Cookie of the Month: Dusting up celebratory tradition

I never needed a wedding (or any special occasion) to enjoy a Mexican wedding cookie. Just eating one of these buttery little orbs, its crumbly texture dusted with the cooling sweetness of confectioner’s sugar, was cause alone for celebration.

Long a fan of this cookie, a tradition in Mexico (and other places) at weddings and christenings, holidays and other joyous happenings, I had not ever made any.

Looking into a recipe for them, I discovered they are also called polvorones (from the Spanish word “polvo,” meaning “powder” or “dust”). Most are a simple (and heavy on the butter) shortbread cookie dough, rolled into rounds and baked, then tossed in powdered sugar to coat. I saw recipes that upped the flavor ante, though, that drew me in with the addition of spice (like cinnamon) and nuts.

One by Rick Bayless, chef, restaurateur, cookbook author and host of the PBS series, “Mexico: One Plate at a Time,” for polvorones included toasted pecans and cinnamon…two of my favorite things added to another (shortbread). How could this recipe not be good?

The pecans are toasted, cooled and chopped finely, then added to other dry ingredients — flour, salt and cinnamon (preferably Mexican canela).

Butter (almost three sticks) and granulated sugar are creamed, then a good dose of vanilla is added. The dry ingredients with pecans are mixed in to make a substantial and stiff dough.

I used a cookie scoop to make even balls of dough, which I placed on parchment lined cookie sheets

The cookies bake for 18 to 20 minutes, giving them enough time to turn a light golden brown and provide the kitchen a soft, comforting aroma of butter, vanilla, cinnamon and pecans. The dough balls held their shape during baking.

Some of the recipes I read had you rolling the cookies in powdered sugar while still warm…this recipe called for a cooling time before the cookie balls hit the confectioner’s sugar (and vice versa).

These made one of the best Mexican wedding cookies I’ve ever had. That slightly salty, rich shortbread, the cinnamon and vanilla, the tender crunch of buttery pecans. Crumbling, melting, delicious. For a big event or an afternoon coffee or tea, these cookies were more than good enough to celebrate.

Polvorones

By Rick Bayless

From www.rickbayless.com

Makes about 4-1/2 dozen cookies

“When I started researching the origins of this cookie, I found that this type of cookie is common to most cultures and didn’t originate in Mexico.  The cookie is based on an old recipe, and is used in most cultures for celebrations, since it’s rich in butter and nuts.  In Mexico, it’s traditionally used at weddings and christenings which is probably how it got its American name.  The dough is stiff enough to work with right away or if you prefer, roll them into balls and freeze them.  The raw cookies can go straight from the freezer to the oven,  just add 2 to 3 minutes to the original cooking time.” 

  • 6 ounces whole pecan halves
  • 3-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, preferably Mexican canela
  • 2-3/4 sticks (11 ounces) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • About 1cup powdered sugar to decorate the cookies

Preheat the oven to 350°.

Spread the pecan halves in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Place the pecans in the oven for 8 to 10 minutes or until lightly toasted. Remove from the oven and reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees.

After the pecans have cooled to room temperature, place them in a food processor and pulse until the pecans are finely ground. Scoop them into a large bowl and add the flour, salt and cinnamon. Stir to combine.

In a mixer, cream together the butter and 1 cup sugar. Add the vanilla and the flour mixture and mix until well blended.

Using 1 tablespoon of the dough per cookie, roll into small balls. Place the cookie on an un-greased cookie sheet and bake for 18 to 20 minutes or until lightly brown. Once the cookies have cooled completely, roll them in the powdered sugar.

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