Today marks the halfway point in this little project, The 12 Days of Cookies. For Day 6, I have a classic for you, the crowd pleaser, and the one that typically disappears before the others. Some call them Mexican Wedding Cookies; others refer to them as Viennese Crescents or Nut Horns. I call them Russian Tea Cakes and they are delicious.
Whichever name you use, they all refer to the same type of cookie: a buttery, crumbly cookie studded with nuts and a good coating of powdered sugar. I prefer pecans but some like walnuts and they’re both good but the constant between them all is a generous coating of powdered sugar applied while they’re warm. That sugar sort of melts into a slightly sticky, almost pasty, coating and leaves the telltale powdered sugar trail all over whatever you’re wearing. Try as you might, there is no denying that you’ve snuck a few cookies when these are around. The powdered sugar will give you away every time.
It’s deceptively simple cookie for such great flavor and a distinctively different mouthfeel than other cookies in this series. For that signature crumbly texture, a bit of powdered sugar, baking powder and a surprising amount of cornstarch along with pecans are added to the basic dough. I like to roll them in balls but you can form crescent shapes if you prefer and you can certainly use walnuts instead of pecans if that’s your thing. I think they would be quite amazing made with black walnuts. Oh my, there’s a thought. Do whatever you need to do because no holiday is complete without a plate of Russian Tea Cakes.
STRESS THERAPY BAKING FACTOR: SNOWY WHITE BLISS. In my humble opinion, the best part of making these cookies is dropping the warm domes into that bowl of powdery snow-white sugar and quickly tossing to coat. I don’t know what it is but I find it mesmerizing. You have to work quickly but carefully as it’s important that the cookies hit that sugar while warm so they get a slightly melted coating but at the same time, work with a light touch as the warm cookies are very delicate and may crumble. After the first coating sets, I like to toss them back in the sugar for a second coat. That’s my little secret. Makes for messy eating but that’s really part of the experience isn’t it?
12 Days of Cookies: One Dough, Many Cookies
Cookie Prep – Basic Butter Cookie Dough
Day 1 – Jam Thumbprints
Day 2 – Mexican Chocolate Crinkles
Day 3 – Butter Rum Bars
Day 4 – Cranberry Pistachio Coins
Day 5 – Candied Ginger Spice Buttons
2015 12 Days of Cookies: Pretzel Caramel Shortbread, Fig Mezzaluna, Dutch Windmills, Bourbon Peach Rugelah, Chai Spiced Meringue Kisses, Almond Joy Bars, Swedish Kringla, Chile Lime Macaroons, Orange Cranberry Cornmeal Shortbread, Eggnog Buttons, Ginger Palmiers, Rainbow Cookies
seven years ago: Pumpkin Bundt Cake, Adventures in India
six years ago: Bacon Cheddar Gougeres
five years ago: Southern Cheese Straws, Cookbook Gift List, Homemade for the Holidays
four years ago: Kale & Squash Salad
three years ago: Pumpkin Spice Granola
two years ago: Cider Apple Pie
last year: Caldo Verde (Portuguese Kale & Potato Soup)
RUSSIAN TEA CAKES
Makes 7 ½ dozen cookies; recipe can be easily halved or doubled
½ batch basic butter cookie dough, room temperature
½ cup powdered sugar
1 cup chopped pecans, lightly toasted
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ cup cornstarch
2 cups powdered sugar, for rolling
- Preheat oven to 350ºF and line 2-3 baking sheets with Silpat mats or parchment paper.
- In a standing mixture fitted with the paddle attachment, combine room temperature butter cookie dough, ½ cup powdered sugar, chopped pecans, baking powder and cornstarch on medium speed until thoroughly combined.
- Roll the dough into 1” balls and place ¾” apart on the prepared sheet pans.
- Bake 14-16 minutes until firm and just beginning to brown.
- Let the cookies cool for a minute or two until still warm but firm enough to handle. Right out of the oven the cookies are quite delicate.
- Put the 2 cups powdered sugar in a medium bowl and while the cookies are still warm, drop 6 or so at a time in the powdered sugar, shaking the bowl to fully coat cookie.
- With your hands, gently remove the cookies and shake a little to remove excess sugar.
- Transfer to parchment lined sheet pans to cool completely.
- If desired, give the cookies another toss in the powdered sugar for an additional coat.
- Cookies, tightly wrapped, will keep for several days. If you’d like to make ahead, roll the dough into balls and freeze on a sheet pan. Once solid, transfer to a Ziploc bag labeled with the cookie name and cooking time/temperature and store up to 3 months in the freezer. Bake directly from the freezer, adding a few minutes to the baking time and proceed with the recipe as directed.