Monday, December 22, 2014

Walnut Snowball Cookies

...aka Snowballs, Mexican Wedding Cookies, Russian Tea  Cookies, Greek Walnut Sugar Cookies, Almond Crescents... and the list goes on. Whatever you call them, these ground nut cookies are absolutely melt-in-your-mouth delicious. Once I tiptoed into cookie-baking mode this week, these powdered sugar treats joined the must-bake list.

My Austrian Mom favored a traditional almond recipe for her German Almond Crescents. Not just for Christmas, these were anytime favorites in our family. Handfuls of these cookies would disappear almost as fast as they emerged from their powdered sugar bath. Today I veered away from decades of family cookie baking tradition, intrigued by a recipe recently posted online by joythebaker 

Joy's recipe for Butter Walnut Cookies called for more nuts than flour, brown sugar instead of granulated white, and added cornstarch to the dough. Small adjustments can make major changes when you're baking, so I optimistically set off to experiment and add an adjustment or two of my own. Joy described her buttery walnut bites as "Tender, crumbly, two-bites, powdered sugar clouds." Mmmmm, that sounded like perfect, fluffy, two-bite snowballs to me.  

Success! I should have baked another batch or two, because you really can't eat just one snowball. Pop several of these sweet little cookies into your mouth, and you'll find yourself reaching for more, lots more. It is easy to track any stealth cookie tasters by following the powdered sugar trails left behind on various countertops, place mats and shirt fronts. Or I could just check the satisfied smiles around the kitchen.    

Snowball Cookies
inspired by a recipe at joythebaker

Yields about 2 dozen cookies

       1 cup all-purpose flour
       1 tablespoon cornstarch
       1/4 teaspoon salt
       1/4 teaspoon baking powder
       3 tablespoons light brown sugar, firmly packed
       1 1/2 cups ground or finely chopped walnuts
       1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
       1 scant teaspoon vanilla extract
       a generous splash of almond extract
       1 1/2 cups powdered sugar, for rolling cookies after baking

1.   Place an oven rack in the upper middle position; preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with a silicone mat or parchment paper and set aside. Place powdered sugar in a medium bowl and set aside.
2.   Use a medium bowl and stir together the dry ingredients: flour, cornstarch, salt, baking powder and finely chopped walnuts.
3.   In a separate bowl use a mixer and cream together the butter and brown sugar. Stir in the vanilla extract. 
4.   Add the dry ingredient mixture and use a large wooden spoon to work into the creamed sugar and butter. Mix the dough until it's a fairly loose, coarse meal with lots of nutty bits.
5.   Roll heaping tablespoons of dough between the palms of your hands and form walnut-sized balls. Place an inch apart on the prepared baking sheet, the cookies will only spread a little.
6.   Bake for 25 minutes, turning the baking sheet front to back halfway through the baking time. Bake until the bottoms barely begin to brown, appear dry on the outside and feel fairly firm to the touch.
7.   Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly and set up a bit for 2 to 3 minutes before placing in the bowl of powdered sugar. While still warm, roll gently in powdered sugar to generously coat on all surfaces. Place on wire baking rack to cool completely. Roll again in powdered sugar (optional, but why not add a little more fluffy snow to a snowball?)
8.   Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to five days.

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