A cookie with many names…….Growing up in the Southwest, we called them Mexican wedding cookies – a melt in your mouth buttery, shortbread-like cookie with a sweet, nutty flavor. They are also known as Russian Tea Cake, Italian Butter Nut, Southern Pecan Butterball, Snowdrop and Viennese Sugar Ball. In the September 2012 issue of Food & Wine there is a version called walnut snowball cookies; it is just one of several recipes from two friends born in Jerusalem who are chefs and restaurant owners in London, and releasing a new cookbook inspired by their home country. When I saw the beautifully photographed plate of cookies, I was inspired to get baking and indulge my sweet tooth! My next thought was how wonderful our family recipe for Moroccan Mint Tea would be with this can’t-eat-just-one cookie. I was also sold because the recipe uses some fresh vanilla bean, which always promises full vanilla flavor. The hot, sweet mint tea proved to be the perfect pairing with the cookies.
The walnut snowball cookies tasted even better than I remembered (the vanilla bean really does make a flavor difference), and the recipe is easy to prepare. I made a few modifications to the F&W recipe: increased oven temp by 25 degrees, added water in order to get dough to come together and used a hand-mixer instead of upright mixer (the first two were probably due to our high altitude and the low humidity) – the recipe below includes my changes. I also reduced the recipe by half, for a yield of about 20 cookies. Trust me; you’ll want extras of these addicting little cookies. In fact, this post was supposed to be for last week but we ended up eating most of the cookies (among other photo mishaps) before I got my main photograph! The plate just didn’t look right with only 6 cookies on it, so I made up another batch the next day and got out the camera again.
My family’s beautiful Moroccan tea pot held countless glasses of mint tea when we were growing up; I am glad I ended with up with this heirloom! We lived in Kenitra, Morocco (outside Rabat) for a few years in the early 1970’s while my father was stationed there with the Navy; as a young child, it was a cultural experience that opened my eyes in many ways. We lived for a short time in the middle of the city, in a villa surrounded with high walls. The large yard held a garden, including mint plants – it was in this garden where we discovered as kids how delicious the honeysuckle flower nectar tasted fresh off the vine. For her Moroccan Mint Tea, I remember Mom snipping off several sprigs of mint, adding them to the tea pot filled with sugar and tea leaves, and then the fragrant aromas when the hot water was added.
It’s been a while since we made a pot of tea so I had to call Mom to get the official family recipe. Loose black tea leaves (didn’t have any hand so I got permission to use a tea bag instead; gunpowder green tea also shown in picture with tea bag), sugar and whole mint sprigs are added to the tea pot and hot water is poured over it all. The mixture steeps for 5 minutes and after a taste for sweetness, it is ready to enjoy.
The Moroccan Mint Tea and walnut snowball cookies will definitely be served together in our house again, and again.
Moroccan Mint Tea with Walnut Snowball Cookies (print recipe)
Original Cookie Recipe: Sammi Tamimi and Yotam Ottolenghi
Cookie Recipe Adapted by: Melissa Schenker/Foodie for Two
Makes about 20 cookies (adapted recipe is halved from original; recipe can be doubled)
Moroccan Mint Tea
Serves 2, makes 3 cups
1 tea bag (black tea) or 1 tablespoon loose black tea
3 whole mint sprigs
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon sugar
3 cups steaming hot water
Add the sugar to a tea pot or serving pitcher; add the mint sprigs and tea, and pour hot water over mixture. Stir a few times to dissolve the sugar and close the tea pot lid (or cover up pitcher). Let steep for 5 minutes. Serve hot; pour into glasses tableside.
Walnut Snowball Cookies
¾ cup walnuts (3 ounces)
1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
¼ vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped
½ cup, plus 2/3 cup confectioners’ sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons cold water
Preheat the oven to 350°. Line a large, rimmed cookie sheet with parchment paper. Spread the walnuts on the baking sheet and bake for about 8 minutes, until golden brown. Let cool, then coarsely chop.
Add the butter and vanilla to a large glass or stainless steel bowl. Using a hand-mixer beat the butter with the vanilla bean seeds at medium speed until pale, about 2 minutes. Add ½ cup of the confectioners’ sugar and beat at medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes, scraping down the side of the bowl with a rubber spatula halfway through. At low speed, mix in the salt, then gradually add the flour, 2 teaspoons water and walnuts and beat just until the cookie dough comes together, scraping down the side of the bowl halfway through.
Roll level tablespoons of the dough into balls and arrange them on the prepared cookie sheets. Bake the cookies in the middle of the oven for about 17 minutes, until they are lightly browned on the bottom; rotate the cookie sheet halfway through baking. Let the cookies firm up on the sheets, about 5 minutes, then transfer them to a rack to cool slightly.
Put the remaining 2/3 cup of confectioners’ sugar in a small bowl. Roll the warm cookies in the sugar to coat and return to the rack to cool completely. Roll again in the sugar.
v Make Ahead: The cookies can be stored in an airtight container for up to 5 days.
A late-summer sale that I couldn’t resist: These zinnias are happy in the indirect sun and continue to bloom. They are a welcome sight to the almost spent flowers and changing colors of Fall around us.