A vegetarian Chinese New Year cookie recipe, Hup Toh Soh or traditional Chinese Walnut Cookies are delicious and easy to make. No stand mixer or melting of butter needed! Traditional hard-to-find ingredients such as ammonia have been replaced with pantry staples without sacrificing taste, and, the final bake is crispy, crumbly and ever so fragrant!
⭐ Why Bake Hup Toh Soh
- Hup Toh Soh is a delicious traditional cookie: it is crunchy, crumbly and ever so fragrant, transporting you back to your childhood Chinese bakery (or to another culture, if you didn't grow up eating up!)
- My Chinese Walnut Biscuits are really easy to make: Easy-to-find ingredients replace the less common ingredients used in the old-school recipe (such as ammonia, alkaline water and lard) whilst retaining the flavour. Moreover, there's no need to cream the sugar and butter or to use an electric mixer. Less cleaning!
- Cheaper and better than shop bought: Baking your own cookies ensures that they're super fresh so you can smell the nutty goodness of the toasted walnuts every time you open the box!
🍪 What are Chinese Walnut Cookies?
Traditional Chinese Walnut Cookies, also known as Hup Toh Soh and He Tao Su, is a Cantonese favourite. Along with Chinese almond cookies, they're often baked for Chinese New Year. ("Hup toh" (核桃, or he tao in Mandarin Chinese) is the Cantonese word for walnut and "soh" (酥, or su) means crisp.)
You can find them in many shops in Hong Kong and some parts of Malaysia. It's a great traditional sweet snack for vegetarians, and I've included a vegan option in the recipe below too.
Note: For more classic Chinese New Year sweet treats, try my peanut muah chee or these Chinese New Year cookies such as Chinese Peanut Cookie Recipe (which I developed after baking over 2000 cookies. So good someone once ordered 22 jars of it! Cookie lovers will also enjoy these Asian cookie recipes.)
Another name for the hup toh soh biscuit is "Chinese royal walnut cookie" or "Palace walnut cookie."
According to Baidu, during the Ming Dynasty, there was a loyal Chinese minister who was framed, lost everything and survived by exile selling these cookies, hence the noble names!
Fun fact: besides being Spring Festival snacks, both walnut and peanut cookies are traditional Chinese wedding gifts as they symbolise harmony (和和气气, he he qi qi, homonym for walnuts) and fertility (早生贵子, zao sheng gui zi, homonym for peanuts.)
In Chinese culture & TCM
The earliest use of walnuts date back to 7000BCE in Persia, but they're a popular ingredient in Chinese cuisine as well. In fact, Chinese people equate walnuts with brain food! (Because of the shape)
I'm not a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) expert but I thought that this information about walnuts was interesting:
- Walnuts, in TCM, are considered to be a herb that is good for the kidneys, which in turn is good for your hair!
- They're also associated with the lungs and large intestines. In fact, 1 of the origin stories of this sweet treat is related to this property. Apparently, according to Baidu, during the Tang or Yuan dynasty, a potter used to bake his biscuits on top of his kiln. One day, he was eating walnuts for his cough and decided to add them to the biscuit dough, hence resulting in the original Chinese walnut cookie.
Note: this information is for entertainment only and not meant as nutrition or medical advice- please consult qualified professionals instead!
Unfortunately, Hup Toh Soh Cookies are high in fat and sugar, so they're not the healthiest and pretty high in calories.
I've made this walnut cookie recipe healthier by using a higher walnut:flour ratio but, nonetheless, eat in moderation!
Traditional vs Modern
In the past, the Chinese walnut cookies recipe were made with pork lard (giving them a melt-in-the-mouth yet still crunchy texture) and had no walnuts in them!
Some people say that the cookie got its name because its cracked top looked like a walnut.
Back in the days when it wasn't common for households to have ovens, these large, flat cookies were sold in the neighbourhood bakeries and often given out as presents on important festivals.
I guess someone eventually found it weird that hup toh soh had no hup toh (walnuts) in them, so today's version is packed with nuts!
The classic Chinese walnut cookie was quite large, and because it was so crumbly, eating it often resulted in a mess everywhere.
I've scaled down the size of my Chinese walnut cookies to make them cleaner to eat, but you can always bake larger cookies if you are feeling nostalgic! (Each batch will then make fewer than 50 cookies, and will take slightly longer in the oven.)
