A Favorite Christmas Cookie
“It’s not Christmas. No, said Cal, it’s better than Christmas.”
East of Eden, John Steinbeck
This Christmas cookie has been splashed across the internet and a version of the recipe can be found in every cookbook that has cookies as its theme. Of all the Christmas cookies I make this is the most requested. Russian Tea Cakes are the first holiday cookie of the season. A nutty shortbread cookie rolled in powdered sugar, simple to make and even easier to devour. There are many names and variations for this cookie, Mexican Wedding Cakes, Polvorones, made with cinnamon, pecans, walnuts or hazelnuts. I use the recipe my mom used. Changing a family favorite can be treacherous, especially at the holidays. I wouldn’t dream of adding cinnamon, although I imagine it would be fabulous. Over the years I have made a few tweaks. We grew up with cookies made with margarine and walnuts as butter and pecans were too expensive. I migrated to butter, added another handful of walnuts and toasted them before adding to the dough. With my changes the Russian Tea Cakes must taste better. But childhood memories can’t be argued with. Even though I know butter tastes better than margarine the best cookies I’ve ever had at Christmas were the ones my mom and I made together. That’s an ingredient you can’t buy at the store or include in a recipe, even though that’s what we’re all looking for at Christmas.
We race faster than ever during the holidays. Speeding into another year we toss the old aside. We move on. And yet there is a deep longing, an ache that we bury with our busyness. We yearn for connection, a reason that makes some sense of our lives. Christmas is not in the glamour or the gifts. (Yes they are nice, very nice.) Pause amid the holiday commotion. Take a few deep breaths, find time to make those memories and savor them. They will last longer than a zillion cookies or the most extravagant gift. That’s where the sparkle and shine can be found. Amid the chaos and frenzy look into your heart and feel the cookie magic. Make it happen this year. Then it will be Christmas.
This is the quintessential Christmas cookie, warm and soothing, evoking the comfort of a blazing fire on a cold day. Decadent, indulgent just as a holiday treat should be from lots of butter framed by a backdrop of walnuts and all wrapped up in a snowy coating of powdered sugar. Use the best butter you can for this recipe. If you’re going to make shortbread for Christmas there is no reason to skimp. Take the time to toast the nuts, the tasty rewards will be in every cookie. A sweet reminder to store powdered sugar in the freezer and it will remain lump free. No sifting required.
|1C||walnuts or pecans|
|1C||unsalted butter, softened|
|2-3C||powdered sugar, sifted if not kept in the freezer|
|1/2t||fine grain sea salt|
- Heat the oven to 350°. Spread the walnuts across the surface of a sheet pan and toast for 8-10 minutes until they are fragrant and turn toasty brown. Cool and then finely chop.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment add the butter and 1/2 cup of the powdered sugar and begin mixing on low speed. Increase the speed and mix just until the powdered sugar is throughly combined with butter. Add the vanilla and mix again. Stop and scrape down the sides and bottom of the mixer bowl. When the vanilla is throughly incorporated add the flour and salt. Mix just until the dough comes together and then mix in the nuts. Chill the dough until it is stiff before baking.
- Heat the oven to 375°. Line a sheet pan with parchment. Scoop the cookies in uniform amounts by using an ice cream scoop or measuring spoon. I prefer the cookies on the small side, about two teaspoons in size. Roll the cookie dough into round balls and space 2 inches apart on the sheet pan. Bake for 8-10 minutes, just until the bottom edges of the cookies begin to brown. Cool for five minutes and then roll in powdered sugar. Let the cookies cool completely and then roll in powdered sugar again.
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