Saturday, December 11, 2010

Christmas Cookies Part 2: Russian Tea Cakes

My Christmas fever has been escalating slowly but surely. After attending a glowy holiday cocktail party, I have started listening to my Christmas music on a loop. There’s no turning back now. I’ve also been wondering how I ever lived without online shopping. In any case, back to more traditional seasonal concerns: more Christmas cookies!

These are not so much a typical holiday treat for everyone as they are in my family. Growing up, we made cut out cookies and Russian Tea Cakes, and that was it. Over the years, we’ve started incorporating chocolate truffles, fudge, toffee bars, chocolate cherry balls, and more. But, when it comes to Christmas those are the only two non-negotiables. Russian Tea Cakes are my favorite, especially fresh from the oven when they practically fall apart in your mouth, accompanied by a cold glass of egg nog (or soy nog as the present case may be - don’t hate; it’s delicious). Whereas our cut out cookies may get co-opted by Valentine’s Day, or even Halloween, we only make Russian Tea Cakes once a year, and they are so the better for it.

This dough is very similar to the butter cookie dough, except it has nuts in it. This recipe calls for walnuts which gives the perfect bitter edge to all that buttery goodness. You can substitute other kinds of nuts, but if you do, they will no longer be Russian. Pecans make them Mexican Wedding Cakes, almonds become Viennese crescents or Greek kourabiedes, and any other kind of nut veers entirely from tradition. I really do recommend using walnuts, but I will understand if you feel compelled otherwise.

This recipe also comes from Alice Medrich’s Cookies and Brownies. As I said before, she is the master.

1 1/2 cup walnuts
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
16 tablespoons non dairy butter cut into chunks
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup powdered sugar

Place the nuts in a food processor and pulse until they are fairly finely chopped. Transfer to a bowl, and wipe the food processor clean.

Blend the sugar in the food processor until it is superfine. Add the flour and salt and just combine. Add the butter and vanilla and pulse until the mixture forms a dough. Add the nuts and process until combined. Transfer the dough to a bowl, cover and refrigerate overnight.

Heat the oven to 325ยบ. Scoop about one heaping tablespoon of dough and shape into a ball. Place two inches apart on a cookie sheet. Bake for 23-25 minutes, rotating and exchanging racks halfway through. The balls should have a slight color on the top, and be golden brown on the bottom. Transfer to a cooling rack and allow to sit for 5 minutes. Sieve powdered sugar over the top of all the cookies. I have yet to find a way to do this without making a huge mess. Cool completely before storing, but they are at their best just out of the oven.

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