Friday, February 27, 2009

Give Me a Quarter; I'll Tell You Your Fortune

Fortune Cookies from K&B Bakery, Oregon

Every moment of the fortune cookie experience yields a pleasant sensation. Breaking it apart in half with a sharp snap; pulling the fortune out with a crackling swoosh; cracking bite-sized pieces off either side; the loud crunch of each subsequent bite; the sweet, light flavor hitting your tongue with just the slightest hint of vanilla and almond or honey. That twinge of vanilla stays in your mouth for a moment as you grind the thick, hard cookie pieces into the fine medium orange powder that's all over your shirtfront from the initial break. Not your typical cookie, the light, soft, and short-lived sweetness is the perfect complement to a meal of Americanized/Westernized/bastardized Chinese or Vietnamese food (which has apparently been on my mind a whole lot this week). However, its association is of course, with the former. But interestingly enough, its origins can be traced back to neither.

Rather, the earliest documented occurrence of a similar cookie shape was found in Kyoto, Japan, where random fortunes, or omikuji, were placed in the fold of sesame and miso-based cookies ... not in the hollow section as they are found now. The modern fortune cookie as we know it has a butter and vanilla base for the most common flavor, and its creation has been hotly disputed in California. San Francisco bakery Kenkyodo provided the cookies to Golden Gate Park's Japanese Tea Garden, but Los Angeles' Hong Kong Noodle Company, a company that provides many products for Chinese restaurants, holds a claim as well. Also in Los Angeles, the founder of Fugetsu-do in Little Tokyo says that he sold them to Chinese restaurants on the California coast after bringing the concept over from his own nation's traditions.

Regardless of who dreamed the concept up, these crunchy folded treats are now mass-produced by factories in areas of high Asian populations. Wonton Food Inc. in Long Island City of Queens, New York, made notorious by the March 30, 2005 Powerball winning numbers, is one of the big manufacturers, and is most commonly known as its subsidiary cookie producer, Golden Bowl. The Fortune Cookie Co. stays true to its roots in San Francisco, and there are a couple of other companies who are popular, with distinctive plastic wrappers of either a pig in a chef's hat or pink roses (these are better than the pig ones).

Golden Bowl fortune cookies (pictured right) are by far the best, with a more consistently satisfying crunch and a sweetness that lingers a tad longer than the other companies. Their branding is the most modern and the most recognizable from the other companies, since they are usually the manufacturer of choice for many Chinese restaurants (in my experience), and as an added bonus, they do not contain corn syrup. They also have the biggest variety of the wholesale cookie suppliers, being one of the first companies, if not the first, to offer specialty flavored fortune cookies, in citrus, chocolate, and a Neopolitan-style mixed cookie.

The citrus is really great, with a little burst of tangerine and orange and a tiny zest of lemon in every bite. An orange not too much brighter than the original vanilla, the best way to compare the shade is to imagine if a yellowy-orange original fortune cookie ate a few too many carrots and got a few shades brighter. It still has the same level of sweetness we've grown to love in fortune cookies, but with an added acidity, which is kind of refreshing.

The chocolate flavor honestly isn't something to get too excited about. It's more cocoa-y than sweet, and retains more of that earthy flavor cocoa can have if not enough sugar is added. Slightly bitter and a deep brown, verging almost on black in some batches, the only thing that remains true to what makes a fortune cookie a fortune cookie is that little slip of paper and cookie's size and texture. The taste is extremely far removed from what we've come to expect of a fortune cookie.

The "Fun Fun 3 Flavor" ones are exactly that -- one-third vanilla, one-third chocolate, and one-third citrus, presented in horizontal bands of flavor.

Many novelty companies like Fancy Fortune Cookies (whose specialty appears in the photo above) now offer a variety of flavors as well, such as lemon, banana, almond, mint, and strawberry; chocolate-dipped fortune cookies make popular wedding favors these days, too, with customizable fortunes. If you're feeling adventurous, click on the picture below make your own fortune, or get other snacky recipes from, whose blog has all kinds of cookie happiness going on.


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