At a classic Los Angeles Deli for lunch yesterday, I snagged my usual take-out guilty pleasure for later: a fresh-baked Chinese Cookie. This is a four or five inch diameter short-bread cookie with a dollop of chocolate frosting in the center. They appear to be a standard fare at every Deli I've visited.
The thing is, although it is unquestionably a cookie, there isn't anything obviously Chinese about it. So, why the name?
Update: Here's a link to a kosher supplier's product page for their version of this cookie.
It is something I've only found in Jewish Deli's. Yesterday it was Langers across from MacArthur Park, but I've also had them from Cantor's on Fairfax, Brent's up in the Valley, and Billy's in Glendale.
The ingredients label on the wrapper of yesterday's says eggs, cake flour, sugar, shortening, baking powder, baking soda, chocolate.
There is not reason for them being called Chinese Cookies. It is just a name. It is just a cookie. (a good one apparently)
This doesn't really answer your question; but I'm not sure you're going to get a better answer than "its origins are shrouded in historical mystery" as the following Jewish Life TV blog entry from 2009 asked a similar question but has, at least so far, not received any useful comments. It does suggest there's a link with the almond cookies found in Chinese bakeries, hence perhaps the name:
The history of the Chinese Drop cookie is not well documented. If I were to write its history, I would fancy it would involve a Chinese baker, a Chinese Almond cookie, a Jewish Baker, and a dollop of chocolate and of course ground walnuts. From the blending of cultures, the Chinese Drop Cookie is born as a somewhat crumbly and crispy treat. Unlike its cousin, the Chinese Drop Cookie features the chocolate dollop and ground walnuts instead of the almonds.
Post a Comment: Have a good Chinese Drop Cookie recipe? Know the history of the Chinese Drop Cookie? Tell us about your favorite bakery.
The recipe for Jewish Deli "Chinese Cookies" seems awfully similar to the recipe for Chinese almond biscuits, except that the lard is replaced with shortening (to keep it Kosher) and chocolate is added. A recipe for Chinese almond biscuits was printed as a "standard Chinese cookie" in The Thousand Recipe Chinese Cookbook as early as 1984, and this exact same recipe was reprinted in From Lokshen to Lo Mein: The Jewish Love Affair with Chinese Food. Given that love affair with Chinese food, I am guessing that at some point in time a cook at a deli decided to recreate the beloved Chinese recipe, either due to his or her own love of the baked good or by request.
I know a Jewish guy who owned and operated a Chinese restaurant in the 1970s (staffed with Cantonese cooks), so the intercultural culinary collaboration is a definite possibility. (Almond biscuits are very popular in Hong Kong, which is the epicenter of Cantonese cuisine.) A Glatt Kosher Israeli-style restaurant close to where I used to work recently converted to a Glatt Kosher Chinese-style restaurant (under the same management, and likely with the same cooks)!
Edit (more speculation): If the "Chinese cookie" is in fact a descendant of the almond biscuit, it may have been originally motivated by its almond content: It wouldn't be hard to replace the small amount of wheat flour in the recipe with something like almond flour, thus making the cookies Kosher for Passover.
Edit (even more speculation): About 95% of the ethnic Chinese are lactose intolerant. Therefore, almost all Chinese confections are dairy-free. If you think about it, there aren't many Western cookie recipes that don't call for some form of dairy. The laws of kashrut prohibit eating meat alongside dairy in a single meal. In other words, if someone who keeps kosher were to eat a meal with meat, he or she would then have to follow it with a non-dairy desert. Therefore, Jewish delis may have adapted a Chinese cookie recipe to provide non-dairy desert options for their kosher clientele.
to low-starch potatoes that don't fall apart when cooked. Sometimes called roasting potatoes (US). New potatoes behave like waxy potatoes, even if they come from a variety used for baking. Mealy..., likely to have allspice and possibly other similar spices. Either one may have ginger and cloves as well. Mixed spice may contain coriander (seed) or caraway. Baked Goods: Cookies (US, CA... fresh from a roast). Brawn (UK) is head cheese (US, CA) (Farmhouse Cookery) Names of cuts of meat in the US may differ from other countries. See Wikipedia for images of US and British names of regions
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