gluten-free holiday cookies

gluten-free Mexican wedding cookies

Mexican wedding cakes

Mexican wedding cookies. Of all the requests people had for gluten-free holiday cookies, I think this was the most requested. Finely ground nuts, butter and shortening, gluten-free flours, and powdered sugar. It isn’t much more complicated than that. All that deliciousness and it’s easy too? Sign me up.

Now this cookie, with tiny variations of shape and technique from kitchen to kitchen, can also be Russian Tea Cakes, Viennese Crescents, Snowballs, and even Moldy Mice. (Check out my friend Jessie’s excellent post on the slight differences among them all.)

Still, it’s Mexican wedding cookies that call my name. I love the idea of a wedding celebrated with these float-on-air, light and lovely, sweet-but-not-too-much-so cookies. And if it’s a wedding, there have to be a few nuts, too.

There are a hundred dozen recipes for Mexican wedding cookies out there, including one on the back of the powdered sugar bag. However, if you’re making a delicacy of Mexico, why not go to someone who knows the foods of Mexico with her heart?

Pati Jinich is a wonder. I know here from Twitter (of course), where she dispenses recipes, cooking ideas, and funny stories about her boys. Raised in Mexico in a family filled with people passionate about food, she became a political analyst in the United States, with a master’s degree from Georgetown. However, she kept gravitating back to food, around the edges of her intellectual job. (Hm, this sounds familiar to me.) Urged by her husband, she leapt. She’s now the chef and cooking instructor at the Mexican Cultural Institute in Washington D.C.

One of my goals for 2011 is to finally meet her. Look at the food on her website, Pati’s Mexican Table, and you’ll want to be her friend as well.

Last week, she told me she was working on her recipe for Mexican wedding cakes. I waited, patiently. And then I made these.

Now you can too.

Gracias, Pati. Feliz Navidad.

 

GLUTEN-FREE MEXICAN WEDDING COOKIES, adapted from Pati Jinich of Pati’s Mexican Table

The real name of these is polvorones, and according to Pati, they are available at nearly every bakery and grocery store in Mexico. “Mexican wedding cakes” is the American version. Still, that’s how we know them here, so I’m calling them that so you can find them.

But let’s say it together, shall we? Polvorones. Or, in other words: a super-flaky cookie that almost disappears as soon as it hits the tongue, lightly sweet with powdered sugar and air pockets that seem impossible in something gluten-free. You’ll be hard pressed to eat just one. These cookies are meant to be a celebration. Go ahead and have another.

1/2 cup pecans
3/4 cup powdered sugar, plus more for dusting the cookies
280 grams gluten-free all-purpose flour mix 
1/2 teaspoon psyllium husks
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into chunks
1/2 cup cold vegetable shortening
1 large egg, at room temperature

Preparing to bake. Preheat the oven to 350°. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat.

Put the pecans in a food processor (or mortar and pestle, if you want to be authentic) and whirl them up until they are ground fine. Add the powdered sugar and pulse the food processor until the pecans and sugar are combined. Set aside.

Cutting the fats into the flour. Put the flour, psyllium husks, and salt in a large mixing bowl. Add the chunks of cold butter and vegetable shortening and begin working them into the flour immediately, quickly. We used a pastry cutter, but you could easily use your hands. Work the fats into the flour until you have a coarse, crumbly dough.

Finishing the dough. Add the pecan and sugar mixture to the dough. Work it in with your hands. Crack the egg into the bowl and combine everything together, thoroughly, using your hands. (And be sure to work quickly. You don’t want that butter and shortening to warm up too much.) Work the dough until it comes together as one ball of dough.

Baking the cookies. Make a ball of dough about 1-inch wide. Pat down the dough ball just a bit with your fingertips. Leaving about 1 inch of space between all the dough balls, fill the cookie sheet. Slide the baking sheet into the oven and bake the cookies until they have a golden-brown color, about 12 to 15 minutes.

Pull the baking sheet out of the oven and immediately dust the cookies with powdered sugar. Allow them to cool for 10 minutes, then carefully transfer them to a cooling rack. Eat when there is not a hint of warmth to the cookies.

(I know. Good luck.)

Makes about 30 cookies.

gluten-free spritz cookies

We are coming into the home stretch of holiday cookies and goodies around here. I don’t want to think about how many pounds of butter, flours, and sugar have been used in this kitchen the past month. I can’t even calculate how many times the paddle of the KitchenAid has whirled around these weeks. Every day I am a little bit tempted to throw up my hands, put away the flours, and lie down on the couch. I know I promised you certain cookies, but I feel ready to drop.

Then, I remember the kindness of the man here on the island who opened the door of his just-closed store to give me a USB cord to attach my camera to our computer. Lu had hidden ours somewhere, so we couldn’t find it, and I needed to process photos to be able to post all those cookies the past week. His cash register was closed down, so he just gave the cord to me for free and a wave of his hand. We live in a small town. He figured I would pay him later. I did, of course. I also dropped off a batch of smoky bacon ginger cookies as a thank you. The look on his face convinced me to go home and bake again.

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