It's almost time for Chinese New Year, woohoo! Actually, it's kind of disappointing because I'll be at work on the day itself as it isn't a holiday here--hm, just once I'd like to experience CNY in Taiwan or Hong Kong, because I bet it's totally insane. Anyway, we had our CNY "eve" dinner early this weekend since we won't be able to do it midweek, but that'll be fodder for another post! In this one, we're gonna talk about baking for CNY! As you can see from the top photo, this year we're having bunny cookies and pineapple tarts. Why bunny shaped? Well, because it's the year of the Rabbit! Fitting, right? (I better not make this a tradition though, or else I'm going to have a real challenge when the year of the dragon rolls around...)
What do you think, threatening or cute? I mean, all those eyes, staring at you without blinking...
Actually, baking cookies for CNY is not a tradition in my family (although of course, we do have traditional foods). I started making pineapple tarts a couple of years ago after seeing them on other people's food blogs and reading an article about them in the newspaper. This year, my friend Kaimono from Gastronomy Hut was super awesome and sent me some cookie molds for making pineapple tarts, so of course I made those (and they will be featured in another post). But I also was inspired by some bunny shaped wagashi that I saw a few months ago and thought that they could be reproduced in cookie form.
Shaping these is actually really easy--you just roll tablespoons of dough into oval-ish shapes that are fatter at one end. It's the ears that take a long time, and as you can see, mine are all different. That's cool, they're all individuals! Also, I do not recommend actually poking eyeholes in your bunny like I did on one--just pipe or dab the eyes on after baking.
Here are the cookies after baking, but before they got faces. I didn't realize how little dough the ears would take, so I had some extra pink which got turned into smaller bunnies. They're special!
And now they're all busy munching on pineapple tarts. Mm, pineapple tarts.
Well hello, Mr. Bunny--you're almost too cute to eat. Almost. Now the question is--head or butt first?!
3 cups all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
red or pink food dye
small handful chocolate chips (or chopped chocolate)
Sift flour and salt together into a medium bowl and set aside. Beat butter and sugar together until fluffy. Beat in egg and vanilla until mixture is smooth. With your mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture in and mix just until the flour is incorporated. It's okay if the dough isn't totally cohesive at this point; turn the dough out and knead briefly until smooth. Pinch off a ball of dough about the size of a walnut--this is the dough you'll use to make ears. If you also want to make some pink bunnies, then break off a bigger piece of dough--it's totally up to you. Use a toothpick and add a drop of dye to your small piece of dough and knead in until the color is even (you should probably not do this on a white counter). For my amount of dough, a drop was enough to get the shade of pink I wanted, but you can adjust. Heck, you can give your bunny blue ears if you want, I won't stop you (but I will look at you funny!). This dough is quite firm, so you can start shaping it right away, but if you find it's too sticky or soft to work with, stash it in the fridge for an hour or so.
Break off roughly tablespoon-sized pieces of dough and roll into a smooth, pear-ish oval-ish shape. (See photos above for reference.) When you have all of the dough shaped, take your pink (or blue!) dough, pinch off tiny amounts (seriously, REALLY tiny amounts) and roll into a "rope" shape. The easiest way I found to do this was just to roll the dough against my palm with a finger. Position one on top of your bunny and press down gently. Repeat for the other ear. It may take you a few tries to get ears that you're happy with, but hey, I think all the lopsided ears add character.
Place cookies on a parchment lined baking sheet and refrigerate while preheating your oven to 350 F. Bake for 15-18 minutes, or until the bottoms are lightly browned and the cookies feel set. The tops won't brown much, if at all. Let cool completely before piping faces. You can make noses, whiskers, etc. but I kind of like the minimalist dots for eyes, which I just made by melting some chocolate and using a toothpick to dot them on. Set aside until the chocolate is set.
Makes approximately 40 bunnies to bring you luck in the new year!