Not only would my dad, but other relatives as well, tell stories about growing up poor. They told me about how there would be little money to buy food, so little that groceries would be unaffordable at times. During these times of hardship they would have plain rice topped with lard for dinner. I raised my eyebrows in disgust at the thought of lard. My dad would also boast about the distinctive aroma and how light and flaky the cookies he ate as a child were. Of course, the flavour and texture which he so enjoyed was thanks to the lard that the cookies were made from.
Nowadays, the choice fat of yesteryear is making a comeback, changing the attitudes of lard naysayers like myself. I guess I was only conforming to the majority when I was previously repulsed by lard, because I didn’t know why it was thought to be so unhealthy.
I wanted to make the almond cookies as close to what my dad would remember eating as a child, so I decided to use lard. I know I previously said I wanted to render my own lard, but a Chowhound thread led me to Killarney Market in Vancouver, which carries a wide selection of Latin groceries, including naturally rendered lard. With my tub-o-lard in hand I went home and tweaked a few recipes to come up with my own version of Chinese almond thumbprint cookies.
I presented the cookies on the way to my dad’s birthday dinner, and it was my mom who had more to say about them. Upon taking her first bite she commented that they were light and flaky, and then asked what I used to make them. I told her I used lard, and for health reasons she immediately prohibited my dad from eating the cookies (not because she thought lard was worse than other fats). My dad mostly kept quiet about the cookies. After I told my mom I had made them especially for the celebration, she restricted him to a one cookie limit. But, I have a feeling he’ll be eating more than one.
The cookies were very simple to make, and were better once they had time to cool off. However, there were a couple of inconsistencies when it came to baking and storing the cookies. Using the half sheet pan browned the cookies much faster than when I used my three-quarter sheet pan, due to better heat circulation in the oven. Next time if I bake them on a three-quarter sheet pan I would bake them at 375 °F.
Storing the cookies in an air tight container overnight caused the cookies to lose their crispness. I had to re-toast the cookies to crisp them up, but that extra step also gave them a darker tan. In the future, I would be wiser to store the cookies in a paper bag to preserve their texture.
Chinese Almond Thumbprint Cookies
- 375g Flour
- 60g Fine Ground Blanched Almonds
- 1 tsp Baking Soda
- 1/2 tsp Salt
- 225g Lard
- 160g (1/2 cup) Sugar
- 1 Egg
- 2 Tbsp Water
- 1 tsp Almond Extract
- 150g (3/4 cup) Sugar
- 30 Whole Blanched Almonds
- 1 Beaten Egg
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Line two half sheet pans with parchment paper. Combine flour, baking soda, salt, and ground almonds in a large bowl. With a mixer, cream together lard and sugar on low speed.
- Add 1 egg, water, and almond extract to butter mixture and beat until incorporated. Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients 1 cup at a time and mix until flour is combined. Chill dough in refrigerator for 20 minutes.
- Once dough has chilled slightly, shape into balls of approximately 1 1/2 Tbsp for each cookie. Space dough 2 inches apart on parchment lined sheets. Lightly press an almond in the center of each dough ball and brush tops with beaten egg wash.
- Bake cookies one sheet at a time for 20-25 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove from oven and cool on wire racks.