On the Friday after Thanksgiving, I was sipping a beautiful dark ale and lounging over at Maggie and Aleks' house, when Maggie asked me if I plan on baking Christmas cookies. I wasn't planning. In fact, I have never baked Christmas cookies. But after Maggie enumerated all the fancy cookies she had baked last year (I must admit I helped with the eating...) I gave the idea a more serious thought. Six batches of cookies later - biscotti, nut-bars, chocolate cutouts and all - I am completely cookied out! Of them all, I think the two batches of Mexican Wedding cookies were my favorite! They were not all too sweet and their texture was so fragile, they melted in your mouth, one batch was cheered by cranberries, the other batch nutty with pecans, both of them to die for!
The first recipe came from Epicurious.com's collection of 25 Days of Christmas in cookies - Pistachio and Cherry Mexican Wedding Cakes. These looked snow covered and wintry. I wanted to make something without nuts so I skipped the pistachios and substituted cranberries for the cherries. The red and white combination made them even more festive!
Cranberry Mexican Wedding Cakes
1 C (2 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature
1/2 C powdered sugar plus more for coating
1 Tbs vanilla extract
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 to 1 C dried cranberries, chopped
2 1/2 cups sifted all purpose flour
(Makes ~40 cookies)
Preheat oven to 350F. Beat butter and powder sugar until fluffy. Add the other ingredients in the order listed but don't overmix. The dough will be crumbly. Shape the cookies into ovals by squeezing a Tbs of dough in the palm of your hand. Place cookies on a parchment-paper-covered baking sheet. These do not expand during baking and can be pretty close to each other. Bake for 16 minutes, until the bottoms are very slightly browned. Cool for a bit and roll in powdered sugar while still warm.
Alright, they were not the prettiest of cookies, but they were tasty! A couple of days later, when these were all devoured and given away, James came back from visiting his family and treated me to one of his Mom's cookies. I begged for the recipe.
James' Mom's Mexican Wedding in Wisconsin Cookies
1 C butter (2 sticks), softened
6 Tbs powdered sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 C sifted all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups pecans, chopped very fine
(Makes ~60 cookies)
Mix all ingredients into a dough same as above, form into a ball and chill four a couple hours. Roll the dough into 1" balls (or crescents) and place on a parchment-paper-lined baking sheet. Bake for 12 minutes at 375 F. Let them cool slightly, then roll them in powdered sugar.
Do they really eat these at Mexican weddings? I have never been to a Mexican wedding (I bet it is a lot of fun) - maybe they do, maybe they don't. Turns out the name of the cookies is not necessarily connected to our Southern neighbor. Buttery cookies, containing finely ground nuts and rolled in powdered sugar appear all over the world - Russian Tea Cakes, Danish Almond Cookies, Spain's polvornes and Finnish Butter Strips. Still other names for the same cookies are Nut Butter Balls, Almond Crescents, Napoleon Hats or Melting Moments (I like this last one). It seems like the cookie is old, but the name is new. The first mentions of Mexican Wedding cookies appear in the 1950's. Some sources suggest that then, at the cusp of the Cold War, calling them Russian Tea Cakes would have been a bit inappropriate (and possibly a poor marketing pitch) so a new, politically correct name was invented. Some recipes from the 50's and 60's can be found here (note that many of these recipes ask for margarine; do substitute with butter for goodness sake). Whichever name you choose to call them by, these are some tasty cookies!