Food & Drink D.I.Y. fortune cookies

A thrilling time is in your immediate future

It was a New Yorker profile of Donald Lau that first inspired me to make fortune cookies. The vice president of Wonton Food, Inc., Lau is in charge of not only the hard math of accounts payable and receivable, but also the poesy of fate, writing fortunes for a company that makes 4 million fortune cookies a day.

Lau said he took inspiration from everyday life — borrowing wisdom from street signs: “beware of odors from unfamiliar sources” — and never stressed himself with deadlines, but let the fortunes trickle out, sometimes just a few a day.

Yet, in the article Lau revealed that after 11 years at the job his well of fortunes had run dry and he found himself publishing Chinese proverbs. He was thinking of hiring a fortune-cookie writer; I can only imagine the article generated millions of resumes. I know I want that job.

The fortune cookie lends itself particularly well to Valentine’s Day; there’s something thrilling about sealing a tiny love note in a cookie. Imagine “Sonnets from the Portuguese” condensed to seven or eight words — I love thee to the depth and breadth and height of a 2 1/2-by-1/2 inch strip of paper. Three inches if you’re feeling longwinded.

Ah, but we can’t all be poets and, like Lau, there’s no harm in borrowing. Never mind the street signs; they can be edifying on the subject of love — many heartaches could be avoided if lovers would only “observe warning signs” — but limited in tone.

If your love is a giddy hayride, try Elvis: “You’re the only star in my blue heaven.” Persistently drawn to the wrong person? Ed Hirsch may suit you: “I am the telephone, you are the wrong number.” Or perhaps e.e. cummings, “kisses are a better fate than wisdom.”

For the impossible to love, Wistawa Szymborska writes, “sell me your soul, there are no other takers,” and for the soul mate, “listen, how your heart pounds inside me.”

But, for knee-knocking passion, the obvious choice is Pablo Neruda, sweet, “White bee, even when you are gone you buzz in my soul,” or lusty, “I want to do to you what spring does with the cherry trees.”

If that’s too flowery, go back to Ed Hirsch: “Shit! Sweetheart, from now on let’s multiply like vermin.”

Whatever you choose, writing tiny will be the least of your challenges. This recipe for fortune cookies is simple yet fussy. You’ll need to work quickly and you may burn your fingers. But then, that’s love.

1 medium egg white
1/4 c all-purpose flour
1/4 c sugar
1/4 t vanilla extract
Stick of butter
Pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees and grease a baking sheet with cold butter (keep the butter in the refrigerator between cookies).

In a bowl, whisk egg white until frothy (tiny eggs make cracked cookies, but jumbo eggs make chewy cookies, so stay in the medium range). Add the flour, sugar, vanilla, and salt and beat until smooth. Put 2 teaspoons batter on the baking sheet. With the back of a spoon, spread the batter into a circle about 3-3 1/2 inches in diameter. Note: Always swirl the batter in the same direction and do not lift the spoon until your circle is the right size. If you clean the spoon and keep it in the freezer between cookies the batter spreads more easily.

Bake cookie in the middle of the oven until golden around edge, about 4 minutes. Once the cookie is ready, you have about a minute to fold it. With a spatula remove the cookie from the baking sheet and set sheet-side up onto a clean work surface. Put the fortune in the middle of the cookie and fold the cookie in half. Pull the pointed edges of the cookie toward each other, until they almost touch. Hook the cookie over the rim of a glass or bowl to cool completely.

Proceed in the same manner, one cookie at a time, until you are done. You must let the baking sheet cool between cookies, otherwise the batter slips around and is hard to form into a round. I suggest using more than one baking sheet if you’ve got them — I use three — and writing your fortunes ahead of time. Store cookies in a sealed container for up to four days. Makes 6 cookies.

By Susan Pagani


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