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12/17/2013

~ Martin Yan's Wonderful Walnut Cookies a la Mel ~

IMG_8523It's time to get into the Christmas spirit, and, unless you're from a different planet, if you are the family cook, this means cookie baking.  My recipe file is full of ethnic and heritage cookie recipes passed down to me from my Eastern European (Russian Orthodox) family, Joe's Italian (Catholic) family, my diverse group of friends, plus, some worldly ones that I've picked up over the years on our travels.  Some are quick and easy-to-make, some are time consuming and difficult.  Some are big, some are small, all of them are delicious, and:  ever since I began this blog in 2010, every year at this time, I've been sharing a few of them with you.  To date, there are a 'baker's dozen'  of cookie recipes here on Kitchen Encounters for you to choose from!

Crispy, chewy, light & airy, meet Chef Yan's Walnut Cookies!

A#6. Chef Yan Demo #3 (2-20-10)In February of 2010, I had the great pleasure of having Chef Martin Yan in my kitchen and assisting him with his cooking demonstration in front of a studio audience of 150 at WPSU-TV.  It was my job to prepare a tasting of all three dishes he was demonstrating that day -- enough for 150 tastings.  Lot's of work?  You betcha.  Lot's of fun?  Absolutely.

These walnut cookies were on the menu, and, as Chef Yan writes in his cookbook Feast:  "These are the flaky short-dough cookies you find in Chinese bakeries all over the world.  My version replaces the IMG_8364traditional lard with a combination of butter and shortening, producing a crispier, more tender cookie."  

A#3. Walnut Cookies for Chef Martin Yan (2-19-10)The night before his demo, I baked a huge batch (4x the recipe).  I tell you this so you're aware it can be easily doubled, tripled and even quadrupled.  I also must say:  their buttery flavor and delicate texture makes them perfect for a ladies luncheon or tea -- not to mention a crunchy sweet treat after your favorite Chinese meal or stir-fry!

IMG_83811 3/4  cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

3/4  teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2  cup salted butter, at room temperature, very soft

1/2  cup vegetable shortening (Note:  I use Crisco butter-flavored shortening.)

2/3  cup sugar

1/2  cup firmly-packed dark brown sugar

1  large egg

1  teaspoon pure vanilla extract, not imitation

6-8  tablespoons very-finely chopped walnuts (just short of being ground to a powder), a generous 1/2 cups broken walnut pieces to start

4  dozen unbroken walnut halves, the largest and prettiest available

1/4  cup sesame seeds, more or less, for rolling tops of cookies in

IMG_8385 IMG_8389~ Step 1. Measure the flour, baking powder and baking soda, placing them in a large mesh strainer that has been placed over a medium bowl as you work.  Using an ordinary tablespoon, stir the mixture, until it has all sifted together down into the bowl.  Don't skip this step -- it's important to sift  flour for these.

IMG_8370 IMG_8368~ Step 2.  By hand or in a small food processor fitted with a steel blade, finely chop the walnuts (just short of being ground to a powder).  

Note:  In a food processor, this will be 15-20 on-off pulses.  If you end up with slightly more than 1/2 cup, it's ok to incorporate up to 2 extra tablespoons into the cookie dough mixture without compromise.

IMG_8397 IMG_8394~ Step 3.  In a large mixing bowl, over medium-high speed of electric mixer, cream the butter, shortening and sugars until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula constantly.  Add egg and vanilla, continuing to beat until thoroughly incorporated, about 30 seconds.

IMG_8407 IMG_8404~ Step 4. Reduce mixer speed to low and incorporate the flour, in thirds, thoroughly mixing after each addition.  Add and incorporate the ground walnuts.  If at any time the dough gets too thick for mixer to handle, finish blending by hand with the rubber spatula. Note:  Mixer problems are more likely to occur with multiple batches.

IMG_8428~ Step 5.  Gather the dough into a rough ball, place it into a 6-8-cup food storage container, cover, and refrigerate for 4 hours, or overnight.

Note:  If making multiple batches, divide the dough as evenly as you can between 2, 3 or 4 containers. Do not remove any container until just before baking that batch.  It's important the dough remain cold.

~ Step 6.  At baking time, line two large baking pans with parchment paper and set aside.  Place the sesame seeds in a small bowl.

IMG_8431 IMG_8435Pick through and choose 4 dozen (48) of the prettiest, even-sized walnut halves.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees with a rack positioned in the center.

Note:  If you are making mulitiple batches of cookies, it is not necessary to change the parchment paper in between the batches, however, the cookie dough should only be placed on completely cooled pans (not even ever-so-slightly warm) from previous batch.

IMG_8436 IMG_8443                                               ~ Step 7. Remove cookie dough from the refrigerator.  Using a 1 1/4" ice-cream scoop as a measure, place balls of dough, well apart (2 1/2"-3"), on one pan.  I can fit 20 balls of dough, appropriately spaced, on one pan.  Return cookie dough to refrigerator. If your pan is larger or smaller, just space them as directed and proceed as follows:

IMG_8447~ Step 8.  Do not flatten balls. Working as quickly as possible without getting sloppy, gently dip/roll the top of each ball in sesame seeds and return it to pan.  

IMG_8457Lightly place and gently press a walnut half on top of each ball, just far enough down into the dough to secure the walnut to the top. IMG_8454Even though the walnut is going to seem too large for the cookie, do not over flatten the balls.  

Place pan of cookies in the refrigerator, to chill for 10 minutes prior to baking.  While this pan of cookies is chilling in the refrigerator, prep the next pan of cookies... and so on "down the line".

IMG_8469~ Step 8.  Bake on center rack of preheated 350 degree oven, 9-10 minutes, or until lightly brown around the edges.  Remove cookies from the oven and allow to cool in pans, about 5-6 minutes.  

Transfer cookies to cooling rack.  If you need a spatula to do this, you are removing the cookies from the pan too soon.  Repeat this process until all cookies are baked and completely cooled.

IMG_8513Martin Yan's Wonderful Walnut Cookies a la Mel:  4 dozen, 2 1/2" round cookies

Special Equipment List:  large fine mesh strainer; cutting board; chef's knife; food processor (optional); hand-held electric mixer; large rubber spatula; 6-8 cup food storage container w/lid; 2, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans; parchment paper; 1 1/4" ice-cream scoop; 2, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" cooling racks

Chow Mein #3 (Intro Picture with Fork)Cook's Note:  For my spin on another one of Chef Yans's recipes, which was also on his WPSU cooking demonstration menu that day (also found in his book Feast), check out ~ Chinese Chicken Chow Mein a la Mel ~, in Categories 3, 13 or 19!

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2013) 

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