Peanut Chrysanthemum Cookies
I remember those cookies fondly as a child. I was never a big fan of peanut butter, but I did like these dainty cookies whenever we had them on special occasions. The pastry was very refined and the filling was slightly sweet and peanut flavored. There was the characteristic red dot in the middle making it resemble a pretty flower. They were called star cakes in Guyana or peanut cakes. It was fun to break of each petal and nibble at the cookie in sections.
The pastry used in making this cookie is a two part pastry and not the traditional pâte sable or pastry for tarts. It is very refined and results in a pastry which is both flaky and crumbly, but yet holds its integrity at the same time. This Chinese style pastry, was one which I first learned of in my grandmother’s kitchen. Apparently my maternal Chinese grandfather was quite an experienced cook. He had a noodle and pastry business in his younger years, long before I had the pleasure of knowing him. Sadly I never knew him as the able bodied experienced chef that he was in his younger years. Fortunately, my grandmother learned from him how to make this beautiful flaky pastry. She in turn would continue to make the most excellent Chinese bean cakes. These little pastries are also called Dou sha buns or cakes and my grandmother made them on order with expertise.
The pastry for these cakes is the same one used to make the peanut chrysanthemums. In Guyana they were known as star cakes. As the name dictates, the cakes or cookies were usually cut into 6 points. This is much easier to make than the more challenging 16 petals of the chrysanthemum flower. My mother always added some crushed crackers to give an added texture to the peanut butter and I think this is a great addition. It also makes the filling easier to manipulate. I have added some spices which are not traditionally used, but I think that it definitely adds another depth of flavor to the peanut butter.
I refer to the two part pastry as the rich and poor dough, which is the way we called them. Essentially the rich dough has a higher ratio of fat compared to the poor dough which has a much lower quantity of fat to flour. When combined and folded and rolled, the pastry makes flaky layers. This recipe requires a bit of work and is not a recipe for a novice cook. This does not by any means mean that you should not try this recipe if you’re longing to taste a peanut Chrysanthemum; it’s always a good thing to challenge oneself every now and then. You could opt to make fewer petals as well, really I grew up knowing them with 6-8 petals as a general rule. More petals are more intricate and prettier; but just do as you feel most comfortable.
I realize that so many of the pastries and foods I enjoyed in my generation were made by grandmothers and mothers with great love. In our busy lifestyles today, so many people do not have the time to prepare these childhood delicacies. This type of baking is becoming a lost art in some ways and as such, the taste will only linger in our minds when we think back to our childhood. By writing these recipes down and sharing them with you, it’s sort of reviving and revisiting the past.
Thank you to my gran and mom, as well as all of the Guyanese aunties who once lovingly and painstakingly prepared these tasty things for us to enjoy.
Peanut Chrysanthemum Cookies or Star cakes
1 cup smooth peanut butter
½ cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla essence
8 soda crackers, crushed into fine crumbs
Chinese Flaky 2 Part Pastry
2 cups all purpose flour
¾ tsp salt
½ cup vegetable shortening + 1tbsp
1 tbsp sugar
Rich pastry (1)
⅔ cup flour
¼ tsp salt
1/3 c vegetable shortening
In a bowl, combine the 3 ingredients together. Mix well and squeeze together into a ball. Wrap in plastic wrap and set aside.
Poor pastry (2)
1 ⅓ cup all purpose flour
1 tbsp sugar
½ tsp salt
3 tbsp ice cold water
¼ cup vegetable shortening
In a bowl add the flour, shortening, salt & sugar. Crumble together into a fine consistency. Add iced cold water 1 tablespoon at a time to the flour mixture. Mix together to form a dough. It should take about 3- 4 tbsp.
Roll this ball into a 16” long roll.
Cut 16 equal pieces of the dough and roll into balls.
Roll rich pastry dough into a 16” long roll. Cut 16 equal pieces and roll these in to small balls.
Roll the poor pastry into 2” rounds and place a ball of the rich pastry in the center. Fold the pastry to enclose the doughs and pat into a disc.
On a floured surface, roll each of the 16 pastry rounds into a 4” round.
Scoop a small scoop measure into the center of each round and flatten the filling slightly, leaving about ½” perimeter of pastry. Fold over the pastry ends to enclose the filling ensuring that the center is enclosed.
Shape the pastry into a round approximately 2-1/2″- 3” in diameter.
With a small sharp knife, make 4 slices in quarters leaving the middle intact.
Slice each quarter into halves and each one again in halves until you get 16 sections.
Gently turn each petal over exposing the peanut filling and gently patting down each one to form a flower.
Place each flower onto a prepared cookie sheet with parchment paper.
Beat an egg and brush each flower pastry.
In a small dish, squeeze a drop of red food coloring. With a chopstick or skewer, dip the tip into the color and dab in to the center of each cookie.
Sprinkle the cookies with a bit of sugar.
Bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes or until golden.
Makes 16 cookies