Old-fashioned Chinese Chews Recipe

I recently came across a hundred-year-old recipe for Chinese Chews. The recipe was for walnut and date cookie balls. Why were they called Chinese? Were the balls supposed to seem special  because the name evoked thoughts of  exotic, far away places?  I think of the middle east when I think of dates – but not China.  That said, improbably named recipes inevitably intrigue me, so the next thing I knew I was making Chinese Chews.

Chinese Chews are a sweet chewy treat, and would make a nice addition to a holiday cookie tray.

They were fun to make. The dough is spread thinly in a pan or baking sheet, and then baked until it just begins to brown. The baked dough is then removed from the oven, cut into pieces, and rolled into balls which are then coated in granulated sugar.

Here’s the original recipe:

Source: Good Housekeeping (June, 1917)

And, here’s the recipe updated for modern cooks:

Chinese Chews

  • Servings: 20-25 1-inch balls
  • Difficulty: moderate
  • Print

1 cup sugar

3/4 cup flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 eggs

1 cup dates, chopped

1 cup walnuts chopped

granulated sugar

Preheat oven to 350° F.  In a mixing bowl, combine the sugar, flour, baking powder, salt, and eggs. Then stir in the dates and walnuts. Spread thinly on a baking sheet. (There may not be enough to cover the entire sheet.) Place in the oven and bake until the dough sets and just begins to brown (about 15 minutes). The baked dough should look “not quite done.” Remove from oven and cool about five minutes.

Use a spatula to remove the baked dough from the pan  Take chunks of the baked dough and shape into 1-inch balls. (Don’t worry if baked dough comes out of the pan in odd-shaped pieces. I put all the pieces in a bowl, and intentionally combined some of the “crustier” portions from the edge of the pan with some of the softer portions from the center to make balls that had a nice consistency.)  Roll each ball in granulated sugar. Work quickly because the balls are easier to shape when the dough is still warm.

Cook’s note: The hundred-year-old recipe called for pastry flour. I used all-purpose flour and it worked fine.

31 thoughts on “Old-fashioned Chinese Chews Recipe

    1. You could pull if off! The process used to bake the cookies and then make the balls is different from the typical methods used to make cookies today, but it is not difficult.

  1. This sounds like a cousin of my mother’s date nut log, except it sounds a little better. It’s one I’ll give a try, for sure. I’m wondering if it could be made with a different flour, like rice flour, to make a treat for my gluten-free friends.

    1. Maybe an almond flour? I’ve never had a problem substituting an all-purpose GF for regular.

      I’ve never seen a cookie recipe where you pull the dough out 1/2 way through and re-form it! This is fascinating.

      1. It’s a really interesting process. I wonder if there were other recipes a hundred years ago that used similar methods. I don’t think that I’ve ever seen any.

        1. I certainly haven’t! Granted, I usually don’t spend too much time reading the baking recipes because we’re a gluten free house and gluten free pastries tend to be really good or really gross, so… But I’ll keep my eye out now!

    2. I don’t have much experience with non-wheat flours, but if you try making this recipe with a gluten-free flour you’ll have to let us know how it turns out. My sense is that there are a lot of readers of this blog who would be interested in gluten-free options.

  2. Hmmm …dates,and nuts then it’s got to taste good! I can imagine a plate of these will be a real source of conversation at a gathering. Have to give it a try!

  3. Thank you, Thank you, and a Big {{{hug}}} I have been trying to remember the name of these for the last couple of months. I made these in girl scouts during the late 1950’s. I lost the recipe for them years ago. We loved them as kids. I have even poked around in the internet looking for something that would jog my memory. I am adding this to my Christmas cookie list.

    1. Thanks for finding this link. It’s nice to know more about the history of the woman who submitted it to the magazine. It’s also really interesting to see how another cook interpreted this recipe.

  4. Forming cookie balls after they’re baked is one of the most interesting recipes I ever read. I like that. I agree, they sound like a fun addition to a cookie tray.

  5. I remember my Mom making these -in the 40’s – the ingredients were cooked in a cast iron fry pan until well mixed and “dissolved” then rolled into balls – baked – then rolled in granulated sugar or not if you prefer to leave the extra sugar off. In the 80’s my coworkers exchanged cookies at Xmas and Chinese Chews were a must. Love them and glad to have the recipe again. Thank you. Irene L

    1. Thanks for sharing your memories of these cookies. It’s really helpful to know how these were made in the 40’s. The old recipe doesn’t provide much information.

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