Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Snowball Cookie Bites (aka Mexican Wedding Cookies, Russian Tea Cakes, etc.)

Snowball Cookie Bites

Every family has dishes that their holiday meal would not be the same without.  Whether it's your grandma's ambrosia salad, or your mother's sweet potato casserole, let's face it; we all have some pretty specific expectations when it comes to holiday meals.  In my family, our traditional holiday meal consists of turkey, cornbread dressing, mashed potatoes, Le Sueur English peas (yes... it has to be Le Sueurs), and brown and serve rolls (you know... the ones with the lines on top that you smear butter on top and bake for about ten minutes).  And we absolutely cannot forget the cranberry sauce... the lovely, jiggly, burgundy bliss that comes in a can.  This has been, without fail, our holiday meal for as long as I can remember.  It also has served as our holiday meal for both Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners.  Apparently, variety was not the spice of life at our house.

This is what pretty much every holiday plate looked like at our house growing up.  This one doesn't have the Le Sueur peas because it's my plate and I don't care for English peas.... ;)

It took me a good, long while to learn as an adult that everyone doesn't have the same "traditional" holiday dinner.  Imagine my surprise the first time I attended a Thanksgiving dinner and there was no cornbread dressing??  I am still not sure what that gummy, grayish-brown concoction someone tried to pass off as dressing was, but I can assure you it was not like any "dressing" I had ever had.   I have to admit, it took me a few years to embrace something different.  After a while, I simply began to look forward to good food with good company.

Which now brings me to the traditional desserts in our family.  This was an area where a bit of latitude was allowed.  Don't get me wrong... the list of "acceptable" desserts remained the same throughout the years, we just did not have every one of them every year.  So our list included German chocolate cake, pecan pie, pumpkin pie (although, surprisingly, not that often), Hello Dollies (a delightful bar made with graham crackers, chocolate chips, pecans, coconut, and sweetened condensed milk), and snowball cookies.  In a surprising turn of events, chocolate pie and coconut cream pies were added to the list of acceptable desserts a few years ago.  I think the only reason these made the list is because I discovered recipes for both that everyone just LOVED... any excuse to make either or both of these pies was good enough for the family.

Specifically, today, I would like to discuss the "Snowball Cookies".  You've had them.... I'm certain of it (and if not, please, please, please make some soon because they are so delightfully scrumptious). When my mom made these cookies, she rolled them into balls about the size of walnuts.  And, as my mother did with most everything, she baked them until they were pretty brown.  Both she and my dad seem to prefer things a little more on the "well done" side.  I find that just "done" works fine for me!

Anyhow... right out of the oven they were coated with powdered sugar until they resembled snowballs (hence, our name for them).  They were delightfully buttery, flaky, nutty, and coated with powdered sugar that managed to find its way on your face, down your shirt, and all over your fingers.  But it was such a delicious mess.

Over the years I made this recipe my own and adopted the philosophy that these cookies needed to be small enough so that I could pop one in my mouth and have it be the perfect bite...  This meant painstaking, tedious rolling of cookie dough into tiny little balls.  It was definitely worth the effort (in my humble opinion) but, not surprisingly, I didn't make these as often, nor did I make as many as I might have were they not such a pain.  Which now brings me to my revelation of the day....

Who on earth says these cookies have to be round??? Just because my family calls them "snowball" cookies doesn't require that they be round, does it?  Of course not.... So... here is what I came up with... Perfect, bite sized snowball cookie bites.... and of course, since they're so tiny, you can eat a lot more without feeling guilty (or at least, not too guilty!).

Here's the recipe:

Snowball Cookie Bites 

8 ounces softened, unsweetened butter (2 sticks)
2 ounces powdered sugar (roughly 4 TBSP)
4 ounces toasted pecans, ground fine in a food processor (1 cup)
10 ounces all purpose flour (2 cups)
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp salt

Cream butter and sugar until well blended and very light.  Add salt and vanilla and mix well.  Add the pecans and finish by adding the flour.  Mix until blended and you have a consistent, soft dough.

Next, I used the guide strips that came with my cake ball roller.  If you don't have guides, that's okay.  Pat your dough onto wax paper into a rectangle roughly 7" x  6".  You are looking for a thickness of abut 1/2" to 3/4".  Really, it doesn't matter.  You can make whatever size you prefer.  The most important thing is that your cookies are all relatively the same size so that they bake evenly and are done at the same time.

These are the guides from the my cake ball roller.  They aren't absolutely necessary, but it sure made the job easier!

Pat the dough out with your hands until you have the desired size/shape.  use a bit of flour if the dough is too sticky.

I used a fondant smoother to get them as perfectly flat as I could.  Again, not necessary, but it did make it easier.

These are roughly 3/4" thick.  I really liked the size and taste of the final cookie so this worked well for me.
Next, refrigerate the dough for up to an hour.  It's not absolutely necessary, but you will get cleaner cuts and have an easier  time working with the cookie bites.  Remove the guides (if you used them) prior to cutting the cookies.  I used a ruler as a guide and cut the dough into 1/2" squares.''

Now is a good time to preheat your oven to 325 degrees!
Remove the guides if you used them

I cut 1/2" squares using a sharp knife (not a serrated edge)

Next, line them up on a parchment lined cookie sheet at least an inch apart.  They don't really spread, but they do "puff up" a bit.

I got 110 cookies on one cookie sheet!

That's my pinkie finger... see how tiny they are?
Bake at 325 for 18-20 minutes, rotating the pan once during baking.  They should come out looking something like this:

They should be slightly golden brown and smell fabulous!
While the cookies are still warm, put them in a bowl of sifted powdered sugar.  Toss them until they are completely coated.  Shake off the excess sugar and put on a plate.  They are somewhat delicate so handle them with care.  You could use a slotted a spoon for this step, but I find that our two best tools, our hands, work best for this task.

Toss gently by hand with powdered sugar until fulling coated.
Pile these bite sized pieces of heaven onto a plate and let the enjoyment begin!

Yummmmm.... Snowball Cookie Bites!
They even make great gift for teachers, co-workers, or the hostess at the next party you attend.  

HAPPY BAKING... AND HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!  May 2015 be your best year yet...