While we were vacationing in China I kept seeing these rolled egg cookies for sale in the stores that were selling souvenir type foods, especially while in Shanghai. Amongst the bags of sugared fruits and peking duck were red boxes with a photo of these cookies on the front. Compared to the other stores where we could grab a snack, the souvenir food was expensive so we gave the cookies a pass.
I had pretty much forgot about them until we were visiting a wet seafood market in a fishing village on the edge of Hong Kong. I had expected the market to smell like fish, but because the fish were kept alive in tanks there was almost no seafood scent. Instead, the entire market smelled like... cookies. The way ice cream parlours smell when they make their own cones : butter and vanilla sizzling on a hot iron.
(Rolled egg cookies are on the top row)
The source of the scent was coming from the stalls making and selling these sweet snacks. They had a round iron press and were pressing and rolling the egg cookies while we were there. We bought a box and they were all sorts of crispy, flaky, shatter-when-you-bite-them deliciousness. The box didn't last us the whole visit to the market.
When I got home I wanted to try making them myself. Finding a recipe took longer than I had expected. Most of the available ones were in Mandarin and the online translations were often confusing.
What was clear was that the batter is generally made out of flour, sugar, eggs, butter, and a touch of vanilla. The flavor of the cookies relies on the eggs and butter so I picked up some free range eggs (I'm convinced that those dark yellow yolks taste better) and used some of my favorite Stirling butter.
The butter and sugar are creamed together, then the eggs are beaten in one by one until fluffy. Flour is stirred in gently and the batter is allowed to rest for 15 minutes.
Most of the videos (like this one) showed people using a round iron press to flatten and cook the batter in a thin layer. But even if I could track down a press like that, I couldn't really justify buying one just to make cookies with. I found a website where a girl demonstrated using the bottom of a pot to squish the batter flat, while another site simply used a frying pan and made the batter liquidy enough to swirl into a thin layer.
I hemmed and hawed over which method to use to cook the batter, added a cookie press iron to my Christmas list (you don't have to justify Christmas presents!), then continued debating over what the best substitute was. A frying pan gets nice and hot, but the pan's edges mean that you have to remove the cookie in order to roll it which often causes the cookie to stiffen up too quickly. Then I remembered my parent's panini press has a griddle insert which I thought would work perfectly.
It took a bit of practice to be able to spread the batter thinly enough with a spatula. Too thick and the cookies stay soft after being rolled, almost like a crepe.
Once the batter was spread thin, thin, thin, it cooked for 45 seconds on one side, then was flipped and cooked for another 45 - 1 min on the other side. Next, starting from the edge I rolled it up on the handle of a wooden spoon...
..and pressed down on the edge to seal the roll shut. Some people wear cotton gloves during this part because the cookies are quite hot. I didn't have any handy so I just relied on my desire to eat the cookies being stronger than the discomfort of rolling the cookies. Turns out I really wanted these cookies because ohmygod they were hot.
Once rolled, they cooled on the handle while the batter was being spread for the next cookie. There were many cookies that were too thick, a few that were too thin, but eventually I got the hang of getting them nice and crispy.
After a bit of success with cooking them on the griddle, I wanted to try using a frying pan to see if it really was that difficult to roll them on the counter. The short answer is: yes, they were prone to cracking. But I found that they cooked within a more consistent time (the griddle seemed to heat up and cool down against my will), and it produced fewer soft cookies than the griddle did. The next time I make them, it will be in the frying pan and with cotton gloves on.
Almost every recipe warned that leaving the cookies for too long unwrapped would cause them to go soft. Luckily, we ate them so quickly that I never had to worry about storing them for any length of time.
So, despite some tender fingertips I would say that the weekend of cookie experiments was well spent.
Crispy Rolled Cookies
1/2 cup unsalted Stirling butter at room temp
1 cup icing sugar (also called powdered sugar)
splash of vanilla extract
2/3 cup + 1 TBSP flour
pinch of salt
1. Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one by one and continue to beat until the eggs start to foam up a bit.
2. Stir in the vanilla, flour, and pinch of salt until a batter forms. Allow the batter to sit for 15 minutes.
3. While the batter is resting, preheat your griddle to 275 or your frying pan to low heat.
4. Grease the surface with a thin layer of oil, then add a tablespoon of batter and quickly use a spatula to spread it thinly as possible. If it starts to set before you can get it thin, gently scrape the uncooked batter from on top of it with the spatula to thin it out.
5. Cook for 45 seconds, then flip and cook anywhere from 45 seconds to 1min 30seconds depending on your pan's heat. You want the batter to dry out and cook completely, but you don't want it to turn brown.
6. Once it's ready, use the handle of a wooden spoon to roll the cookie up. Press down on the seam of the cookie to help seal it. Allow the cookie to cool on the handle while you spread the next tablespoon of batter. Then move it to a wire rack to cool completely.
Tips: If you spread your cookies too thick, trying cooking them longer on a lower heat to help dry them out and make them crispy. You can eat any non-crispy ones like crepes.. especially good with a bit of syrup and whipped cream.