One evening recently, he started telling me about a cookie his Mema used to make. He couldn't remember what she called them, but as he talked, I realized he was describing what I knew as a Russian Tea Cake. Curious, I called on my Google-fu and started looking for recipes and history. What I found was a basic shortbread cookie with nuts added, and many, many names.
|What do YOU call these?|
I found versions with pecans, hazelnuts, walnuts, almonds, and poppy seeds. Some recipes called for an egg, others did not. There were variations with all butter, all lard, or a combination of the two. The ratio of flour and sugar to ground nuts varied from 4:1 to 1:1. Some had vanilla, some cinnamon, some chocolate, and one included orange zest. Polvorones are said to date to 16th century Spain, with several regions claiming ownership, and some references claim the Spanish were introduced to them from Medieval Arab cuisine.
Of course I had to make a batch, which the Official Taster pronounced good, but not exactly the same as Mema's. However, there are dozens of recipes for every one of the many names, so I'll keep experimenting until I find that magic combination that perfectly matches his recollection.
Making the cookies:
I started by toasting the pecans. I have a stash of very good pecans in my freezer, thanks to the generosity of my mother- and father-in-law, who harvested them from their trees and shipped them to us. I placed a single layer on a cookie sheet in a 350 degree oven for about five minutes, then let them cool. This richens the flavor and helps reduce the tendency to turn into paste in the food processor. When they were cooled, I put them in the food processor with a tablespoon or so of flour (another trick to help you get chopped, not pureed, nuts) and pulsed it until the nuts were finely chopped.
|A few simple ingredients is all it takes|
The butter should be at room temperature, soft enough to work. The dough can be mixed by hand (which I did) but a stand mixer is well-suited to this dough. If the butter isn't soft enough, give it a few seconds in the microwave.
Mix the flour, powdered sugar, nuts, and vanilla into the butter, just until it forms a ball in the bowl. You want the dough to hold together, but don't overmix. Refrigerate the dough for an hour or so, in order to make it easier to handle, then form it into small balls on an ungreased cookie sheet.
|Cookies ready for the oven|
Bake at 350 for 10-12 minutes. They will be faintly golden.
|After baking. Gold, not brown|
|You're going to get sugar on your fingers, and that's okay!|
One tip: If you place your cooling rack over a clean cookie sheet, you can use the powdered sugar that falls off to roll the cookies the second time. Because there will be sugar that falls off!
After the second coat of sugar, the cookies are ready to be packed in an airtight container, and enjoyed for several days, or weeks. As if there will be any left that long!
|With a second coat of powdered sugar. Yummy!!|
The Cookies of Many Names
2 sticks butter, softened
2 cups flour
2 cups chopped nuts - your choice of pecan, walnut, almond, or hazelnut
1/2 cup powdered sugar, plus more for coating
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Mix dry ingredients into softened butter, along with the vanilla. Stir, or mix at low speed on stand mixer. When the dough forms a ball in the bowl place it in the refrigerator for an hour. The cold dough will be easier to handle.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Remove dough from refrigerator and roll into small balls, about the size of a walnut. Place them about an inch apart on an ungreased cookie sheet, and bake for 10-12 minutes, until they turn light gold. Remove from oven and allow to cool on the cookie sheet for a couple minutes.
While the cookies are still warm, roll them in powdered sugar, coating all sides, and place on cooling racks. Once they have cooled completely, roll them in powdered sugar again, and store in an airtight container.