A few months an excerpt from the Wallstreet Journal caught my eye: “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior” which was written about Amy Chua, a Chinese-American mother/lawyer/author about her controversial parenting guide titled “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother”.

While the general population took great offense to what her book had to say, in many ways I completely related to her experiences and even further, the excerpts lead me to a moment of clarity about the constant conflicting relationship with my father.    I was that girl who practiced piano an hour a day, attended summer school every year since I was 4 and when homework was done, there was more assigned work — ranging from advanced math problems to memorizing new vocabulary words.

While my mom was mostly in charge of teaching me manners, how to maintain a household and how to cook, my dad was in charge of school work, piano and art.  I’d remember he’d be so intense about grades – “Straight As or nothing!”  Any time I knew I had a possible B coming up on a report card I’d cry on the way home, my stomach would be wrangled with anxiety. I remember one time I even tried to smudge my B with an eraser – “Joy what does this say?  Why can’t I see this letter??” I never got away with anything.

And that’s what it’d always felt like — I was a constant disappointment and everything I ever did always felt like it was never good enough.  It was always “You know, Nancy’s son Michael, he’s going to Duke and making $70,000 a year from stock, how come you don’t do this?” or “You hear about Jenny?  She won 4 piano contests.  FOUR how come you do not win?” For the longest time I held that grudge against my father, I couldn’t wrap my mind around why he couldn’t be a positive parent like all my non-Chinese friends’ parents were.  It seemed as if my friends could do no wrong, if they made a B they never got grounded or yelled at – some even got money for Bs.  At school recitals the parents would always congratulate them on what a good job they did while my dad would point out “I heard that mistake towards the middle.”  They even didn’t have to practice, like ever – while I had to be stuck at home on weekends playing endless hours of scales, chords, and Bach.

But then that moment of clarity hit me like a ton of bricks: it was never about him being disappointed in me, it was his hope that his daughter could exceed what he felt were her own limitations.  He pushed me because he wanted me to reach my personal best and I was just too afraid.  Afraid of failure, afraid of disappointment, whatever it was, I often regret for not trying harder.  My parents came to the states at the end of the Cultural Revolution with one goal in mind: to succeed in this new country and provide a promising future for their child.  There was no time for fancy family vacations, birthday parties at Chuck E Cheese, or new outfits every season; instead the money was saved for my piano lessons, summer school and all the books I could possibly want.

Sure there were problems with some of my parents’ parenting styles, but what parent is perfect? They try with their best intentions with all the hope that their children will have a good future.  When Collin and I settle down to have kids, I hope to combine the best of our two cultures, The Eastern and the Western, into something beautiful.

I wished for my parents to adopt Western parenting so much as a child and I realized it was mostly for the constant open affection: the I Love Yous, the hugs, the kisses.  Whereas Eastern parenting mostly lacks such affection – for my dad to utter I love you would be like pulling teeth.  I remembered my mom being almost embarrassed when I’d give her hugs and kisses but after years of my constant coaxing she now hugs me so hard sometimes it hurts (she has ungodly strong arms).

With Eastern parenting it’s the constant push and discipline with just the right amount of negativity, enough to drive the child’s need to be the best and dedicate themselves fully to any tasks they commit themselves to.  I wanted to quit piano so many times as a child but my parents never let me until I left the house, I didn’t understand why until now.  My god do I thank them for it.  Dad might’ve been tough on me but now I understand why he’d accept nothing less, because his daughter has half his brain and anything with half his genes has to be damn smart because he is by far the most intense and studious man EVER (he really is).  But what I learned from him is to never settle for mediocrity and to commit every ounce of yourself to a task you’ve committed your heart to and excel at it.

This cookie recipe made me think of dad: a soft, crumbly ginger spiced cookie with a bold dark chocolate ganache.   Though during my childhood (especially during adolescence) we often butted heads, what started off bitter ended up sweet.  The heart mends itself when you allow it to feel compassion towards others and being able to relate to other perspectives besides your own.

Ingredients for Ginger Shortbread Cookies with Dark Chocolate Ganache (about 18 sandwich cookies)

Prep time: 15 minutes; Total cooking time: 1 hour

  • 2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon cardamom
  • ½ teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons freshly grated orange zest
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup coarsely chopped crystallized ginger, plus ¼ cup for garnish
  • 1 tablespoon raw sugar

Combine flour, sugar, spices and salt in medium bowl. Combine crystallized ginger and 1 tablespoon sugar on work surface; chop finely.

