Thursday, December 20, 2012

Mexican Wedding Cookies

Mexican wedding cookies are yet another kind of Christmas cookie that seems to be ubiquitous but which I never had growing up. I'm sure they must have been around somewhere, because their snowball-like appearance makes them perfect for any kind of winter-themed party. You can also dress them up with colored sugars, or form them into crescents to make a C-is-for-Christmas like shape. I supposed I was more fixated on brightly-colored chocolate, icing, and sprinkle-encrusted things to notice their presence.

Of course, I never had Mexican food of any kind in my home when I was growing up--I was discussing this with a few of my friends recently.  Oddly enough, despite our different backgrounds, we noted that virtually all of our parents had very similar tastes: plain meat (steak, chicken) and 'red sauce' Italian food for 'ethnic' nights.

My mother viewed my fondness for anything with spice with a mixture of horror and frustration. I still remember one of my 'primal food memories' to be the first time my mother and father took me to a Chinese restaurant and I was entranced by the Hunan shrimp I ordered. Rather than praising my adventurous palate, from my mother's view, my eating preferences took a clear turn for the worse after that one, fateful day and the morale of the story was she should have never taken me there in the first place.

I also remember asking to go to a Mexican restaurant after discovering the wonders of tacos at a friend's birthday party.  My mother took me but ordered from the 'American' section of the menu and spent the entire meal looking at my chicken enchiladas with disgust. I don't think she even took her purse off her lap:  she looked as if she was afraid of being mugged by a bit of errant melted Monterey Jack or ancho that might escape off of my plate--enveloping her like the cloud that always transported the Tasmanian Devil in Looney Tune cartoons.

Of course, the 'Chinese' and 'Mexican' food I adored as a child was not particularly authentic.  And I doubt these Mexican wedding cookies are particularly Mexican, either. In fact, they're often called Russian tea cakes or 'snowballs.' (Although apparently there are slightly different ratios of nuts to flour, depending on the label, and the Russian versions more often use hazelnuts than pecans). Still, they are a nice, buttery little cookie and a wonderful addition to any cookie tray.

For the original version of this particular incarnation of the cookie, almonds were suggested.  I used walnuts.  You could also use pecans.

Mexican Wedding Cookies
 Adapted from All Recipes
--yields 36 cookies--

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1/2 cup white, granulated sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 teaspoons water
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup finely chopped walnuts
Powdered sugar for 'dusting' 

1. Cream the butter and the sugar, then add vanilla and water.   Incorporate flour and almonds.
2. If the dough is too dry or crumbly, add water by the teaspoon until it comes together.
3. Chill dough for at least three hours. (I chilled mine overnight).
4. Preheat oven to 325F. Scoop rounded balls onto parchment-lined baking sheets. Bake for 15-20 minutes.
5. Roll in powdered sugar when fully cooled.

The cookies tend to 'shed' the powdered sugar, so I would suggest serving them in festive muffin liners.


  1. There was a secretary where I used to work who made these every Christmas and kept them in a huge goblet on her desk. She called them Russian tea cakes and insisted that everyone else do so as well. Invariably, someone who didn't get the word would pass by and say, "ooooh! Mexican wedding cookies!" and she would become incensed. She would still let them have one, but she'd glare at them and mutter, "Mexican wedding cookie!" while they were eating it.

    I still have fond memories of inauthentic ethnic foods I ate as a kid, in particular Appian Way Pizza from a box and Chun King Chow Mein, which came in two large cans, one for the sauce and one for the mushy noodles and vegetables.

  2. Must use pecans for Mexican wedding *cakes*. Almonds are for the Linzer cookies (my grandparents were from Denmark), walnuts for the cranberry bread (my modern replacement for fruit cake). My dad is allergic to eggs, so we never had anything with mayo. The first time I had tuna salad, I pronounced it the best thing I had ever eaten.

  3. @Flurrious--people like that really irk me! I spent 6 years of my life studying English lit and the 'constructed' nature of culture, for heaven's sake! It's impossible to determine the true origin of most foods: things like noodles, hummus, and these little cookies are found so many places, you can't really say there is a 'first' and everything else is a copy.

    @bitten--the original recipe I looked at had almonds; I used walnuts; and Smitten Kitchen uses pecans or hazelnuts. I wonder if it would be possible to use peanuts or cashews as well! I haven't had tuna in ages--the trouble with me and mayo is that when I do use mayo, I want a lot of it, so I try not to use it at all.