Sunday, June 16, 2013

Mexican Wedding Cookies


I keep thinking that the name for these things is probably apocryphal. I don't have any reason to think that, but I do. I think it about Italian Wedding Soup too, but I don't like Italian Wedding Soup, so I don't care. These cookies are excellent though, so I worry that I am calling my delightful little cookie nubs something that an actual Mexican person might roll their eyes at and think 'Stupid gringos, what do they know from Mexican weddings, anyway?' Never mind.

It is a super easy recipe. I followed it exactly. Unfortunately, I don't remember where I got it.

2/3 cup (65 grams) nuts
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 (30 grams) cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups (260 grams) all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt

more powdered sugar for rolling the cookies in

Toast the nuts lightly. Put them in a processor with a couple tablespoons of the flour and process them until they are finely ground, but haven't turned into paste.

Beat the butter and powdered sugar together. Beat in the vanilla and salt, add the nuts and remaining flour and beat until combined. Refrigerate until firm, about an hour.

Pre heat oven to 350. make 1" balls of dough and place them 2" apart on cookie sheets. Bake for 15 minutes. Let the cookies cool for about 5 minutes. While they are still warm, roll the cookies in powdered sugar. Place the sugared cookies on paper towel to cool. Ta da! Cookies.

Things to know:

1. Do use butter that is at room temperature. If it is too cold it will be hard to beat, and if its too warm, it will separate and the texture of the cookies will be hard.
2. Be gentle when rolling the cookies in sugar. They are very delicate and will crumble up if you bash them around.
3. I used walnuts. Some people don't like walnuts, because they have those slightly bitter papery husks, but these cookies are very bland by nature so I wanted the hint of astringency to balance it out. I bet hazelnuts would be good, or pecans and rosemary. Or pine nuts and orange zest. Hmmmm....
4. They will absorb a great deal of powdered sugar. Don't be shy, go ahead and smother them in it.
5. If you have a scale, do use it. The volume of powdered sugar in particular is highly variable, so the most accurate way of measuring it is by weight. 30 grams is 30 grams whether you cram it into a quarter of a cup or fluff it up to occupy a third.
6. The recipe says to use unsalted butter, so I did, because I actually had some. But next time I will probably like salted butter better, because once the cookies cool down, the savory contrast of the dough with the sugar coating flattens out a bit.

These are really lovely things. The dough is only mildly sweet, so the sugar coating isn't overpowering, and they are astonishingly delicate in texture for something that has such a high proportion of butter and nuts, and no leavening. I think this is partly due to the powdered sugar (which contains cornstarch) in the dough, but mostly to the behavior of butter itself. In the U.S., butter is legally required to have something like 83% milk fat in it. Which means that out of 1 cup of butter, a little less that 1/5 of it is actually water and milk protein and whatnot. That isn't enough to toughen the gluten in the flour, but it is enough to create a teensy bit of steam during cooking so that the starches fluff up a tad and the escaping water vapor creates a slight leavening effect. The result is a cookie that holds its shape just until you bite it and then dissolves with a slight crunch.

I think they're superb. I ate them instead of toast for breakfast today.


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