Sunday, December 13, 2015

Lotsa Butter: Christmas Cookies

Much as I love my lard, to every item there is its fat, and for cookies (with a few Italian exceptions), that is butter. Gorgeous, fresh, sweet, unsalted butter.

I love cookies, and for decades have curated a collection of those I consider to be true keepers. I am not a chocolate chip cookie girl—literally almost never make them except for kids.  It’s not that I don’t appreciate a good, soft, chewy one made with good chocolate, it’s just that I don’t care, sort of like not caring about cupcakes or gooey layered bars or. . . OK, I think I just figured it out: I don’t like things that are too sweet.  So rich, tender, chewy, crisp-elegant, spicy, all good. Too sweet, no.

This year I am rather limited; all my baking stuff--my vast trove of cookie cutters, sheet pans, rolling pins, decorating tips, pastry bags—are in storage, as is my little collection of prize recipes. Had to order a rolling pin (I only have about 10 in storage, so went for something a little different), and a half-sheet pan (can’t have too many of those, either), and a few cookie cutters.  I borrowed a few recipes, found one of my old faves online, and had one of my more recent acquisitions in my computer.

That is the one I provide below, a Mexican wedding cookie given to me by a doctoral student when I was at Vanderbilt. She brought them to a department holiday potluck lunch, and I was lucky enough to eat many of them and to get the recipe.

While I do not have the time anymore (or maybe it’s the energy) to bake hundreds of cookies of a dozen varieties and give them to friends and neighbors, I still think there is nothing I’d rather have on the holiday table, or sitting on the edge of the counter, than a plate of cookies.  So if not a dozen, at least three different kinds, please.

Mexican Wedding Cakes

Though the recipe came to me labeled as “cakes,” which I retain here, they are not cakey, but tender little butter-nut cookies with some similarity to almond crescents.
In Tucson I could use local pecans; buy the very best whole pecans you can find. Makes about 3 dozen, depending on size.

1 c (4 oz) pecans, coarsely chopped
1 c (8 oz) unsalted butter, softened
¼ tea salt
½ c 10x (confectioners) sugar
2 tea pure vanilla extract
2 c a-p flour

¼ c 10x (confectioners) sugar

Adjust the oven rack into the upper third of the oven. Preheat to 350 F.

Spread the coarsely chopped pecans on a baking sheet and toast in the oven, stirring occasionally, 5-8 minutes until lightly browned. You could do this in a toaster oven.
Cool thoroughly, then grind in a food processor until very fine but not quite powdery and certainly not oily.

In a stand mixer or with a hand-held electric mixer, beat the softened butter, salt, ½ cup of confectioners sugar, and vanilla until very fluffy and well combined.  Gradually add and beat the pecans into the butter mixture.  While beating, sift the flour into the mixture and continue beating until evenly incorporated.
Pull off pieces of dough and roll between the palms into generous 1-inch balls.  Space 1 ¼ inches apart on cookie sheets.

Bake, 1 sheet at a time, in the upper third of the oven for 12-15 minutes, until faintly tinged with light golden color.  Transfer the sheet to a rack and let the cookies firm up slightly.  Then transfer the cookies onto the rack to cool thoroughly. 

Sift the ¼ c confectioners sugar onto a sheet of wax paper. Roll the cookies in the sugar to evenly coat; if you are planning to freeze the cookies, freeze unsugared and thaw and sugar before using. Sugared cookies will keep in an airtight container for 2 weeks; you can freeze the baked cookies for a month.


1 comment:

racheld said...

I can just taste those dainty, buttery, toasty-nut, crumbly bites now. We've got half the cookies in the world in this house this minute, and I gotta try these.

I know they'll be like the best ones I remember: Several years ago I was invited to Caro's Christmas party at her work, and the youngest employee was a lovely young woman whose Daddy made her contribution of cookies, because he was "famous" for them.

She came in bearing one of those plastic gallon ice cream buckets in each hand, and when they snapped off the tops---solid white inside. His recipe was to cool the cookies thoroughly, and encase them all in those buckets of powdered sugar. You practically had to sift out the last dozen or so, and they were SUBLIME.

I'd never seen anybody use so much XXX in one place before (well, maybe when we used to do wedding cakes), but whatever it was---it worked. Those cookies were the Goblin Market of baked goods---absolutely right in every regard of taste and texture and lingering CRAVE for another.

You brought such a flood of that memory. We've made them a couple of times since, sometimes with lemon zest, sometimes with lime, and they are all simply fabulous.

As are you, I hope---I wish you a wonderful bright holiday season full of all good things.