I’ve really wanted to make some cookies for the Chinese New Year at the end of this month. But over the past month, I’ve seen a lot of really gorgeous Chinese New Year cookies with elaborate horse crests and Chinese characters that I just don’t want to compete with. Instead, I wanted to go a different route. I wanted to make something that would still celebrate Chinese culture, but that would be different from what I’d seen. I kept coming back to my parents’ antique mahjong set, which I’ve been fascinated with since childhood. It sits on a shelf in a gorgeous dark, wooden box. Opening the box reveals shelves and shelves of aged tiles with elaborate designs in brilliant colors (despite their age). I used to love taking out the shelves and looking through the tiles. So I asked my parents to snap some pictures of the set for me, and thus I began making my own, edible, “antique,” mahjong set!
Chinese Mahjong Cookies
Yields as many cookies as you want to decorate
Small, rectangular cookies (as many as you’re willing to decorate)
A batch of royal icing, tinted to an off-white color
A piping bag
Edible markers in black, red, and green (with a fine tip)
Start by preparing your cookies. You can use any flavor of cutouts for this project, but I, personally, went with a plain sugar cookie. Since these are supposed to look like Mahjong tiles, you’ll want to cut the cookies into small rectangles. Technically, a Mahjong set has somewhere around 144 tiles, but, for me, decorating 144 tiny cookies wasn’t very practical. Instead, I made about 50 cookies so that I would have about 2 cookies for each design, but you can really make as many as you’re willing to decorate. Once my cookies were baked, I gave each a base coat of off-white royal icing (I used beige food gel to tint it) and let them dry overnight.
Once your royal icing has hardened, you can start drawing the designs. If you don’t have edible markers, you can easily use a small brush and watered down food gel coloring to paint the designs on. I’m afraid I don’t have my usual step-by-step tutorial for these cookies, because, in all honesty, these cookies are kind of a “look at the image and draw it on the cookie” sort of cookies. The cookies with the dots are very simple, and don’t really need much explanation. The bamboo cookies fall into this category as well, although I would mention that it’s best to work left to right (if you’re right handed, that is) so as to not smudge your work.
With the Chinese character cookies, again, it was a sort of “look and draw” process. Most of the characters are relatively simple, but it does help to start with the main lines and work out from there. If there was a line down the center or across the top, that was often where I started. With the images, I always started with the biggest part of the design or the center (depending on the image). With the flower tiles, for example, I always started with the flowers and worked my way out from there. With the crain, I started with the top wing. From there, I worked my way out along the neck, head, and beak, then back up to the second wing and body, before finally working my way out to the tail.
Be sure to let the designs dry completely (preferably overnight) before packaging or stacking them.