Xizhou Food Guide / Rose Cookies

Welcome to another post from my Xizhou Food Guide series, where I highlight different specialty foods from Xizhou, Dali, Yunnan.

A very popular dessert or snack here are rose cookies. Unlike the gooey, buttery, sweet cookies that we have in the US, Chinese rose cookies are made of a rather bland, flakey pastry with a rose jam filling. To be honest, they are not my favorite, but almost all shops throughout Yunnan sell them. They make for a great gift because they make for a beautiful presentation and they keep for a while (even without preservatives, they keep for about a month!)

I am including rose cookies in my Xizhou Food Guide not only because no guide is complete without them, but also because I recently had the chance to visit a local rose cookie factory, Adaxia. It was interesting to see that even though they are produced in a factory with sterile, large-scale equipment and hair nets galore, the rose cookies were still handmade. Adaxia also produces its own brown sugar and rose jam, all of which are used in their cookies.

Bottled rose jam

Making rose cookies with matcha pastry

Rose cookies usually come in three pastry flavors; original, matcha, and lavender. The flavors are very subtle, but the colors are striking.

I have also watched my favorite Muslim bakery make rose cookies, and (no surprise) their process is almost identical. I love the contrast between the two photos below; the flour-dusted Lao Tou hunched over his messy work desk, and the anonymous young lady dressed in a white sterile uniform at the factory.

While I won’t be bringing any rose cookies home for friends and family, the rose jam itself is delicious on its own and would make a great gift. I have been dreaming up all sorts of recipes that highlight it, all of which use a lot more butter and sugar! Rose scones? Rose coffee cake? Rose jam has a wonderful unexpected flavor that pairs well with so many baked goods.

Recipe / Savory Ham and Scallion Scones

I used to think of scones as dry, hard biscuits, served at stuffy tea parties. Why would you ever make/eat/think about scones when you could have muffins? Or real biscuits?

This scone recipe is close to magical. Trust me, you need to give scones a chance. Rich, buttery, and flakey, these will immediately reverse any dusty ideas you have about scones.

While the base scone recipe is great plain, it is very versatile. I usually make my scones sweet, but for this recipe I decided to change things up and go savory. Yunnan is famous for its delicious and unique cured ham, so I added ham and scallions for a local twist.

The secret to really great scones is to use the coldest (read: frozen) butter possible. The goal is to have chunks of butter scattered throughout your dough so it melts in the oven, not your mixing bowl, leaving pockets of air throughout your scone.

Scones will taste best immediately out of the oven, when they are wonderfully tender with a crisp exterior. If you absolutely must keep them for the next day, wrap in silicon, keep them in the fridge, and warm in a toaster (not a microwave).

Ingredients
1/3 c granulated sugar
2 c all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 c ham, diced
1 scallion, chopped
8 tbsp butter, frozen
1 egg
1/2 c heavy cream + 1 tbsp for brushing

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. In a medium bowl, combine sugar, flour, baking powder, baking soda, diced ham, and scallions.
  3. Grate frozen butter or cut into pea-sized pieces. Add to flour mixture and mix until it resembles coarse meal.
  4. In a small bowl, combine egg and cream and mix well. Pour into flour mixture. Mix well, scraping down the sides of the bowl. Scrape dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Using hands, shape dough into a ball, making sure to fold in all the loose clumps.
  5. Shape into a 7 inch circle, approximately 3/4 inch thick, and cut into 8 equal pieces. With space between each triangle, place on a parchment covered baking sheet.
  6. Brush each scone with a little bit of heavy cream. Bake for approximately 15 minutes, or until golden.

24 Hours in Kunming

My Chinese visa is only good for 60 days, which meant that by early July I had to leave the country to renew it. Even though I am close to the Chinese border, Xizhou is so rural that it requires an extra trip to Kunming (6 hour train ride, or 1 hour airport ride) to fly internationally. The rainy season constantly disrupts airports, so my boss recommended that I fly to Kunming, spend the night, then fly to Thailand the next day.

At first I thought that was overkill, but the second I got in line for security in Dali, I heard over the loudspeaker that my flight was delayed because of “schedule congestion.” Impressive, considering there are maybe 10 airplanes that go to and from the Dali airport every day.

I had only heard negative things about Kunming before I left, and the guidebooks didn’t make me very hopeful either. Everyone said it was a boring, big city with little culture or history left, and the only highly recommended activities (a stone garden, colorful terraces) were far away.

I ended up falling in love with Kunming almost immediately. The city reminds me of a mix between Taiwan and Japan.. Thick trees provide a canopy over the narrow streets, and made the city feel pleasantly green and approachable. It seemed that every block had a small bubble tea shop with an English name displayed in cutesy block letters. I also saw many joggers – something I rarely see in China, which also made it feel more western. Kunming strikes me as a place that would be wonderful to live in, but not visit as a tourist.

I skipped the many hip dinner cafes I saw to go to an open erkuai restaurant that looked particularly busy with locals.

Afterwards, I tried “cheese” tea, mostly just because what on earth is cheese tea. It turned out to be regular tea with a heaping spoonful of a thick, yogurt/cheesecake-inspired drink on top, which you then mix all together to get a drink that resembles a thick milk tea. I was pleasantly surprised!

Before heading off the airport again, I stopped at one of the many xiaolongbao places scattered throughout the city for breakfast. Xiaolongbao are bite-sized pork baozi that originated in Shanghai, but have been increasingly popular throughout the rest of China.

Other travel recommendations:
– The airport is about 1 hour away from the city. If you don’t want to take a taxi, you can take the airport shuttle bus (25 RMB) or the local public bus 919 (13 RMB, takes about 10 minutes longer).
– I stayed at Cloudland International Youth Hostel, which was just perfect: centrally located, cheap, and very clean.
– The best restaurant/shop street is Wenlin street, just north of Cuihu Park. Each shop has such a distinct style!