Whenever I think about holiday baking, Russian Tea Cakes (aka Mexican Wedding Cookies) are at the forefront of my mind. What’s not to love about the buttery, crumbly deliciousness of these cookies. with their fragrant toasted nuts and powdered sugar spilling everywhere? Okay, the powdered sugar part can be annoying. What I do love about these cookies is that they’re pretty much popular worldwide with essentially the same ingredients though some come with a few special touches.
I recently found a unique version of these cookies in Sunset Magazine. Created by Yigit Pura of “Tout Sweet Patisserie,” they are noted for their extreme crispness and toasty-brown butter flavor. I also like that they’re made with vanilla bean paste. The recipe calls for 1 tablespoon cognac or brandy. Prefer a different alcohol or want to substitute a liqueur? Why not? And, if you don’t want alcohol, you can substitute milk.
Yigit suggests creating cookies 1-1/2 tablespoons each. I personally prefer these cookies smaller because the powdered sugar can be overwhelming with big cookies. Just like the alcohol used, you get to decide on the size you’d like to make the cookies. Just remember to adjust the bake time accordingly.
Although the photo of these cookies was taken with a holiday theme, whether we call them Russian Tea Cakes, Mexican Wedding Cakes, or by any of their many other names, they are always a welcome cookie, no matter the time of year.
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Russian Tea Cakes
A fresh spin on an iconic favorite
- 1 cup (140 g) hazelnuts (can substitute different nuts)
- 1 cup plus 6 tablespoons (310 g) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch chunks, at cool room temperature
- 1/3 cup granulated sugar
- 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- Scant 1 tablespoon (10 g) vanilla bean paste
- 1 tablespoon cognac or brandy
- 3 cups plus 2 tablespoons (435 g) flour
- About 1-1/2 cups powdered sugar for rolling
- Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Toast hazelnuts on a rimmed baking sheet until light golden brown and skins start to split, 8 to 10 minutes. Rub warm nuts in a kitchen towel to remove most of the skins (it's okay if some stick). Let cool and chop coarsely.
- Using a stand mixer with the paddle attachment (or a handheld mixer with beaters; cookies will be slightly crumblier), beat butter, granulated sugar and salt on medium speed until evenly mixed and fluffy, 4 to 5 minutes.
- In a small bowl, whisk together vanilla bean paste and cognac. Scrape into butter mixture and mix to incorporate.
- On low speed, gradually mix in flour, scraping bowl as needed. Add hazelnuts and mix 30 seconds more.
- Immediately scoop cookies into 1-1/2 tablespoon (25g) portions and roll into balls. Chill, covered, at least 4 hours and up to 2 days.
- Preheat oven to 325 degrees with racks in upper and lower thirds. Stack a baking sheet on a second sheet (to help cookies get evenly golden brown). Repeat with 2 more baking sheets. Line top sheet in each stack with parchment paper and set chilled cookie portions on parchment about 1 inch apart.
- Bake cookies 20 minutes. Switch positions of pans and rotate each 180 degrees; then bake until medium golden brown, almost like biscotti, 25 - 30 minutes more. Slide parchment with cookies onto cooling racks and let cool completely.
- Put powdered sugar in a large, wide bowl, then roll cookies in powdered sugar. Repeat, lightly pressing sugar onto cookies to form a thick, fluffy coat.
- Pura recommends weighing ingredients on a kitchen scale as it's more precise.
- Make ahead through step 5 up to 2 days, chilled airtight, or 2 months, frozen (thaw overnight in fridge before proceeding). Baked cookies, 2 to 3 days, airtight at room temperature, or up to 2 months frozen.
Adapted from Yigit Pura -- Tout Sweet Patisserie
Adapted from Yigit Pura -- Tout Sweet Patisserie
These cakes are my latest downfall. I discovered that you don’t have to use them right away to enjoy the smooth
exterior and melted center of these chocolaty mini-cakes. Make the recipe, bake it off and use however many of the little cakes you want. Wrap the rest and refrigerate or freeze. When you’re ready for a rich chocolate hit, pop the room-temperature cakelet into the microwave for about 10 seconds. The center will be soft and oozy and ready to give you the rush you’ve been hoping for. These cakelets are really rich. If you want three-bite desserts, make eight or ten instead of six.
My recent trip to Costa Rica was fortuitous in several respects, not the least of which was that one of my favorite tropical fruits was in season and I indulged myself at every opportunity. There are three varieties of passion fruit; the variety I had in Costa Rica is the same as lilikoi in Hawaii. It is a tart fruit but with the lovely underlying flavor of passion fruit. Called Maracuya in Latin America, it is made into a refreshing beverage served icy cold as well as a rich, creamy pie. It occurred to me as I ate a piece, that the recipe was either similar to, or the same as, the one I use for Key Lime pie.
This quick and easy cake comes from Janet Sawyer, owner of Little Pod and author of Vanilla. It is an adaptation of a Mary Berry favorite. (Mary Berry is a well-known English culinary professional and cookbook author.) It’s perfect as an afternoon cake and can also be served for brunch. Vary the fruits based on the season; it’s as adaptable as it is easy to assemble.
Just about everyone has a summertime ice cream memory. We didn’t have the Good Humor Man where we lived, but when I was eight and my brother was four we visited our Connecticut cousins and discovered the joy of the arrival of the Good Humor Man in the neighborhood and the art of begging for a popsicle or ice cream bar.
