One of the best – if not THE best pastry shop in San Francisco these days is B. Patisserie run by Belinda Leong and Michel Suas. I met Belinda several years ago in the kitchen at Manresa restaurant in Los Gatos. She was cheery yet focused. She handed me a chocolate treat filled with extra virgin olive oil. She’d just made it and the little candy was divine, sensuous and exploded with a riot of flavor.
I was with my friend Pim who had a question for Belinda about French canele, a tricky little pastry to bake. Belinda whipped out a small notebook and read off notes from her past work at places like Pierre Herme in Paris. I immediately liked her calm resolution and willingness to share.
We didn’t meet again until about a month ago at a restaurant opening and soon after, I visited Belinda’s stylish bakery. It was packed on a Saturday afternoon, with customers ranging from local chef Mourad Lahlou and his crew of Aziza to well-heeled San Franciscans to humbly dressed Chinese ladies. They were at B. Patisserie for Belinda’s pastries. I went with pastry chef Pichet Ong, who was in town from New York and despite being at the bakery the day before, wanted to revisit. That’s always a good sign.
I selected a number of fanciful, beautiful things (above is sample) to enjoy with tea and to take home to my husband who couldn’t join us. Belinda insisted that we eat a giant cookie too. Pichet and I were loaded with sweets but the chocolate cookie was one of the best things I’d eaten in a long time. Deep rich flavor, chewy texture, and a layer of chocolate that seemed to run throughout the cookie. Belinda’s versatility in the realm of pastries is amazing.
I was curious about her pastry sensibility and wanted to make something of hers but wasn’t up to hours of baking precision, and frankly, I don't have that level of skill. This recipe, from San Francisco’s Chef’s Table by Carolyn Jung, allowed me to do just that within an hour or so. It’s brilliant and delicious. It's like an elevated rendition of a Chinese almond cookie.
Because commercially made almond cookies taste more of lard or shortening than almonds, I’m always looking for recipes that do them justice. There’s a great almond cookie recipe in Into the Vietnamese Kitchen (page 290) and now, I’m adding Belinda’s almond cookie recipe to my repertoire.
It’s tender and slightly crunchy, buttery and almond-y, with just the right amount of salt. It’s appropriately not overly sweet. There’s no signature almond garnish on top or orange-y egg yolk wash to scream “I’m a Chinese almond cookie!” but the flavor and texture reflect the ideal Chinese almond cookie. It is elegant but not unapproachably dainty. The cracked exterior gets a slightly off-white finish from powdered sugar.
On a nightly basis, we eat one cookie each after dinner. Each time my husband and I look at each other and say something along the line of, “Damn, that’s a great cookie.”
Keep this in your back pocket. I baked a third of the dough and froze the rest for future almond cookie thrills. I made some a little gnarly and other neat. You can have fun with Belinda’s almond cookies – which is what we’ve christened these in our home.
I made this recipe with readily available ingredients – Odense almond paste, bleached all-purpose flour, Trader Joe’s butter, Whole Foods 365 organic sugar and sliced almonds, and got spectacular results. If you want to make your own almond paste, try pastry master Jack Torres’s almond paste recipe.
[Note: DOH! I goofed on the metric weights for some of the ingredients. Sorry for causing you grief. The changes have been made to the recipe. Just took a while… 12/2015]
Yield: 30 to 36 cookies
- 1 3/4 cups (8.75 oz / 250 g) all-purpose flour
- 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 4 ounces (120 g) almond paste
- 1/2 cup (3.5 oz / 100 g) sugar
- 2 sticks (8 oz / 225 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 4 ounces (120 g) sliced or chopped slivered almonds
- Powdered sugar
- Preheat the oven to 350F (180 C / gas mark 4) with a rack in the middle position. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment and set aside.
- Sift together the flour, baking powder, salt, and soda. Set aside.
- Use a stand mixer with the paddle attachment to make the dough. Cut the almond paste into thick slices or big chunks. Put them in the mixer with the sugar. On low speed, mix the ingredients together until the almond paste has broken up into big pea-like pieces.
- Pause to add the butter. On medium-low speed, beat the ingredients until fluffy, about 2 minutes.
- Add the sifted dry ingredients. Mix on low speed until just combined (you no longer see flour bits). Add the almonds and use the lowest speed (“Stir” on a Kitchen Aide) to mix into the dough.
- Put 2 to 3 tablespoons of powdered sugar in a small bowl or on your work surface. For slightly gnarly/textured cookies, pinch off balls of dough – each the size of a big cherry tomato (1.5 inch / 3.75 cm wide). Roll in powdered sugar, then place on the prepared sheet pan, spaced 2 inches (5 cm) apart. Flatten each ball slightly as you work. (If you want neater cookies, squeeze and roll the dough into a fat log and cut crosswise into pieces. Roll them into balls, coat in the sugar, etc. See the photo above.)
- Bake for 12 to 15 minutes until golden brown at the edges. Cool completely on a wire rack. Store in an airtight container for several days.
Adapted from San Francisco’s Chef’s Table by Carolyn Jung.
Got an almond cookie secret source or recipe to share? Don’t hold back.
- Pork Ribs, Scallion and Togarashi (also from SF Chef’s Table cookbook)
- San Francisco Chef’s Table Cookbook giveaway (enter before Monday, March 31, noon PDT)
- Chinese Peanut Cookie recipe (if you like these or don’t like almonds, try this peanut-version!)