Sunday, January 26, 2014

Happy Chinese New Year! Chinese Couplet Cookies Recipe 春聯餅乾

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The biggest and most important festival of all in Chinese and Chinese influenced societies....Spring Festival, or Lunar New Year is on its way! This year the New Year's Eve is on Jan. 30. Even though I am far away from home, I will be celebrating this important holiday with fellow Taiwanese students with a big dinner. I also decided to celebrate and share this wonderful holiday by making some Chinese couplet inspired cookies! Chinese couplets, or chun-lian, or 春聯, are pieces or red paper with lucky words or phrases written on with calligraphy, or nowadays, printed. These are put on doors and hallways or basically just anywhere when Lunar New Year is close, they bring such a festive cheer to the holiday with the bright red color. These are basically sugar cookie shortbread hybrid dyed red, with chocolate piping. Yum.

I made mine with the help of Red Velvet Cake mix because I happen to have half a box on hand, but you can make these without the cake mix too. I decided to play with the cake mix since it is red, and I need red. I'll provide recipes for both. Basically what I did was use the cake mix to replace one cup of flour, vanilla, part of the sugar, and baking powder.

Recipe makes about 2-3 dozen squares, that's about 24-36 chun-lians.
Preheat oven to 375 F
Bake for about 10 minutes, or until the edges are just about to turn golden.

With Red Velvet Cake Mix

1 cup cake mix
1 cup flour
1/3 cup white sugar
1/2 cup butter
1 egg
red food coloring
about 1/2 chocolate chips for piping

Without cake mix

2 cups flour
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
a pinch of salt (about 1/4 teaspoon)
1/2 cup butter
1 egg
red food coloring
about 1/2 chocolate chips for piping

Mix room temperature butter (throw diced butter into the preheating oven to melt yours fast if you're lazy and impatient like me) with sugar, combine till creamy. Add in egg and vanilla (if needed).

Then the dry ingredients, your flour (or cake mix), baking powder, salt. Add in red food coloring until you are satisfied with the redness, remember the color will lighten up a bit after baking. Even with the red velvet cake mix, I still added in a bit of red coloring.

Now to shaping the squares. I find the easiest way for me is to roll out the dough between two sheets of oven paper so that it doesn't stick to the rolling pin. This tip made life so much easier for me.

I throw my rolled out sheet of dough into the freezer for about 5 minutes, this makes the dough harden a bit so that when you pick up your squares they won't tear. I take it out the freezer, cut a square grid with a kitchen knife, and move quickly lifting the semi-frozen pieces of dough onto the baking pan. Then to the oven they go!

Now that your perfect red squares have cooled, to the piping of the chocolate!

I used semi-sweet chocolate chips. Since I don't have a microwave, I took out a shallow pan, filled it water, and in another pan the chocolate. The chocolate pan sits in the other pan with water.  Heating the chocolate through the hot water will ensure they melt evenly and the chocolate doesn't burn. The warm water also works great in keeping the chocolate in a molten state as you work.

Today I decided to make a piping bad with oven paper, it gave me pretty good control of the piping. If you having bags and such, I'm sure they would work great too.

Here's a super quick video I found that teaches how to make a piping bag with parchment paper. It's 35 seconds long, shortest and most straight forward video I could find. It just making a cone from a triangle.

I decided to piper the characters 福 (which is lucky, or blessed) and 春 (Spring) as these two are the most common characters we see on the square couplets.

And now to complete the Chinese New Year experience I decided to go all out and dress up in my qi-pao (Chinese banner dresser some call it). The approach of Lunar New Year is a legit reason to dress up. I love how my retro hair turned out! So happy Chinese new year everybody!

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