Commercial salmon season just opened on the California Coast. Sport fishing for salmon has been open for several weeks now and a friend of mine who crews on a few sailboats out of Moss Landing has shared both the prized Dungeness crabs and fresh salmon fillets from her friends at the harbor. In exchange, I’ve sent fresh pineapple upside-down cake back to her friends as a small thank you. What I’ve found is that those who fish love freshly baked desserts. Works well for all of us!
Have you noticed how many baked goods will lead with “Vanilla” but the cake, cookie, etc. tastes completely bland and doesn’t have the signature flavor of pure vanilla? If so, you will really enjoy this recipe. Not only does vanilla flavor come through loud and clear, the Mascarpone frosting is so good you’ll want to eat it by the spoonful right from the bowl! A perfect recipe to give as a thank you gift, but make sure you make extra for yourself!
We’ll tell you, plus share with you our favorite vanilla paste recipes!
In 1967 I saw my first vanilla bean. I was already 24 years old. This shouldn’t sound remarkable but it actually is because even finding a vanilla bean in San Francisco in 1967 took some effort.
I had a friend who had lived in Italy and traveled a great deal in Europe. He and I were in a coffee and spice store and he bought me a vanilla bean. I was enchanted by the aroma but completely puzzled about how to use it. He told me to put it in my container of coffee beans and the vanilla would perfume the coffee. So I did. It wasn’t until 1985 that I learned how to use vanilla beans in any other way. Once I knew how, I never stopped using them but I’ve expanded my vanilla repertoire considerably since then.
There’s a reason why I share this story. Before the Food Network became so popular, most people had no clue about how to use vanilla beans. Probably had never seen them either. Once they became a regular on the Network, everyone had to use vanilla beans in their baking and dessert making.
Most traditional comfort foods were born from necessity, are steeped in tradition and evoke such strong memories of childhood that no matter how simple, (and sometimes boring,) we tend not to stray far from the original recipe. Colcannon, the traditional Irish skillet dish of boiled cabbage and mashed potatoes, literally meaning white headed cabbage, is one of those dishes.
Jam cakes are a quick-to-make dessert with ingredients usually found in refrigerators and pantries. The recipe makes six or more cupcake size “cakelets,” depending on the size of your tins. You can use whatever type of jam you’d like. In the photo above I’ve used raspberry jam. In the photo below I used lemon curd. The cakelets were very lemony and delicious. I’ve also sometimes skipped the glaze and used powdered sugar instead. Perfect for an afternoon treat or packed for lunch at school or work.
This recipe comes via Janet Sawyer, who got the recipe from Lalu Mahato, head chef at Nepal’s Tiger Mountain Pokhara Lodge, which was opened by Edmund Hilary. A long journey, but a lovely way to enjoy yogurt as a breakfast or dessert. If you’re serving it as a dessert, it would match well with our Cardamom, Pistachio and Vanilla Shortbread.
Years ago Earl Darny was the pastry chef at Bay Wolf Restaurant in Oakland, one of my favorites in an area filled with amazing restaurants. Earl gave me this recipe saying, “This is one of my favorite cookies.” He later went on to open his own bakery.
I finally made them for the first time this afternoon; they’re fairly addictive.
Who doesn’t love the divine, inimitable flavor of pure vanilla ice cream? While it goes with everything – pies, cakes, tarts, cobblers and more – it’s perfect just by itself or with so many other possibilities such as a lovely caramel or fudge sauce. Yummm!
Unfortunately, finding pure vanilla ice cream in the marketplace is a big challenge. Ever since the beginning of the 21st century there have been high-end pure vanilla substitutes called Natural Flavors. These substitutes are made with vanillin from plant sources other than vanilla beans. While they may smell and taste a lot like pure vanilla, natural vanillin, found in many plants besides vanilla, only contains part of the flavor profile of pure vanilla. So while they are a reasonable substitute, if you want to make certain that the vanilla ice cream you eat is made with pure vanilla and has all the amazing flavor notes contained in pure vanilla, purchase small-batch, artisan vanilla ice cream. Or, make your own.
Recently I had dessert in a lovely café near where I live. One of their signature desserts is a lemon pudding that tastes as if it may have a cream cheese base. It was so good that I decided to go home and experiment.
Chocolate truffles are one of the easiest candies to make, and they’re always a hit as dessert, with tea or coffee.
Trouble sleeping? Overstressed? Feeling Chilled? You don’t want tea or coffee because of the caffeine and the alkaloids in hot chocolate will wire you. Instead, make yourself a cup of hot vanilla!
I always associate gingerbread as just right for a cozy evening at home when it’s chilly outside. Of course it’s terrific any time of the year, and if you’re a ginger lover, this is an especially good recipe as it has both powdered and crystalized ginger as well as complementary spices that enhance the flavor. It’s also quite moist as it contains applesauce and has a delicate lemon-vanilla glaze. Gingerbread served warm from the oven with whipped cream is hard to beat, but it’s also good lightly toasted with butter or cream cheese on a leisurely weekend morning.
This is a deliciously rich recipe but without guilt as coconut milk is filled with healthy fat. Fresh ginger and lemon brightens up the recipe. A perfect summer brunch or outdoor meal though just as good in the winter to help you dream of warmer weather.
Courtesy of Chef Stephany Buswell: www.chefany.com
Stephany says about this recipe: “When I was a child my mom made this cheesecake for every holiday or special occasion. My mom died when I was 17 and I forgot about her cooking until I became a serious baker in my 20s. I began searching for a recipe like the one my mother had made but could never duplicate the recipe.