I don’t usually have a huge sweet tooth, but during the holidays I can’t resist homemade cookies. It all started in the early 1990s, when I was sharing a small apartment in Los Angeles with my boyfriend and would go on annual cookie baking binges. I worked an administrative job that had me sitting in traffic five days a week, but creaming butter and sugar, forming dough into little morsels, and tasting a few perfectly baked cookies were the perfect antidote to my tiresome routine, and a nice way to get into the spirit.
It quickly became a thing. On a nightly basis for several days straight, I just baked cookies—eight to ten different varieties according to a schedule devised to match their optimal shelf life. I would store them all over the apartment as they were finished, until it was finally time to pack them up in tissue-lined tins. Then we would proudly present them to family, friends, and colleagues.
And our cookie recipients were delighted, returning empty tins for future holiday seasons. But my approach changed when I met Diane, a self-described year-round cookie lover who told me this: A cookie is at its best soon after it’s baked—after that, it starts going downhill.
I didn’t think my cookies were stale or anything less than delicious, but her comment made me rethink how I could be making—and giving—the best cookies possible. The answer was simple: freezing cookie dough.
So I started making cookie dough and freezing it in small packages labeled with shorthand baking instructions. That way, I could bake off a batch for dinner guests, or take the dough with me to someone’s home and bake them with others (group participation means less work for me and perfect cookies for everyone!). Nowadays, there’s often a few kinds of cookie dough in my freezer.
And if you rummage through my freezer during the holidays, chances are you’ll see Chinese-style almond cookie dough. I developed the recipe for my first cookbook, Into the Vietnamese Kitchen (2006), and my family loves it. Viet food takes a lot of cues from Chinese cuisine, and the almond cookie (bánh hạnh nhân in Vietnamese) is a good example of that.
To create an excellent cookie that everyone enjoys (including my mom, who adores almond anything), I use butter instead of lard and punch things up with a lot of almond goodness (that means ground almonds, almond extract, and whole almonds as garnish).
Weeks before the holidays—Christmas and Lunar New Year for me—I make a double or triple batch of dough and wrap up frozen kits of it with blanched whole almonds. Then I drive them to my parents’ house seven hours away, and a few hours before dinner, I assign my nieces and nephew to shaping balls of dough and baking. That way, we can all enjoy the almond cookies at their peak (not a day later), and celebrate our family’s blessings.
Reprinted with permission from Into the Vietnamese Kitchen by Andrea Nguyen copyright ©2006. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House. —Andrea Nguyen
Featured in: Food52's Holiday Cookie Chronicles —The Editors