‘Tis the season to be jolly! That usually involves a lot of making and baking for gifting around our house. The holidays wouldn’t be the same if the kitchen counters weren’t constantly stacked with baking ingredients and finished cookies and candies. It becomes a regular Santa’s workshop, complete with non–union elf–help (though my elves tend to take more than they make—one of the perks of the job, they insist).
To help curtail my losses, I bake many varieties of cookies. I like to combine tastes and textures rather than just opt for the cookies seen on typical Christmas platters. I always include some of my old faves from childhood (gotta keep the baker happy!). I usually try to use recipes that will create a party in your mouth when eaten together. It also makes it much easier to put together gift packages when you have a big selection to choose from.
One style of cookie that seems to satisfy every cookie eater on my list is a melt–away. You know, the kind that instantly dissolves into a burst of flavor the second you bite into it and toss it around on your tongue. Or, if you manage to fit the whole cookie in your mouth at once, it sends you running in search of liquid relief as you chew it down. My usual remedy for this comes in the form of hot tea (I don’t drink coffee). The kids like to use melt–aways as an excuse to make hot chocolate (they don’t drink plain milk). We all have our unique methods of dealing with the melt–in–your–mouth cookie madness we experience at Christmas time.
The following two recipes are definitive melt–aways. Russian Tea Cakes hail from my childhood and the Angel Whispers recipe was found a couple of years ago on a favorite website. Russian Tea Cakes, otherwise known as Mexican Wedding Cakes, Viennese Sugar Balls, Italian Butter Nuts and Snowdrops (to name a few), are shortbread–like cookies that contain mostly ground nuts and butter and are rolled in powdered sugar once they are baked. They are popular in many cultures during the holidays as well as for other festive occasions. The nut choice will vary with the country of origin, but the technique remains the same. You just can’t beat them for a Christmas cookie choice. Just looking at them makes my mouth water with anticipation. They melt in your mouth just like a snowball would (only tastier!).
Angel Whispers are lemony sandwich cookies that are also melt–in–your–mouth good. I had such success with this cookie that I’m also going to try it with limes this year. Some people who have made this cookie have trouble with the filling being too runny. My answer to this is patience! Make sure you allow it to cook long enough so that it has a chance to thicken up. You can also make this as a thumbprint cookie instead of a sandwich cookie. The filling will fill the thumbprint very nicely.
I’ll be addressing other taste sensations in the upcoming weeks. What kinds of cookies do you usually bake for the holidays? Does your family insist on baking old favorites (like mine) or do they like to be holiday cookie guinea pigs? I personally enjoy baking and eating both, but I’d love to know what the rest of the foodie world does this time of year.
Russian Tea Cakes
2/3 cup toasted nuts (pecans, walnuts, hazelnuts)
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/4 cup confectioners’ (powdered or icing) sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups all–purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup confectioners’ (powdered or icing) sugar, sifted
Preheat oven to 350° F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Set aside.
Place nuts on a baking sheet and bake for about 8 minutes, or until lightly brown and fragrant. Cool. Once the nuts have cooled completely, place them along with 2 tablespoons of the flour into your food processor (fitted with a metal blade) and process until they are finely ground (but not a paste). Set aside.
In the bowl of your electric mixer (or with a hand mixer), cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy (about 2 minutes). Beat in the vanilla extract. Add the remaining flour and salt and beat until combined. Stir in the nuts. Cover and refrigerate the dough for about 1 hour or until firm.
Form the dough into 1–inch balls and place 2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheets. Bake about 12–15 minutes, or until the edges of the cookies start to brown. Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool for about 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, line another baking pan or tray with parchment or wax paper. Sprinkle about 1/2 cup of the confectioners’ sugar on the bottom of the pan and then place the slightly cooled cookies on top of the sugar. Place the remaining 1/2 cup of sugar in a fine strainer or sieve and then sprinkle the tops of the cookies (or you can just roll the cookies in the sugar). Recipe makes about 3–1/2 dozen cookies.
1 cup butter
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar plus more for dusting
2 cups all–purpose flour
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg, beaten
2/3 cup sugar
1–1/2 teaspoons lemon zest
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1–1/2 tablespoons butter
To make cookie dough, cream together butter and confectioners’ sugar in a medium bowl until light. Stir in the flour, lemon zest and salt. Cover bowl and chill dough for about 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 400° F.
Flatten teaspoonfuls of dough onto cookie sheets and bake for 5–8 minutes until light brown. Remove from baking sheets to cool on racks.
To make the filling, combine the beaten egg, sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice and butter in the top of a double boiler. Stir until thick (15–30 minutes). Sandwich the cookies with 1 teaspoon of filling. Dust tops of the cookies with confectioners’ sugar.
To make thumbprint cookies, roll dough into 1–inch balls. Press thumb into tops until small indentations are created. Bake until slightly browned (5–8 minutes). Cool on racks.
Fill cooled thumbprints with lemon filling. Dust the tops with confectioners’ sugar.
December 9, 2008 at 4:37 pm
Susan from Food Blogga said:
Angel whispers may just be one the prettiest names for a cookie I have ever heard. Both cookies look divine, Leah. Thank you so much for submitting them to my event.December 10, 2008 at 6:06 am
Happy Cook said:
I love both the cookies. Ther filling for Angel Whispers, do we have to cool the filling down before we sandwitch the cookies.December 10, 2008 at 2:03 pm
Happy Cook…I found that the filling works best when it has cooled down to just warm or room temperature. Just make sure to cook it long enough so that it isn’t runny. This filling is similar to lemon curd, so it doesn’t set up like creme-filled sandwich cookies.December 20, 2008 at 7:19 pm
Ohhhh, these look so good. I can hardly wait to make both of them. I have been looking for a good receipe for the Mexican Wedding cookies for a long time. My mother had a friend who was Swedish and the best baker and cook, and every Christmas she would gift these to us. We never were smart enuf to ask her for her receipe. From your description of yours, they sound like I may have found the receipe I have been looking for. I certainly hope so and will let you soon.
Thanks for all you have on your site….Bonnie