I’m not a baker. The problem is, I don’t follow directions well. And baking is all about science and precision.

“Add two cups of sugar” – two whole cups of sugar? Reaaallly?  Umm…I don’t knowww….

And that’s when I start substituting.

Maybe we’ll just halve sugar. And a pinch more salt. Dried cherries, not raisins. Whole wheat flour, not white. A splash of bourbon. Two splashes.

And then I get frustrated when the recipes don’t turn out. What gives?!? I am not a baker. But that certainly doesn’t stop me from trying! Besides, I have very kind officemates who will gladly take these mad creations off my hands. Even if it means throwing it in the break room trash bin behind my back. Kind.

Wait. I just had an aha moment! This is exactly why I don’t work in a lab anymore. Lab work does not lend itself well to improv. And in the kitchen, improv is the way I roll.

One of my all-time favorite cookies are wedding cookies. There are a bazillion names for them: Mexican wedding cookies. Russian wedding cookies. Greek wedding cookies. [insert country name] wedding cookies. Pecan balls. Butter balls. Polvorones. Snowballs. Take your pick. But I love them so much because they’re just a touch sweet. Buttery, rich, and tender. I love the puff of powdered sugar that explodes in your face when you bite into them! Wedding cookies make me think of Christmas and jiggle bells and snowmen! And best of all, they are dead simple to make. And the best, best thing of all? It’s such a forgivable dough that you can make substitutions (improv!!)- it’s totally OK if you don’t have quite the amount of nuts the recipe calls for or if you want to try out an exotic spice blend that reminds you of your favorite vacation memory. You know. Just in case you’re the type of baker who’s into that kind of thing.

Look at the gorgeous pistachio-flecked cookie batter!
Look at the gorgeous pistachio-flecked cookie batter!

We just had our office holiday shindig last Friday and I’m left with a couple cups of finely chopped pistachios and pecans that I wasn’t quite sure what to do with. But then I thought of those lovely wedding cookies and how simple it would be to tweak that basic recipe to make it a little more interesting and fun! Not that traditional wedding cookies aren’t delicious all by themselves. Oh, they are. But I just can’t help myself. Since I had both the pistachios and the pecans, I thought I’d do two different versions with whatever ingredients I already had in the pantry.

For the pistachios, I decided to do an Moroccan wedding cookie. Poetic license, of course. I’m not sure there is such a thing as a Moroccan wedding cookie. But if there isn’t, this should definitely be it! Jewel green pistachios are so festive and beautiful! They always make me think of exotic Arab spice markets. So to the base dough, I added pistachios and a touch of orange zest. To the powdered sugar coating, I added some fresh ground cardamom.

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For the pecans, I wanted to do something a little more familiar — Mexican wedding cookies. Typically, there aren’t any spices added, but whenever I think of Mexican cuisine, I always think of warm spices and chilis. I added cocoa nibs and pecans to the base dough. The cocoa nibs came about because I didn’t quite have enough pecans and I needed something with a nut-like texture to bulk up my dough. I also love the crunch and the rich, bittersweet chocolate mocha flavor of cocoa nibs without the added sugar. Then to the powdered sugar coating, I added cinnamon and a smidge of cayenne.

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While not all of my baking experiments turn out well, I must say, these were a smashing success!  They’re really the perfect little cookie to enjoy with a cup of hot tea. Or coffee. Or hovering over the sink.

Abrazos! Anah

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Moroccan Wedding Cookies

Wedding Cookie Base Dough

Makes about 60 cookies

(adapted from a bunch of different recipes like this and this and this and a few different grandmas along the way)

A few notes about this recipe. This dough freezes super well. Just portion into balls, freeze on a flat tray until frozen, throw frozen dough balls into a ziplock bag, and keep frozen. When unexpected company comes over, pop a few into the oven and all of a sudden you’re Martha Stewart. Then people will be coming over unexpectedly all the time! On second thought…nix the fresh baked cookies.

I love how nut-heavy this recipe is. In these ratios, you can really taste the sweetness of the nuts, but if that’s not your thing, cut back a little. That’s the other reason I love this recipe. It’s very flexible, so if you don’t have enough of this or that, don’t worry too much about it. Also, I hand-chopped the nuts for these cookies, which is a little time-intensive, but gives you a little more control over the size. But if you don’t want to do that, go ahead and chop it in a food processor. Just be careful not to over-process it into a paste…although that could be delicious too…

Note to future self. Other flavor combos to try: toasted coconut+lime zest; rosemary+lemon zest; hazelnuts+browned butter+cocoa nibs (ooh, yes! Definitely making that one!)

 Ingredients

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature

1/3 heaping cup confectioners’ sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon salt (omit if using salted nuts)

 Preparation

Sift flour and salt together and set aside. In a large mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. About 5 minutes or so. Add vanilla extract and cream into the butter and sugar. Fold in the flour and mix until well-combined. The dough should be kind of pebbly, loose looking. When you press the dough together, it should hold its shape. Divide the dough in half and proceed below.

 

Moroccan Wedding Cookies (Pistachio Orange Cardamom Wedding Cookies)

 Ingredients

1/2 of the Wedding Cookie Base Dough (about 2 cups)

1 cup whole pistachios, toasted,finely chopped (about 3/4 cup finely chopped toasted pistachios)

Zest from one cutie/mandarin orange (about 1 to 2 generous teaspoon)

1/3 cup confectioners’ sugar for rolling balls

1/4 teaspoon (generous) freshly ground cardamom

Preparation

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

Add pistachios and zest to the cookie dough base. Beat at low speed to well-combine the pistachios and zest into the dough base. By hand, smush the dough lightly together just so that you don’t have loose dough pieces everywhere. Be very gentle and don’t overwork it. Using your hands or a small cookie scoop, form small balls about the size of a ping pong ball and place on cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Don’t worry about spacing; the cookies don’t spread very much. Bake for 12 minutes, rotating the pan after 6 minutes. Cookies should be lightly browned on bottom and will barely color on top. Cool completely. Meanwhile, sift confectioners’ sugar and cardamom together. Toss the cooled cookies in confectioners’ sugar and lightly brush off any big clumps of sugar. It should be well-coated. Cookies can be stored in an airtight container.

Mexican Wedding Cookies (Pecan Cocoa Nib Cinnamon Wedding Cookies)

 Ingredients

1/2 of the Wedding Cookie Base Dough (about 2 cups)

2/3 cup whole pecans, toasted,finely chopped (about generous 1/4 cup finely chopped toasted pecans)

1/2 cup cocoa nibs

1/3 cup confectioners’ sugar for rolling balls

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper

Preparation

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

Add pecans and cocoa nibs to the cookie dough base. Beat at low speed to well-combine the pecans and cocoa nibs into the base dough. By hand, smush the dough lightly together just so that you don’t have loose dough pieces everywhere. Be very gentle and don’t overwork it. Using your hands or a small cookie scoop, form small balls about the size of a ping pong ball and place on cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Don’t worry about spacing; the cookies don’t spread very much. Bake for 12 minutes, rotating the pan after 6 minutes. Cookies should be lightly browned on bottom and will barely color on top. Cool completely. Meanwhile, sift confectioners’ sugar, cinnamon, and cayenne pepper together. Toss the cooled cookies in confectioners’ sugar and lightly brush off any big clumps of sugar. It should be well-coated. Cookies can be stored in an airtight container.

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