Though one rarely thinks of butter in a Chinese context, shortbreads, pastries, and sugar cookies made with or fried in butter were an “exotic” luxury item on Chinese tables as early as the ninth century, when the cosmopolitan Chinese of the Tang dynasty were also toasting one another with grape wines and cooling off with sorbets made from mare’s milk and fruit juices.
Add the orange rind, nuts, and sugar to the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel knife. Process until the nuts are very finely ground. Add the flour and salt, and process 2–3 seconds to mix. Distribute the cubed butter evenly around the blade, sprinkle the orange-flower water on top, and process until the dough forms a near-ball. Do not overprocess.
Press the dough together with your hands, seal airtight with plastic wrap, then refrigerate 12–24 hours before baking for best flavor. Part or all of the dough may be frozen, sealed airtight and then bagged in plastic. Defrost in the refrigerator before using and shape when cold.
Using 1½ teaspoons of dough, roll a ball the size of a large marble between your palms, and put it on the paper. Do not flatten or press it; these are domed cookies. Repeat until you fill the entire sheet, leaving an inch between the cookies.
Bake one sheet at a time for 15–20 minutes, rotating the sheet after 8 minutes to insure even baking. When perfectly done, the cookies will be pale blonde (not brown), and the dough will look a bit dry. Remove to a rack to cool completely.
Once cool, the cookies may be stored at room temperature in an airtight tin. Do not refrigerate. They will keep 2 weeks or longer and grow a bit softer in the tin.
© 1982 Barbara Tropp estate. All rights reserved.