Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Snowball Cookies

Okay, they're usually called Russian Tea Cakes, but when I call them snowballs, my kids like them a lot better. This recipe is how I altered the one from my Betty Crocker cookbook.

What You Need:
1 cup butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup flour
1 cup finely chopped, toasted pecans*
1/2 tsp. salt
Additional powdered sugar for dusting

*Measure the pecans after you chop them. You want a cup of the chopped nuts, not a cup of pecan halves, chopped. There can be as much as 1/4 cup difference if you measure before rather than after.

I always begin any recipe with nuts by toasting the nuts. Toasting the pecans makes them taste so, so much yummier. It is a 6-minute step that you definitely don't want to skip.
To toast the pecans, spread them in a single layer in a baking pan or rimmed baking sheet. Toast them at 350-degrees for about 4 minutes. Shake the pan, and return it to the oven for another 2-3 minutes. The pecans get a little darker in color, and smell amazingly yummy when they're properly toasted. They look black when they're burned. I only point this out because you do have to watch them to make sure you don't burn them.

When the nuts are toasted, turn the oven up to 400-degrees to preheat for the cookies.

When they're cool enough to handle, chop the nuts fine. You want the pieces to be very small, or they'll make it hard to roll the cookie dough into a ball. (You could also use a food processor here, but I need a new, better one, so I use a good old knife.)

In a mixing bowl, combine the sugar, butter and vanilla.

Add the remaining ingredients.

Mix on low until the dough resembles coarse crumbs (about pea-sized).

It seems weird and drier than you'd think cookie dough would be. I know. That is the beauty of these cookies. They're light. They're crispy, kind of. They're hard to describe if you haven't had one... but they're so good.

Make sure the dough is evenly mixed when you remove the bowl from the mixer. Sometimes I end up with more flour on the bottom, and lose some cookies out of the mix. Use a spatula to hand mix the dough a few more stirs before you start scooping.

I use a dough scoop that is about 1-1 1/2 tsp. Scoop a heaping teaspoon of dough into your hand and smash it to make it stick together. It should not be all stuck together when you scoop. It should really still be rather crumbly until you add pressure.

Roll the dough into a ball, using pressure. This takes some trial and error. They are crumbly. So you really do have to press hard while you're rolling to get them to stick together. (It reminds me of rolling cake balls for cake pops if I haven't added enough icing to them.)
Place the cookie balls onto a baking sheet (preferably a sheet with a rim on it so that they don't roll off on the walk from the counter to the oven-- not that this has ever happened to me - or maybe it has.)
While the cookies don't really spread, so they don't need much space, don't overload the cookie sheet because you need to roll them in sugar while they're still warm, and if you bake too many at once, you can't roll them fast enough.

Bake the cookies for 8-10 minutes at 400-degrees. They should just barely start to brown at the edges when they're done. (See that flattened one in the middle there? I knew that one would smoosh. There was a big, unmixed chunk of butter in that one when I rolled it. I left it anyway. I'm lazy sometimes.)

As soon as they're cool enough to handle (3-5 minutes), roll them in powdered sugar. Here's what works for me. I use a flat-ish bowl and a fork to roll the cookies, and set them on to a cooling grid to let the excess sugar fall off.

I drop the cookie in the sugar, then use the fork to mound the sugar on top.

Then I lift them out with the fork and set them on a cooling grid to let the excess sugar fall off.

Pretty much as soon as I get them all rolled the first time, I roll them a second time, using the same technique, starting with the ones you dipped first and moving along to the last ones.

Yummy little nutty snowballs. Perfect!

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