🥘 Ingredients & Substitutes
You only need simple Asian pantry ingredients for this recipe, such as:
- Ground Walnuts: Toast them in the oven or dry fry in a wok to bring out the flavor. The older the ground walnuts, the longer you'll need to toast them to awaken the flavour. You'll know it's done when it's fragrant. Don't leave it so long that it burns though! You can do these a few days before you bake (I've done it up to 6 days in advance with the delicious walnuts still fresh and fragrant) but toasted walnuts go bad pretty quickly, so if you're making them in advance, make sure they smell OK before using!
- Cake Flour: I have also tried substituting with all- purpose flour or self-raising flour (in which case, skip the baking powder and soda) and the difference is minimal. Alternatively, you can make your own cake flour with just 2 ingredients.
- Baking powder and soda: In the past, the authentic Chinese walnut cookies recipe used ammonia, and this gave them their crunchy texture. I use the more commonplace baking powder and soda instead of ammonia, so to get that crunch, make sure your walnuts are not totally ground to a fine powder. You want 25-35% roughly chopped and the rest finer. (Or blitz them for a shorter period of them in the blender/ processor.) However, don't have too many large pieces or your cookie will break easily.
- Neutral vegetable oil: My original recipe used peanut oil but now I find a neutral oil such as sunflower oil or canola oil lets the walnut flavor shine through more. Just don't use olive oil or it won't taste "Chinese!" You can also go traditional and use homemade pork lard for an extra crumbly old-school cookie (or even shortening and margarine.)
- Icing sugar, sifted: honestly, powdered sugar is a pain as it clumps like crazy as it age. You can get away without sifting the flour and not having too many lumps in the dough, but not with icing sugar. Whenever I skip sifting icing sugar, there will be 1 of 2 small lumps of sugar in the cookies, making some of them super sweet! If you're as lazy as I am, skip the icing sugar and just go with white caster sugar. Alternatively, for a deeper flavor, my Father (professional baker!) recommends using brown sugar (Try half white sugar, half brown!)
- Large eggs and egg yolks: Omit for the dough if on a vegan diet but I do not recommend skipping the cookie wash, or your cookies will look insipid and unappetising. Instead, use a vegan milk + maple syrup wash. 1 egg glazes about 20 cookies. Don't throw away the eggs whites. You can use them for fried rice!
- Salt: a flavor enhancer but you can skip it if you prefer the cookie to be 100% sweet
🔪 Step-by-Step Instructions
- Roast the walnuts
You can do this in a pan or oven.
If dry frying, it took me about 12 minutes on Heat 4 on a Bosch induction stove with a maximum fire of 9. However, it's hard to evenly pan-toast for more than 2.5 Cups/ 250g of walnuts.
The oven method is more efficient as you can toast more walnuts in 1 go so recommended if you're making lots of walnut cookies for Chinese New Year.
Place them on parchment paper or on silpat in a single layer and bake for 10-15 minutes at 350F/ 177C/ 157C fan. (Check in at 7 min to make sure nothing is burning and to turn the baking tray around, give the walnuts a stir whilst you're at it!)
Allow to cool at room temperature.
2. Break the walnuts into flour and smaller pieces
Make sure your walnuts are cool before blitzing in a food processor or blender on low speed (if not it turns into walnut butter more easily) If using a blender, don't overload it and scrape down the sides, to prevent it from becoming walnut butter paste!
Tip: you can toast the walnuts 1-2 days before baking. As Chinese New Year involves lots of baking over many days, I usually toast the nuts whilst baking something else, such as brown sugar cookies, then finishing up the walnut cookies the next day.
Alternative: if you don't have a blender/ processor, you can cut them (only effective for small bakes) or place the walnuts in a Ziplock bag, remove the air, seal it, then roll over the bag with a rolling pin till the walnut pieces are the size you want them to be!
Make the walnut dough
3a. Pour the dry ingredients into a large bowl.
3b. Beat the egg(s) then add it to the dry ingredients and mix it in.
Tip: you can do this with a spoon but I recommend using your hands to make sure you coat all the flour- especially when mixing in the oil in the next step.
Make the walnut dough (cont.)
