Q: Just wrapped up lunch and my fortune cookie read, "You are kind and friendly", which is kind of a idiotic fortune don't you think? It predicts nothing. But it did raise the question — what is the batter/dough for fortune cookies made from? They are very crisp, slightly sweet, and pliable when hot, so I assume lots of fat, flour and sugar, period.
—Richard C. Bumstead, Flossmoor
A: I don't think it was an idiotic fortune cookie fortune. True, it didn't predict anything but it must have brought a smile to your face, right? And, having dined with you in Chicago's Chinatown I know the fortune to be true: You ARE kind and friendly.
What are fortune cookies made of? I asked Jennifer 8. Lee, the New York City-based author of "The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food." Her emailed answer: American fortune cookies are made of "flour, vanilla, butter, sugar."
"American" is the key word here. As Lee wrote in a 2008 New York Times article, fortune cookies are unknown in China. While the origins and credit for invention have been debated, Lee's article points to Japan as the country of origin, that the cookies were introduced in California over a century ago and were soon offered at Chinese restaurants there, and after World War II, began to appear at Chinese restaurants across the country.
The fortune cookies most of us encounter at Chinese restaurants are commercially made and mass produced. Yet, your question got me wondering if there was a useful at-home recipe for do-it-yourself types. I asked on Facebook.
Nathalie Dupree immediately came to my rescue, offering this recipe from one of her cookbooks, "Nathalie Dupree Cooks for Family and Friends." Her recipe, which uses almond extract instead of vanilla, is below.
"Throw out any preconceived ideas of how these should look and concentrate on how they taste," Dupree wrote in her recipe headnote. "They are light, crisp, wonderful. I think it is so much fun to make up the messages that go inside. It's a sweet way to communicate! If the cookies harden before you have a chance to fold them and enclose the messages, return the cookies to the oven for a moment and they will resoften."
Dupree demonstrated this recipe on her 1991 television series, "Nathalie Dupree Cooks for Family and Friends." She's posted the segment, Episode 206, on YouTube if you want to see how she makes and shapes the cookies. We've embedded the video above.
Chinese fortune cookies
Makes: 5 dozen cookies
A recipe from the 1991 cookbook, "Nathalie Dupree Cooks for Family and Friends."
5 egg whites
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
5 dozen messages
Place the egg whites in a bowl. Add the sugar and salt and stir until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture is thick and shiny. Gradually beat the butter into the egg white mixture. Stir in the flour and add almond extract. Using a measuring spoon, drop by teaspoonfuls, well apart, onto a greased or non-stick baking sheet. Bake 1 sheet at a time in a 375-degree oven for 7 to 8 minutes, or until the edges are lightly browned. Working quickly, place a message in the center of each cookie, and fold in half while still warm. Place the still-warm folded cookies in cool muffin tins to shape. Cool completely before storing.
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