Growing up in Philadelphia and being Jewish meant eating Chinese food every Sunday night. We would eat the same boring things every week: wonton soup, egg rolls, spareribs (yup, love the pork), and fried rice. Dessert was always the best part: vanilla ice cream with many, many cellophane bags filled with fortune cookies. I couldn’t resist ripping open that bag, breaking the fortune cookie in half, and getting to the fortune inside. The fact that paper was baked inside a cookie that was folded and at the same time crunchy was amazing to me. I’ve spent many hours trying to re-create that machine-produced cookie. I think I ended up with something that tastes so much better and is also really easy to make.
1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (325 degrees F if using a convection oven). Line several baking sheets with nonstick liners (parchment paper won’t work for these cookies).
2. Sift together the flour, sugar, salt and ground peppercorns.
3. In a medium mixing bowl, combine the egg whites, vanilla, and sesame oil and whisk for about 1 minute, until well blended and a little foamy. Add the flour mixture and whisk until smooth and well blended.
4. Spoon 2 teaspoons of the batter into mounds about 5 inches apart on the prepared baking sheets. I can fit 3 comfortably on my baking sheets. Using an offset metal spatula or the back of a wooden spoon, spread the batter evenly into 4 1/2-inch rounds. Sprinkle with some of the sesame seeds.
5. Bake, one sheet at a time, for 9 to 11 minutes (5 to 6 minutes if using a convection oven), until the tops of the rounds are evenly golden brown.
6. Have a wide-mouthed glass or a coffee cup ready to help shape the cookies, along with a couple of baking pans (or rolling pins) standing by to help the completed cookies hold their shape while they are cooling. Working quickly, transfer the baking sheet to a wire rack. Carefully slide a metal spatula under a cookie and place the cookie upside down in the palm of your hand. (If the cookies are too hot to handle, use a work surface instead.) Put a fortune in the center and fold the cookie in half. Then, holding the cookie at each end with the opening facing up, bend the cookie until the ends almost touch. I like to bend the cookie over the rim of a wide-mouthed glass or measuring cup to help shape this last fold.
Wedge the warm fortune cookies between the baking pans and let cool completely. Fold the remaining hot cookies. Don’t expect perfection with your first cookie, but after a few tries you’ll get the hang of it.
7. Repeat the spreading, baking, and folding with the remaining batter. Remember to use baking sheets that are completely cooled. Store in an airtight container for up to 1 week.
Substitute poppy seeds, anise seeds, lightly toasted black mustard seeds, or fennel seeds for the sesame seeds and omit the toasted sesame oil.
If you want to stuff fortunes inside the cookies, have the strips of paper ready before you bake the cookies. These cookies must be shaped while they are piping hot. They cool very quickly, so be prepared to work quickly.