4. Add the oil to the dough and mix it in. The amount specified in the recipe is just a guide- you may need more or less depending on how dry your ingredients are.
Note: Don't over-knead!
Tip: don't skimp on the oil! Too little oil will make for a dry cookie dough, which won't hold its shape and your cookie will crumble at a touch.
5. Shaping the cookies
5a. Use a small ice cream or cookie scoop to portion out the cookies evenly. (Don't go larger than 1.4 inch balls if you want bite-sized cookies as the dough expands quite a bit in the oven. It doesn't spread as flat as chocolate chip cookies but it definitely expands more than peanut cookies!)
5b. After that, you will need to press the cookie dough together (or roll in between your palms to form a compact ball.) If not, the dough will be too loose! (See below under "Decorating" and "How to Shape" for alternative cookie designs.)
Note: A quicker but less precise way to shape your cookies is to roll the dough into a log, then cut it into pieces approximately the same size, rolling each piece into a round circle before baking as is, or flattening into a disk.
Some people like to cover the dough in plastic wrap and rest it before baking but I've not found it necessary.
6. Baking the cookies
6a. Place the cookies on Silpat or parchment paper. The cookies spread so place them at least 1 inch apart. (The bit marked with the cross is much too close!
6b. Bake for 20-24 minutes in a preheated oven, or till golden brown, at 350F/ 175C/ 155C fan. (The baking time obviously increases with the size of the cookie.)
6c. Halfway through the baking process, rotate the trays. Once baked, allow to cool for a few minutes before transferring to a wire rack. (When hot, the cookies break super easily!)
Note: If the cookies are too close, they'll touch each other, and form square cookies instead of round ones! (Round shapes are associated with reunion and a lucky Lunar New Year symbol!)
How to Shape
You can make Chinese walnut cookies in 2 shapes:
- flat and large
- traditional shape
- it's not as thick so you can better savour the taste of the cookie
- small round balls
- easier to eat in 1 bite, so less crumbs fall
- You can squeeze more cookies on 1 tray so fewer baking trays str needed
For best results, press 1 or half a walnut into each Hup Toh Soh, then glaze with beaten egg yolk to give a burnished gold colour. (The original pale walnut dough doesn't look as appetising!)
If you find the egg yolk too thick, add a few drops of water to dilute it before brushing it on but the glaze won't be as pretty. (Same if you use the whole egg.)
For the walnut to be the focus, wash the cookie THEN press the walnut on top.
Tip: Vegans can substitute an egg yolk wash with almond milk + maple syrup.
If you run out of walnuts, you can sprinkle some sesame seeds (white or black sesame both work) on each (glazed) cookie instead, then press gently with your finger to make sure the seeds are won't fall off.
If you're making undecorated Chinese New Year walnut cookies, use a fork, spoon or your finger to give them a flatter, thumbprint cookie shape.
Some people like to use the end of a toothpaste or bottle cap to flatten & create a circular imprint!
Once cool, store these homemade Lunar New Year Cookies in an airtight container and it will last for 1-2 weeks.
Alternatively, leave them in the chiller and they'll last even longer.
How to eat
Walnut bakes go very well with coffee yuan yang milk tea or any of these traditional CNY dishes.
👩 Expert Tips
Tip #1: Since the walnuts are going to be broken up anyway, get a bag of walnut pieces or halves instead of whole walnuts in the store- they're often cheaper! Another skimpflation trick is to use smaller walnut pieces to decorate your cookies instead of whole or even halved walnuts. (The cookies don't look as good with smaller nuts though!)
Tip #2: If you want a richer cookie, use butter- the resulting bake will be less crispy though. For small batches, you can mix the sugar and softened butter by hand but larger batches will need a mixer (or for you to melt the butter first.)
Tip #3: you can use a dough scraper to cut and fold the cookie dough to make an extra crumbly cookie, instead of mixing the dough by hand.
🥗 Other Vegetarian Chinese Recipes
Enjoyed this easy traditional Cantonese Hua Toh Soh Cookie Recipe? Please leave a 5-star 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟 rating in the recipe card below! If you really liked this Chinese New Year cookie, please consider supporting it by buying me a pineappletart (aka coffee)! 🙂 (No obligation though!) Thank you and have a great day!
