Friday, October 26, 2007
As Halloween approaches, my thoughts drift to Day of the Dead. And then they drift to Mexico. And then somehow they drift to Mexican Wedding Cakes or Polverones. This fabulous cookie often tops the Favorite Cookie List of many a cookie fanatic, for good reason. It’s one of the simplest cookies to make where butter and the earthy flavor of fresh nuts take center stage. Equally good with either pecans or walnuts, these cookies are light, crumbly, not too sweet and melt-in-your-mouth tender.
Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is a rich tradition that dates back thousands of years to the Zapotec, Mixtec, Maya and Olmec indigenous populations of Southern Mexico. It is a celebration of the return of the dead that takes place principally on November 1st and 2nd. There is quite a lot of regional variation, but most follow the same general theme. Gravesites are freshly cleaned and spruced up. Marigolds and favorite foods of the dead are arranged to attract and invite their return. It is believed that the spirit of loved ones comes and takes the nourishment or spirit of the ofrendas, or offerings. Candles, skulls and religious symbols fill the tables in many homes along with pan de muerto, a sweet egg bread formed in various shapes to represent skulls or bones.
This recipe for Mexican Wedding Cakes is adapted from Alice Medrich's Cookies and Brownies, a flawless collection of classic cookie recipes. Unfortunately, it’s apparently out of print, so if you ever see one at a used bookstore or a garage sale, snap it up!
Here is my ofrenda.
- While lots of recipes direct us to prepare the nuts in a coarse chop, I’ve found that when you process them with the flour and sugar to a much finer crumb, it really brings out the flavor of the nut and makes for a really great texture.
- Be sure your walnuts are fresh. Due to their high oil content, they tend to become rancid rather quickly. Store nuts in an airtight container in your freezer to keep them from becoming stale or rancid.
- I use a #40 ice cream scoop to portion these cookies. It speeds up the process and creates uniform cookies. (The #40 refers to 40 scoops per quart.)
- These cookies keep very well in an airtight container. I’ve done hundreds for wedding favors.
Mexican Wedding Cakes
adapted from Alice Medrich's Cookies and Brownies
Makes about 4 dozen cookies
1 1/2 C nuts
1/4 C sugar
2 C flour
1/4 t salt
8 oz (2 sticks) butter, softened and cut into small pieces
2 t vanilla extract
1 large egg yolk (optional)
1/2 C powdered sugar
Place the sugar and nuts in the bowl of a food processor and process to a fine powder. Add the flour and salt and pulse to mix thoroughly. Add the pices of butter, vanilla and egg yolk. Process just until the mixture collects into damp clumps. Place the dough on a piece of plastic and cover with another piece. Pat the dough into an even package and chill overnight.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Your oven racks should be in the upper and lower third of the oven.
Scoop or shape the dough into 1 1/4” balls and place 12 to a baking sheet lined with parchment or a silpat. Bake for 22 to 24 minutes or until only slightly colored on the top and golden brown on the bottom. Rotate baking sheets half-way through to ensure even baking and browning.
Cool the cookies for about 5 minutes. Sift powered sugar over the top of each one. Cool completely before storing in an airtight container. These can be stored for about 2 weeks, but may need another dusting of powdered sugar.