It’s that wonderful time of the year again. No, not Christmas, but Chinese New Year. In Christian/Western culture, Christmas is the most important celebration; in Chinese culture, it’s Chinese New Year. You can also call it Lunar New Year since it’s the new year based on the Lunar calendar, meaning the date changes every year, or you can call it Spring Festival. It’s a time where families get together and relatives travel from afar to gather at usually the house of the most elder person in the family. In my case, it’s my paternal grandparent’s house. It’s a time when you can buy all that junk food and eat it, get money without working (this only applies to the youngsters), eat all day, watch TV specials, and hang out with all your cousins. It’s a time when stores blast that New Year’s music, big sales happen, red colored décor starts appearing everywhere. If you’re lucky you get a five day vacation to eat and drink and play cards and give money to kids. The center of all of it however, is family.
And that’s what I’m missing out here in the States, my family members are not around but that’s okay; thanks to modern technology I get instantly updated with pictures and videos of the festive back home. Last year during New Year’s Eve, I had class in the evening. I don’t remember what class it was, but that was the first time in my life to be having class on what is considered in my culture the most important family day. Imagine having your night class on Christmas eve, it’s strange. But at the same time, I’m in an environment where no red couplets decorate the door ways, so by not celebrating, I actually look pretty normal.
I go on my day just like a non-holiday day, but when you meet someone else from Chinese Culture (or perhaps I should more broadly say here, many Eastern Asian cultures), both of you are immediately reminded that the day is not a non-holiday day, it’s one of the biggest holiday days! We then exchange new year greetings, but with a very slight sadness that we have to go on the day like it’s a non-holiday day. It’s a little bit like, no one else understands, but you understand kind of exchange.
And now to baking. You know how people do all these themed baking projects for Christmas, Valentine’s day, Easter and so on? Well, why not do that for Chinese New Year too? Cookies are not part of the standard formula for Chinese New Year, but then I don’t think are of any holiday. The versatility of cookies and decorating them really could be applied to every single occasion. There are many images that are related to Chinese New Year, but most were too complicated and troublesome for me to recreate with cookies. They require too many colors for example, and I did not have all those piping bags or meringue powder. That’s how it came to me, to make Chun Lian cookies! They only require two colors, I could manage that. After a lot of thinking, I decided a red velvet base and chocolate calligraphy would work very nicely. This chocolate on chocolate combo turned out to taste very, very good too.
I made them last year, and I made them again this year. I made some changes this time and decided to make them without red velvet cake mix, since readers in other countries probably don’t have access to it. I’m also thinking about not calling them Chinese Couplets cookies too, since Chinese Couplets are actually poems that come in pairs and follow very strict rules regarding rhyming and tone. I couldn’t find an English word for Chun Lian, that is, red paper with calligraphy reserved for New Years, so Chun Lian it will be!
Again I put on my red banner dress to match with the red cookies, and made a video too. Do check it out and make these cookies. People love them and they actually are yummy (sugar cookies with thick royal icing is okay to eat, but not like my red velvet cookies with dark chocolate on top!)
2 cups all-purpose flour
¾ cup butter
3 tablespoon cocoa powder
Red food coloring
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon baking powder
For my friends that use the metric system:
250 grams of all purpose flour (中筋麵粉)
200 gram sugar (白糖)
170 gram of butter (奶油)
20 grams of cocoa powder (可可粉)
Red food coloring (紅色色素)2.5 ml of vanilla extract (香草精)
2.3 grams of baking powder (泡打粉)
150 grams of chocolate for calligraphy (巧克力，寫書法用)
Makes about 36 2.5in*2.5 in (6*6 cm) cookies
1. Mix in wet ingredients (room temperature butter, egg, vanilla) with sugar and cocoa powder. Mix well till a creamy consistency. Add food coloring until it’s a nice red.
2. Add flour and baking powder to mixture, it is probably easiest to mix it by hand.
3. Divide red dough into two parts for easy working. Roll the dough into a flat sheet of desire thickness for cookie. Easiest way to do this is to have dough between two sheets of over paper.
4. Cut squares on the rolled sheet with a knife, then put the whole sheet into the refrigerator for about ten minutes so the sheet hardens.
5. Work on your other dough half and so the same
6. Take out your dough sheet, it should be somewhat harder now, meaning you can pick up the squares easily to put them on to a baking pan
7. Bake at 360*F for 10 minutes, adjust accordingly to the thickness of your cookies.
8. When cookies are all cool, decorate with chocolate. With double boiler melt chocolate. You can use a piping bag, but I like a paper cone for this project. Write your calligraphy!
In my video I teach you how to make a paper cone, set up a simple double boiler for chocolate, as well as the order of strokes to the two Chinese characters 春(spring) and 福 (Good fortune). But right now this one is my Chinese video, but language set aside, you can see the process of making these cookies and hear me speak in Chinese, how fun!