Using electric mixer, beat butter in large bowl until light. Add orange zest and vanilla. Beat in crystallized ginger mixture. Beat dry ingredients into butter mixture in 4 additions. Transfer dough to floured work surface and divide it in half into two 6-inch logs. Shape each log into 2x1x6-inch-long rectangular log. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for an hour.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly butter 2 large baking sheets and cut 1/3-inch-thick pieces from each dough log.  Transfer the cookies to prepared baking sheets, spacing 1 inch apart (cookies will spread slightly during baking). Mix raw sugar and reserved ¼ cup of chopped crystallized ginger in small bowl, set aside. Place cookies in oven and after 10 minutes sprinkle sugared ginger mixture on top of cookies and bake until golden brown on edges, about 8-10 minutes longer. Cool cookies on baking sheets, about 3 minutes. Using a spatula, transfer cookies to racks. Cool completely and sandwich with Dark Chocolate Ganache.

Chocolate Ganache

  • 8 ounces of high quality dark chocolate, cut into small pieces
  • ¾ cup heavy whipping cream
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Place the chopped chocolate in a medium sized bowl and set aside.  Heat the cream and butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat until almost boiling, about 3-4 minutes.  Immediately pour hot cream over the chocolate and allow to stand for 5 minutes.  Stir until smooth and allow to cool for 10 minutes before spreading.


  1. Elissa says: 8 Feb ’11 • 15:11:46

    I like how you intersperse your (delicious) photos and recipes with stories about yourself. I mean, I know you’ve been doing it since the day you started this blog, but I’ve noticed a lot more of YOU coming out in the past few posts so it’s really cool to see how YOU and the FOOD are so intensely connected :)

    That article made me feel weird when I read it a few weeks ago. As you know, I have a first-generation Japanese mother and a Western father. It is kind of a weird blend. On the one hand, I feel like my mom pushed me way too hard when I was a kid, but on the other, I’m — I wouldn’t say HAPPY, but I am OKAY WITH — the results. I can read and speak Japanese despite quitting my supplementary education in the 6th grade. My dad was more lax (though by no means lazy) about things and I think he helped balance out my education by accepting that there were subjects that, no matter how hard I studied, made me miserable (calculus, physics) and weren’t worth the hours I put into it. I guess you could say I’m well-rounded? :)

    Anyway, the cookies look amazing, and thanks (as always) for sharing bits of yourself with us.


  2. Ju says: 8 Feb ’11 • 15:26:51

    OMG Joy, this post really struck a chord with me. Beautifully written! I was that girl too … but then, so were all my friends. Maybe I didn’t feel it as much as you did because everyone in school was hothoused (fast forward 3 decades later and the culture’s still the same in Singapore schools!). But I try to temper my parenting approach with my own kids, now that I have the advantage of personal experience. xx


  3. Kristan says: 8 Feb ’11 • 15:53:08

    Like Elissa, I grew up in a halfie household, so I could identify with the article pretty well (since technically Chua’s household was halfie too).

    To your point, your parents came out of the Cultural Revolution and had certain reactionary attitudes and parenting styles because of it. Chua had no such reasoning.

    But whatever. I already wrote my response on my own blog (“Tiger mother vs. my mother,” hehehe) so I won’t go into all that. Your post about your dad is really nice and thoughtful. The truth is, all parents are just doing the best they can, and we kids have to come to terms with that at some point. Just like they have to come to term with our best at some point, too.


  4. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Bao Ngo, Joy Zhang. Joy Zhang said: [New Post] Battle Hymn of the Tiger Father and a recipe for Candied Ginger Cookies with Ganache http://bit.ly/hTDpEE [...]


  5. Sneh | Cook Republic says: 9 Feb ’11 • 09:42:31

    These are gorgeous! Stunning pictures and the candied ginger with the gooey chocolate looks simply delicious :-)


  6. Toby says: 9 Feb ’11 • 15:55:27

    Joy, As always.. such beautiful photos. and very tasty cookies!

    You know, growing up in a Western Household, I think a lot of us lose sight of what other cultures deem appropriate in the raising and education of their offspring. Out of curiosity, I read the Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.. it was a little horrifying, but I can’t help but think that every household would do well to incorporate a little of the Eastern drive and strictness into our lives… and instill it into our young.

    Thanks for sharing!


  7. briarrose says: 9 Feb ’11 • 17:45:02

    Beautiful! The dark chocolate filling is perfection.


  8. Lacey@ dishfolio.com says: 9 Feb ’11 • 18:46:35

    Your photos are just amazing. We’d love for you to share your recipe at dishfolio.com!


