I once opened a fortune cookie and found this message inside: “You will die.” I was six. But I knew that before the inevitable day arrived, I had a lot more cookies to eat. Still, I’ve always taken my fortunes seriously. The night my dad started research on a book, he had dinner with the people he would write about at a Chinese restaurant. My dad opened a fortune cookie that said, “A big project will be prosperous.” Then he ate the cookie. He told me you have to do that to make the prediction come true. When the book was published, it became a New York Times bestseller.
We don’t know who created the fortune cookie, but we do know it wasn’t the Chinese. Images dating back to 1878 show family bakeries in a temple outside Kyoto, Japan making cookies that resemble fortune cookies. Later, Makoto Hagiwara, a Japanese immigrant who built the Japanese Tea Garden right here in San Francisco, was credited with popularizing the cookie in California.
When I discovered that the only place in the U.S. that still makes fortune cookies by hand was in my backyard, I had to visit The Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory. To form the cookies, tiny spigots dispense batter onto cast iron molds, creating a pancake shape. Once the cookies are “baked,” two women fold the warm wafers around a paper fortune, then pinch them in the middle before they cool and become too brittle to bend. Each woman turns out 1,000 cookies an hour.
If you ask them who writes the fortunes, the women tell you—in broken English—a fortuneteller. I’d like to meet that guy. They even have “X-rated” fortune cookies, which could be fun for a bachelorette party.
Homemade fortune cookies let you be the fortuneteller for the night. If you’re up for a little experiment, try making them from scratch. They’re a bit finicky and much easier if you have a friend or sous chef to help. But if you just want to add some zazzle, buy your fortune cookies, then dip them in melted chocolate and pretty sprinkles (skip to step #12 below). I won’t tell.
Add this fun touch to your New Year’s party and get everyone’s 2017 off to a magical start!
Food La La Recipe: Fortune Cookies
This recipe was adapted from allrecipes
- 3 egg whites (at room temperature) (Why? #1)
- ¾ cup white sugar
- ½ cup butter, melted and cooled
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 cup all purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons water
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 6 oz chocolate chips (dark, milk, white are all fine)
- Assorted sprinkles and edible pearls and sparkles
- Paper cut into small, ½” x 1 ½” strips with fortunes written or printed on each
- Mug (to help you mold the right shape)
- Cupcake tin for small or mini cupcakes (this will help your cookies keep their shape while they cool)
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. In a large glass or metal bowl (WHY? #2), beat egg whites and sugar on high until frothy and soft peaks form (about 2 minutes).
3. With a spatula, fold in vanilla, water, salt, and flour (mixing well between each).
4. The consistency should resemble pancake batter. If it’s too thick, add more water (I added an additional 1/3 cup water).
5. Spoon one teaspoon of batter on parchment lined baking sheet, and with the back of a spoon, spread out into 3-inch circles. The batter has to be extremely thin otherwise it will break. To start, only do two cookies at a time. (WHY? #3)
6. Bake for 5-7 minutes, until the cookie is lightly browned around the edge and white in the middle (mine consistently took the full 7 minutes).
7. Working quickly, remove one cookie (leave the pan with the other cookie in the oven (WHY? #4)) and place a fortune in the center of the cookie, then gently fold in half. Once you have a half circle, bend the folded edge over the lip of a mug to achieve a fortune cookie shape.
8. Place the fortune cookie in a cupcake tin to hold its shape until it cools.
9. Repeat with the second cookie.
10. Repeat the entire process until all batter has been used
11. Once the cookies have all cooled, fill a small saucepan with two inches of water and bring to a simmer.
12. Put chocolate in a heatproof bowl and set atop the saucepan to gently melt. Once melted, dip cookies in, or drizzle chocolate over them with a fork (or your fingers work well for this too, just be sure chocolate isn’t too warm!).
13. Place cookies back on parchment paper, and add assorted sprinkles. Let dry completely.
Be patient—it takes a little practice to get right. But, even a cookie that looks a little less than parfait will be righted with an artful dunk or drizzle of chocolate.
Psst! Some recipe notes:
WHY? #1: Room temperature egg whites will beat into a meringue (a combination of egg whites and sugar) much easier than cold egg whites.
WHY? #2: Any little bits of fat or moisture left in a bowl will ruin your meringue, and moisture can cling to plastic bowls. Metal and glass bowls are preferable because they are cleaner and dryer.
WHY? #3: The cookies have to be folded quickly. If there are too many, they’ll cool and crack before you can fold.
WHY? #4: The cookies rapidly cool, and once they do, cannot be shaped. By leaving the second cookie in the oven, it remains warm until you’re ready to form.
P.S. Read this New York Times article for more fortune cookie history.