Mexican wedding cookies, like turnovers, have many variations found around the world. Many of us know them as polvorones, pan de polvo, Russian tea cakes, or just plain old snowballs. Further afield, variations include kourabiedes (Greek) and ciastke kurche (Polish). You’ll find many more, but by any name, they’re a tiny explosion of sweetness that will leave you wanting just one more bite. Traditionally, they’re piled on tables, or placed in small packets of pretty paper called papel de china. For holidays and special occasions, hosts may prepare them in small bundles as parting gifts for their guests. In fact, these are a terrific post holiday “thank you” gifts as we head into the New Year. That’s why I’ve prepared two versions of these favorites. One’s a decadent delight for the holidays – with traditional ingredients. The second is a sugar-free version that retains all the melt-in-your-mouth flavors, but with much less guilt. When calories start to count at the New Year, we can still have our indulgences. Presentation is also part of the fun. With a few colorful ribbons and food-grade bags or containers, these make delightful packages for delivery any time of year. For extra flair inside the bags, toss in some colored sprinkles or other edible adornments that coordinate with the season or a special theme. These little wedding cookies freeze well, too, so go ahead and make up a large batch and you’ll be prepared.
A few tips that may be helpful:
–You can substitute less-expensive walnuts for traditional pecans. Always let the nuts cool after toasting; otherwise, they can become gummy. Add flour in the food processor when grinding to absorb the oils.
–Cooking times can vary – check them frequently. Break one open and if there’s a small area inside that’s not quite done, don’t worry. They’ll firm up while cooling.
–Also, the trick in getting a beautiful powdery coating is to toss them in powdered sugar while they’re still warm, then give a sprinkle after they’ve cooled. Avoid using plastic bags for tossing; warm cookies will melt the plastic.
–One last note: don’t be put off by the addition of cornstarch to Splenda in the sugar-free version. That’s a standard ingredient in confectioner’s sugar, too.
Mexican Wedding Cookies
Makes approximately 5 dozen cookies
1 cup butter, softened to room temperature
1 cup powdered (confectioner’s) sugar + ½cup for dusting
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2½ cups all-purpose flour + ¼ cup for grinding nuts
pinch of salt
½ cup pecans, toasted
1. To prepare pecans/walnuts, preheat the oven to 400ºF. Spread out on a cookie sheet and bake for about 7 minutes. Let them cool thoroughly. Place them in a food processor and add ¼ cup flour. Grind to small pulverized pieces. There will be some dust, which just adds to the flavor.
2. Place one cup softened butter in a large bowl. Use an electric mixer to beat until fluffy.
3. Add powdered sugar and vanilla extract and blend thoroughly.
4. Slowly add in flour and continue mixing. The dough will look pebbly.
5. Knead by hand until you have a solid dough mass. Refrigerate if desired.
6. Make small balls, about 1 inch in diameter. (Use a finger to press down and flatten slightly, if desired. They’ll stack better.) Cooking times will vary considerably, depending on whether you use a double-layer cookie pan or a single layer pan. For the double layer pan, place on a middle rack and bake at 350ºF for about 30-35 minutes. For standard cookie sheets, cooking times will be about 20 minutes. The bottoms should be a little browned, but be careful not to overcook. Remove cookies from pan and allow to cool just enough for easy handling. Fill a bowl with ½ cup powdered sugar and add 3-4 cookies at a time. Toss gently to coat and place on plate. Give them one more sprinkling and they’re ready to serve, refrigerate, or freeze.
Sugar-Free Mexican Wedding Cookies
Makes 5 dozen
1 cup butter, room temperature
1 cup Splenda
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2½ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup pecans or walnuts
Follow directions for making dough with the traditional recipe above. Just replace sugar with Splenda at the same amount and add twice the amount of vanilla extract. (If you’re using the Splenda/sugar blend; use only half.)
For the powdered sugar coating:
½ cup Splenda
1 tablespoon cornstarch
Use a blender to grind the Splenda and cornstarch together. You can use a sugar substitute of your choice; although not all are appropriate for baking. Also, the baking time may be less for sugar substitutes than with regular sugar.