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.

20 comments on “gluten-free Mexican wedding cookies

  1. Shuku

    Bless you Shauna! These are going to be my Chinese New Year cookies – I only wish my grandpa was still here to taste them (he looooved the soft, melt-in-mouth peanut cookies we got for him every Chinese New Year).

    May your Christmas be wonderful, blessed, restful, and everything you could want. Thank you for giving so generously!

  2. Jacqueline

    Hey, Shauna.
    Thanks so much for the recipe! We don't keep guar gum in the house, so I'll be looking for my guar to xanthan conversion info in just a minute, but I wanted to ask why you've chosen to use them both? Do the different gums, like the different flours, have different properties which come into play?
    I like to play with recipes, though I'm not nearly as dedicated as you, and would really love to know!


  3. Hannah

    Wonderful. I've made gluten-free Mexican wedding cookies before. I remember they were very tasty!

    When we lived in Texas, it seemed to be divided into two camps: one who called them 'pecan sandies' and one who called them Mexican Wedding cookies (oops, I don't know if wedding is supposed to be capitalized, there) and so I can't decide, but considering I'm half Mexican I should go with that.

    Since we also avoid casein now, I will have to try these with ghee.


  4. anne fletcher

    whenever I try to make gf cookies they melt into flat, crispy wafers of nothingness on the cookie sheet. I know you don’t know the recipes but it’s every time, no matter the recipe. any thoughts?

  5. shauna

    Anne, hm. That’s a conundrum. My guess is that a) your oven is too hot. get a thermometer for inside and see if the temperature is actually accurate. And b) you might be overcreaming your butter and sugar. mix them together until they are combined and just a touch more, but don’t leave the KitchenAid running!

  6. Tracy

    I feel the need to post a comment, late I know. I made these with pine nuts (due to other nut allergies), and they were the hit of Christmas! They even surpassed the Thumbprints and that is a feat! Thank you for the recipe, they are almost perfect for coffee and those are the best kinds of cookies.

  7. Emily

    Thank you for the great recipe, and I want to try it soon. However, I’m not cooking with or eating xanthan or guar gum. Do you think the recipe would work without using those? Thank you!

    1. shauna

      Emily, since I posted this recipe, I gave up the gums too. I know it would work without them. You just have to add a bit more flour to the dough!

  8. Chris

    I’d like to do some holiday baking ahead. How long do these last (if no one can find them) and how best to store them? My Italian great aunt used to send us the non-GF version in tins and it seems they travelled well. Thanks so much for this tested GF version!

  9. Amy

    I just made these. For those who don’t do grams, I converted
    and didn’t know what I was doing but rounded up to 10 oz flour,
    (weighed it on cheap dollar store scale) using Bobs Red Mill all
    purpose flour (GF). Texture turned out great!
    Good enough to take to a party and I think pass as non-GF. Thanks
    for posting!

  10. Jessica Thompson

    My mom has made these cookies during the holiday season for as long as I can remember. I’ve been GF for three years and she just found out she is intolerant. Since these cookies represented so much to us, we despaired on finding a recipe that would retain the fluffy / yet chewy awesomeness of the original. Four failed batches (and perhaps a tear or two) later, we found your recipe. We literally jumped up and down when we each took a bite of these cookies as they seriously tasted just like the original. Thank you, thank you, thank you!! Our Christmas was complete.

  11. Christina

    Do you think these can be made without:
    – Gums
    – Egg
    – Tree nuts

    Could I sub roasting pumpkin seeds and/or sunflower seed?
    Can’t do Flax either, chia is fine though…


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