Wednesday, December 27, 2006

russian tea cakes

russian tea cakes

I know that two days after Christmas, it’s impossible to be anything but cookie-d out, but I implore you to make room for just two more: one flawless recipe, and one baker’s trick that everyone should have in their repertoires.

cookie reflecting pool

The first is Russian Tea Cakes, also known as Mexican Wedding Cakes, also known as polvorones and, no doubt, dozens of other things. I just call them dreamy. Toasted nuts are ground into a fine powder — the Russian-style seems to call more often for hazelnuts, the Mexican ones typically demand pecans, but I’d argue you could use anything from walnuts to almonds (I bet those marcona ones would be dreamy) to Brazil or macadamia nuts — mixed into a fairly un-sweet butter cookie base, baked in little balls and then rolled, still warm in a cloud of powdered sugar, sometimes enhanced with a sprinkle of cinnamon. They melt in your mouth. They keep well for even two weeks, tasting better as they age. I think if I were a nut, and I suspect we know that I am, this is how I’d like to be showcased, even if it would mean a certain demise in many a gaping maw.

three

I made the cookies this time with hazelnuts, but confess that I liked them better when I made them last year with pecans — perhaps it’s their higher oily content? Next I’d like to try them with my favorite, walnuts. Epicurious has two recipes for these cookies, one labeled “Russian” one labeled “Mexican” and they are exactly the same except for two things: the Russian ones have a quarter-cup of additional nuts replacing a quarter-cup of flour, and the Mexican ones suggest you add an eighth of a teaspoon of cinnamon to the powdered sugar. As I’ve loved both (not realizing they were nearly identical until later), I am torn over which to share so below, I am combining the two. Evidently, today is Walk on the Wild Side Day here at Smitten Kitchen.

nine

Finally, the baker’s trick: A couple weeks ago, I made those wee chocolate tartlets with a pate sucree so good, I couldn’t part with it. To keep myself from eating it raw — though we all know I still did — I rolled it out, cut it with cookie cutters, brushed the tops with cream and sprinkled coarse sugar on them. I didn’t have enough to do this, but they would have made perfect sandwich cookies, filled with some ganache or seedless raspberry jam. The moral of the story: waste not those scraps! I don’t mean to seem superficial, but pretty much anyone who brings me a tin filled with a pile of sparkly homemade cookies is guaranteed to be asked over again. Isn’t it the same for everyone?

remnant sparkles

Russian Tea Cakes [a.k.a. Mexican Wedding Cakes or Polvorones]
Adapted from Epicurious

Makes about 4 dozen

1 cup (2 sticks or 8 ounces) butter, room temperature
2 cups powdered sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup pecans, hazelnuts or other nuts, toasted and finely ground (if using hazelnuts, wrap in a dishtowel while still warm and roll about until most of the brown skins come off)
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional)

Using electric mixer, beat butter in large bowl until light and fluffy. Add 1/2 cup powdered sugar and vanilla; beat until well blended. Beat in flour, then nuts. Divide dough in half; form each half into ball. Wrap separately in plastic; chill until cold, about 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Whisk remaining 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar and cinnamon, if using, in pie dish to blend. Set cinnamon sugar aside.

Working with half of chilled dough, roll dough by 2 teaspoonfuls between palms into balls. Arrange balls on heavy large baking sheet, spacing 1/2 inch apart. Bake cookies until golden brown on bottom and just pale golden on top, about 18 minutes. Cool cookies 5 minutes on baking sheet. Gently toss warm cookies in cinnamon sugar to coat completely. Transfer coated cookies to rack and cool completely. Repeat procedure with remaining half of dough. (Cookies can be prepared 2 days ahead. Store airtight at room temperature; reserve remaining cinnamon sugar.)

Sift remaining cinnamon sugar over cookies and serve.


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