Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Cookie Baking Time is Upon Us with Snowballs

Snowballs or Russian Tea Cakes
The holidays are approaching quickly, and cookie baking time is here. I started yesterday, making the little round Russian Teacakes, also known as Snowballs or Mexican Wedding Cakes.  I have eaten these cookies for the better part of my 62 years, and they remain some of my most favorite.  They just burst in your mouth, and the flavor is heaven.  I have made some cookies all the years I have been baking and others have been left by the wayside.  Some new ones have come up to take their places. 

My husband loves Cherry Bon Bons, with little bits of dough wrapped around a drained maraschino cherry. They are delicious, if you love those cherries. When I was really young, I loved some that were called Snickerdoodles.  Last year about this time I was working on a family cookbook from all my mother-in-law's recipes, and found one recipe called "Crisco Cookies," that was the same recipe as the old Snickerdoodles!

I have stopped making Spritz cookies in a cookie press, as they were more trouble than they were worth no matter how decadently delicious. My Mom would make Spritz with her trusty cookie press, and then either brush them with an egg yolk wash and adorn with bits of candied cherries, or on some of the cookies, she would beat up egg whites with some sugar, then fold in finely ground walnuts and brush some of this mixture on the cookies before baking. These are also in my top three of cookie preferences.

Kifli with Apricot Filling: Ready to Bake
In Guatemala, armed with the Joy of Cooking, I made some spiced bars that turned out hard as little rocks, but with excellent flavor.  They were a hit at breakfast to dunk in coffee. The coffee softened them enough to eat, with an added dimension of flavor. Other cookies I made were little rolled cookies with ground almonds and cardamom. These are just excellent but I haven't made them for many years. Some that were always a hit with my children were thumbprints, but these were made with an exceptional amount of cinnamon added in, and with a half red or green glaceed cherry stuck on top.

When I was a teenager and dating, I went to a boyfriend's house and ate cookies his mom called Forgotten Cookies. They were meringues, baked, then left overnight in the oven.  I fell in love with them, but only just made them a few years ago for the first time.  Melt in your mouth good, and light! Others I have tried are cookies with date filling, either a two layered cookie with a section cut out of the top cookie, or made into a filling in a pie dough square.

Snowballs or Russian Tea Cakes

Makes 7 dozen

2 cups unsalted butter
1 cup confectioners' sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
4½ cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
1½ cup finely ground nuts (we always used walnuts)
Extra confectioners' sugar for rolling and storing

Cream together the butter, confectioners' sugar and vanilla. Using a pastry blender cut in the flour, salt and nuts; blend in until crumbly. Chill the dough. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Form the dough into 1 inch balls and place on an ungreased baking sheet about 2 inches apart. Bake until set, but not browned, about 15 minutes. While still warm, roll in confectioners' sugar. Allow to cool and roll in more confectioners' sugar. When storing, sprinkle more confectioners' sugar over and around the cookies, as they soak up quite a bit.

Similar to this, but far more elegant and flaky are the Kifli my Grandma used to make.  These are made with a delicate dough made with lard (for best flakiness), and cut into little circles or squares.  A filling of cooked apricots or prunes are the two I remember most, and this was placed in the center of each circle or square and then the pastry pinched together over top. After baking, they are sprinkled with confectioners' sugar.

We all have favorites, and we all have different memories of our favorite cookies.  Whichever they may be, have a wonderful time baking memories!

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website, on Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. I am also on a spiritual journey and hope you will join me at my new blog, An Eagle Flies.