Chinese Walnut Cookies (Hup Toh Soh)
- Food processor or blender Substitute: ziplock bag and rolling pin
- Large bowl
- Baking tray and parchment paper Substitute: silpat
- 3 Cups walnuts pieces (12.3oz or 350g + an additional 37-74 pieces for garnishing. If measuring whole walnuts, you will need about 3.5 Cups, as fewer whole walnuts can fit into a Cup compared to broken walnut pieces) processed into walnut meal and some larger pieces (about 25-35%)
Ingredients A: Whisk together
- 3.5 C cake flour (15.30z or 435g) Substitute: all-purpose or self-raising (you can omit the baking soda and powder if using self-raising) You can also make cake flour from all-purpose flour.
- 2 C + 2½T icing sugar sifted. (9.5oz or 270g) Substitute: white caster sugar or granulated sugar. Use caster sugar if you can't be bothered to sift the icing sugar.
- 2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 baking soda
- 1-1½ teaspoon salt optional. Omit if you want the sweetness of the cookie to be the spotlight
- 1¼ C neutral vegetable oil (9.5oz or 270g) Substitute: lard, margarine, shortening
- 2 eggs beaten. Omit if vegan.
- 3-4 yolks for glazing. Please don't skip this as an unwashed cookie isn't as pretty. If you find it too thick, you can add 1-2t of water of oil, but I find the resulting glaze isn't as attractive. For a vegan cookie, use plant-based milk + maple syrup
- 37-74 walnuts for garnishing. If you break them into halves you will only need 37 instead of 74. You can use white or black sesame seeds instead
Toasting the walnuts
- Preheat oven for the cookies (350F/175C/155C fan)Note: this is the same temperature at which you bake the cookies
- Spread the nuts in a single layer on a parchment paper or silpat lined baking tray and toast for 10-15 minutes, or till fragrant. At the 7 minute mark check the nuts, stir, and turn the tray around (as ovens have hot spots).
- Allow to cool then process into walnut meal, using the food processor or blender. For more crunch in the cookies, leave 25-35% of the walnuts asbigger pieces. (You can blend for a shorter period of time, or separate out the nuts and crush these with a rolling pin or rough chop.)
Making the cookie dough
- Ingredients A: Sift the dry ingredients and mix them together in a large bowl (1 of those stainless steel baking bowls is good)
- Add the beaten egg to the dry ingredients and mix well. Note: we add wet to dry, as adding dry to wet ingredients usually leads to lots of flour flying around!
- Slowly pour the oil into the above- you may need slightly less than the recipe stipulates as the walnuts have their own oil. Note: it's easier to work with a dough that has slightly more oil than a dough with slightly too little oil, as the latter won't hold together very well. We want crumbly cookies that can still hold their shape!
Shaping the cookies (2 choices)
- Separate the dough into equal sized pieces. If you're exacting, you can weigh them so you know they're identical. What I usually do is roll the dough into a log, then cut it into bits that are approximately the same size, before rolling each bit into a ball.Alternative: use a 1.4 inch cookie scoop to scoop out the dough, then press the dough together, or roll them between your palms. (You can't leave them as is or the dough will be too loose.)
- Shape A. If you want small circular cookies like Chinese peanut cookies, you can place these directly on the baking sheet, with at least 1 inch between them, so that they don't touch when they spread.
- Shape B. If you want the traditional flat cookie (tastes better), place the piece of dough on the baking sheet, then use 2 fingers to press down firmly. Use the same 2 fingers to press down again, but this time perpendicular to the original imprint- so you're making a cross basically- to ensure the cookie is spread evenly. Repeat till all the dough is finished, leaving about 1 inch between each cookie. (These are already flat so spread less.)
- Whichever shape you've chosen, glaze the cookie with the egg yolk wash (or vegan wash) then press ½ a walnut on each cookie OR sprinkle some sesame seeds in the centre. (You can also garnish then wash if you prefer, but the yolk will cover up some of the details on the nuts/ seeds.) Alternatively, leave them plain- decoration suggestions for plain cookies in the post above.
- Bake 20-24 minutes or till fragrant and golden brown.
- Leave to cool completely then store in air-tight containers for 1-2 weeks
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I remember eating these as a child they look exactly the same as the flat ones! Going to make it this weekend
Hi Yeni, thanks for stopping by, glad this took you down memory lane and hope they taste the way you remember too!