BETTY SHIMABUKURO / BETTY@STARBULLETIN.COM
A traditional Chinese tea cookie is bigger, flatter and browner than the version created by chef Chih-Chieh Chang at Hong Kong Harbor View.
Chinese tea cookie proves an elusive baking mystery
YOU'D THINK this would be easy, but you'd be wrong. Many Chinese shops sell a big, soft, dark brown cookie -- called simply a tea cookie. Many readers have written in search of the recipe. Many years have I tried to track one down.
It's a cookie, it's common, but so far, no luck.
No one I've asked will share their recipe, and when I ask Chinese chefs for help, they don't seem to know what I'm talking about.
Not to gets anyone's hopes up -- I still don't have the recipe -- but I do consider today's attempt the first salvo in a quest to nail one down.
I managed to enlist Li May Tang, president of Hong Kong Harbor View, Shanghai Tang and Royal Yakiniku restaurants, in this pursuit. She'd never heard of the cookie, so she headed for Chinatown. There she found cookies, but no recipe, although she tried to talk one out of a baker -- and she speaks the language.
So she had her chef, Chih-Chieh Chang, give it a try, in honor of Hong Kong Harbor View's 11th anniversary celebration last month. It was a challenge, she said. And she was determined.
Chang went through 30 cookie incarnations and came up with one that's now served at the restaurant.
It's not the same, but he and Tang like it better than the standard, which they believe contains lard. Theirs is pale in color and more cake-like -- suited, really, to taking with tea. They also like their cookies smaller.
The flavor is unique and light, and the recipe is simple. After trying all kinds of flour combinations, Chang settled on pancake mix with a little corn meal mixed in. There's no butter or other added fat.
He says the flavor can be varied by using 2 ounces of butter, using less sugar or substituting brown sugar. He even made one batch with some crushed mango-flavored tea leaves that was delicious.
A few notes: This dough is very sticky and can be difficult to work with. Sprinkle your work surface, your hands and the dough with flour or more pancake batter. Chang handles the dough lightly and tosses it from hand to hand, and against the counter to make it more manageable.
Also, he says any type of pancake mix will work, but he uses the Pocahontas brand, a specially ordered product.
And finally, the recipe calls for yeast, but you don't activate in warm water as you would to make bread. Chang simply adds it to the other dry ingredients.
Hong Kong Chinese Tea Cookies
2 ounces (5 tablespoons) corn meal
14 ounces (3 cups) buttermilk pancake mix
1/2 tablespoon rapid-rise yeast powder
3 ounces (1/2 cup) sugar
6 ounces (3/4 cup) ice water
Preheat oven to 200 degrees (this is correct; it's low heat). Line cookie sheet with baking parchment.
Combine dry ingredients in a bowl. Add water and mix by hand until well-combined. Turn onto floured surface and knead lightly. Let sit 2 to 3 minutes.
Roll dough into 2 logs, about 2 inches thick. Pinch off pieces and roll into 2-inch balls. Place on cookie sheet and flatten each cookie. Bake 10 minutes, or until beginning to brown.
Nutritional information unavailable.
NOW, I know someone out there has a true recipe for this cookie. Send it here; there's a free cookbook in it for you.
Send queries along with name and phone number to: "By Request," Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 500 Ala Moana, No. 7-210, Honolulu 96813. Or send e-mail to email@example.com