Tomorrow is the beginning of the Chinese New Year, and I wanted to put together a special treat to celebrate. Looking around the kitchen, my eye fell on a bowl of bright mandarin oranges sitting on the counter. These citrus fruits are a traditional symbol of luck and wealth. What better way to kick off the new year than a little luck nestled in a spicy shortbread cookie?
These are sturdy cookies with a satisfying crunch when you bite into them. They're made with brown sugar, so they're sweet without tasting sugary. You can almost justify having them for a midday snack instead of dessert.
One last note before we get to the recipe: I used the clementine variety of mandarin orange when I made my candied oranges, and I found that I had trouble keeping the loose rind to stay on the thin slices. If you use clementines, pick through your bag and find the ones with the least loose skin to use for the recipe. You can usually tell this just by rubbing the skin of the orange and feeling if it moves easily.
Besides clementines, you can use true mandarin oranges or tangerines. Look for the smaller fruits, preferably with unwaxed skins.
Happy New Year!
Makes about 24 round cookies or 18 rectangles
This recipe is adapted from the shortbread recipe in Flour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston's Flour Bakery + Cafe by Joanne Chang
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 egg, separated
1 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder
1 teaspoon vanilla
zest of two mandarin oranges (about 2 teaspoons)
1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
Powdered sugar for rolling out the dough
Muscavado sugar for sprinkling on the cookies
roughly 24 slices of candied mandarin oranges (see recipe below)
In a stand mixer with a paddle attachment or with a hand mixer, cream the butter until it is light and fluffy, 2-3 minutes. Add the sugar and continue creaming another 3-4 minutes. Mix in the egg yolk (reserve the white), five-spice, vanilla, and zest until thoroughly combined. Scrape down the sides as needed while mixing.
Whisk together the flour, cornstarch, salt, and baking powder in a small bowl. With the mixer on low speed, mix the flour into the butter mixture. Scrape down the sides occasionally and mix just until the dough comes together and the flour is incorporated.
Press the dough into a disk and wrap with plastic. Refrigerate for 20 minutes.
Heat the oven to 325°F and line two baking sheets with parchment.
Dust the work surface with powdered sugar and lay the disk of dough on top. Sprinkle more powdered sugar on top and rub some into the rolling pin. Roll the dough out to about 1/4" thick. Cut the dough into circles or rectangles, as desired. Gather and re-roll the scraps until all the dough is used. (If the dough becomes too soft, refrigerate it for a few minutes before rolling it out again).
Transfer all the cookies to the baking sheets and place them about an inch apart. Brush the surface of the cookies with a thin layer of egg white and sprinkle with muscavado sugar. Place one candied orange in the middle of each cookie.
Bake one sheet of cookies at a time for 18-20 minutes, until the edges start turning golden. Remove from oven and allow the cookies to cool for 10 minutes on the cookie sheet before transferring them to a cooling rack. Repeat with the remaining sheets of cookies.
Store cookies between layers of wax paper in a sealed container. They will stay crisp for the first 24 hours, but begin to soften after a few days. (Softened shortbread is still a mighty delicious cookie, FYI!)
Makes 25-30 candied orange slices
3-4 mandarin oranges or clementines
1 cup granulated white sugar
3/4 cup water
Scrub the oranges thoroughly to remove as much of the wax coating as possible. Use a very sharp knife to slice them crossways into slices 1/8" thick.
Combine the sugar and water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Once the sugar has dissolved, turn the heat to medium and slip the orange slices into the liquid. Use a spoon to make sure all the slices are submerged.
Cover the pan and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring once or twice during. Take the pan off the heat, remove the lid, and let the oranges cool in the syrup for about ten minutes. Transfer the oranges to a wire cooling rack to finishing cooling and drying. They are ready to use immediately or can be kept refrigerated for several days.
(Images: Emma Christensen)