  9. Kita says: 9 Feb ’11 • 21:36:27

    These are beautiful. Just beautiful


  10. Chocolate Priestess says: 9 Feb ’11 • 21:51:34

    These remind me of more elegant whoopie pies; I just learned about those in 2010.


  11. carmen says: 9 Feb ’11 • 23:37:02

    Being Chinese, that pretty much sounds JUST like my childhood .. and the way my parents are too. I can sooo identify. Thanks for sharing!


  12. Steph@stephsbitebybi says: 9 Feb ’11 • 23:46:57

    I could die over these!!! They look so scrumptious and your pictures are making me drool! What a great flavor combination


  13. Amy Bakes Everything says: 10 Feb ’11 • 00:01:16

    Gorgeous! My dad pushed me hard, too. And he still does. Sometimes I STILL get frustrated, but I know that he just wants me to be the best I can be.


  14. Tiffany says: 10 Feb ’11 • 01:32:47

    These cookies look great! I made a lemon-ginger-chocolate cookie that rocked my world. I bet these would too! :)


  15. penny aka jeroxie says: 10 Feb ’11 • 04:45:11

    ginger and chocolate is such a great combo. lovely photos dear!


  16. Felice says: 10 Feb ’11 • 04:46:34

    Your photos are beautiful and your cookies look delicious.


  17. Sylvie@GITK says: 10 Feb ’11 • 10:13:45

    What you said “The heart mends itself when you allow it to feel compassion towards others and being able to relate to other perspectives besides your own.” is a really powerful and wise statement. I think sometimes we expect our parents to somehow be superhuman and to not make any mistakes in judgment or action simply because they are our parents. But they are struggling to make the best decisions for their families. As an adult I have come to see that, which I never could when I was growing up.. Thanks for sharing such a personal and emotional story.


  18. kristy says: 10 Feb ’11 • 15:12:20

    Hi Joy, 祝你和爱人:新年快乐 心想事成 身体健康!恭喜恭喜! Hope you’re having a great time. Btw, these cookies look like woppie pie. Looks yummy! Thanks for sharing.
    Best wishes,


  19. Jean says: 10 Feb ’11 • 15:43:45

    I read that article, too, and was initially shocked by the its message though I’m also Asian and grew up in a household with similar expectations. I did learn later that 1) She didn’t pick that WSJ title and 2) apparently her book’s actual message is more about trying to attain a balance between Eastern and Western styles of parenting (haven’t read it yet myself). I was comforted by that. It’s exactly what you said you want to achieve when you have children and in my opinion that’s a wonderful combination because we all have a need for both discipline and affection. I butted heads with my dad, too, and it probably speaks more about how alike we are than different but it took me being an adult to realize this. :-)

    Your ginger cookies are a delicious tribute to your dad. I’ve been in ginger cookie mode lately myself–the chocolate ganache just makes them that much more special. :-)


  20. Biren @ Roti n Rice says: 10 Feb ’11 • 16:58:20

    Joy, I can so relate to what you are saying. Asian parenting is tough love and can be controversial here. I am going to get that book. It will be an interesting read even for my boys.

    These cookies look fantastic! The crystallized ginger topping is a nice touch.


  21. Isabelle says: 10 Feb ’11 • 19:34:40

    I’m not sure which I like more… your delicious cookies, or your through-provoking post. Probably both. :)
    Even though neither of my parents is Asian, they were super-strict with me too. I think that many immigrant parents share a similar style, no matter where they came from – they push because they want a better life for us.
    I know It took me a long time to understand that, though. I’m glad that you found that clarity too.


  22. Joy says: 10 Feb ’11 • 22:14:58

    That looks just lovely.


  23. Sandra says: 11 Feb ’11 • 01:44:00

    Joy, this is an incredible post. You’ve shared so much with us, and the photos and recipe are absolutely divine. Wonderful, wonderful I hope you are proud of you too.


  24. Sara says: 11 Feb ’11 • 23:11:40

    Joy, I agree, with the eastern parenting there is just the right amount of negativity. I thank my parents for being strict with me cuz god knows I was a wild child and needed some dicipline! ;-) ))

    Love the cookies and your mom & dad sound so sweet! I cherish everyday I spend with them! I also feel so blessed to live only 10 minutes away from them!


  25. Brian says: 15 Feb ’11 • 01:35:40

    The ginger/chocolate combo is, unfortunately, often overlooked. So, it goes without saying, that I think this is a fantastic recipe. And, as always, the images are beautiful.


  26. Brian says: 21 Feb ’11 • 16:17:24

    I was just recently introduced to the ginger/chocolate pairing and I adore it. I will put ginger in just about anything… so these cookies are making me drool a little.


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