, that pineapple tarts, oranges, ang baos (red money-filled packets) and all sorts of goodies were right there with me, emanating a pink blossom-hued energy, a light.
These walnut cookies are little gems. Based off your traditional Chinese walnut cookies, which are very literally melt-in-your-mouth, the dough bursting with fresh chopped walnuts, brushed with an egg glaze and topped with raw walnut halves.
Their characteristic crumbly, buttery state got me thinking: this could pair more than well with a slightly unforeseen texture. My penchant for anything chew and goo may not be known far and wide but that’s precisely what I thought would tie it all together, and the answer, I knew, lay in the all-exclusive meringue. It did take a few tries before the right meringue consistency was achieved– too hard a meringue nest would fail to complement the more robust nature of the cookie, and the whole thing would corrode and disintegrate easily.
This was a perfect surprise, for myself and a few family members. You bite into what’s almost like a paradox of taste. the buttery, femininity cookies are maturely ground, hard-bred, by the earthy and almost indelicate walnuts. Teeth sink a little further and are welcomed by the soft crackle of just-hardened meringue nest, still filled with white chewy goo in their hollows. Perfect by themselves, or with teeth-cleaning mandarins.
Chinese Walnut Cookies on Meringue Nests (makes 6 cookies, scale up as needed)
For the cookies:
125g plain flour
1/4 tsp each of baking powder and baking soda
40g butter, unsalted and at room temperature (sub: vegan butter)
1/2 a beaten egg, about 30g (sub: half a flax egg made by mixing 1 tbsp flax with 2 tbsp water, of which you can save half for later in the process, or 30g vegan egg replacement)
30g finely chopped walnuts (do this yourself or buy ready-made chopped walnuts)
6 walnut halves
For the meringue:
100g white caster sugar
2 egg whites (sub: vegan egg whites, and I have heard you can use chickpea water for this!)
Preheat your oven to 180C (350F). In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, salt and both baking powder and baking soda. In a separate bowl, cream together the butter and sugar. I just used a spoon for this; it’s easy when your butter is at room temperature. Tip this into the flour mix, alongside the chopped walnuts and half the beaten egg. The mix should be very dry and only just come together when you mix this by hand. I suggest using your hands here as it’s easy and you can feel when the dough just comes together.
Prep cookies on pan– grease a baking tray and take 42-43.3g of dough for each cookie. Roll each bit of dough into a ball, place on the tray, then press a fresh walnut half onto the top. You should get 6 cookies from this batch. Brush the cookies with the remaining egg, then bake in your preheated oven for 20 minutes. Once the cookies are done, leave to cool on the counter and turn the temperature down to 100C (212F).
Make the meringue. In a clean bowl and with a clean electrical hand whisk, beat the egg whites until they go frothy. Add the sugar a tablespoon at a time until you get a glossy, opaque white meringue. Spoon tablespoons of this onto a silicone or non-stick baking tray and flatten slightly so you get 6 discs out of the volumes stated above. Bake the discs for 1.5 hours (90 minutes), and check that they haven’t burnt or anything, for sometimes ovens really do stupid things, at the 1-hour mark. The surface should be a pale pink-brown colour, cracking into one should have little effort and the middle should still be white and gooey.
Press each cookie into the tops of the meringues. These are best eaten immediately for optimum enjoyment of the texture interplay, though they can be stored for a few days in an airtight container.