Posts tagged ‘nut’

November 14, 2011

Mexican Wedding Cookies

Ok, I waited long enough.  It’s now officially holiday season with Thanksgiving only 10 days away!  I’ll continue to post some healthy alternatives to get you through the cookie season, but this is not one of them.  This is melt-in-your-mouth, buttery, sugary heaven, and a perfect way to begin the festivities.

These quick, easy powdered sugar-covered shortbread cookies are known as Russian tea cakes or Mexican wedding cookies.  Either way they’re delicious, and dead easy to make.  They’re very similar to a shortbread cookie, but have the added flavor and texture of pecans and the silkiness of powdered sugar.

The secret to great tasting Mexican Wedding cookies is to use a high quality butter and pure vanilla extract.   Yep, it’s that simple.  The distinctive quality of these cookies that make it stand out from others is the smooth, velvety texture, light as air yet buttery flavor, and the surprising hint of crunchy nut which elevates this from simple cookie to a grown-up confection. I remember being horribly disappointed by these cookies as a kid because they aren’t overly sweet.  Now I appreciate that subtle sweetness and complex nutty flavor.

Ingredients 

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup confectioners sugar, plus more for coating baked cookies
  • 1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract or fresh vanilla bean
  • 1/2 tsp. almond extract
  • 1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting hands
  • 1 cup pecans, chopped into very small pieces

Method

  • Preheat the oven to 275 degrees F.*
  • Line cookies sheets with parchment paper.
  • Take one tray and line with chopped pecans.  Toast nuts for about 10 minutes, or until lightly brown and fragrant.  Remove from oven and let cool while you prepare the rest of the batter
  • Cream the butter and sugar in an electric mixer at low-speed until it’s smooth and light in color.
  • Beat in vanilla, almond extract and nutmeg at low-speed.
  • Keep mixer on low and gradually add the flour.
  • Once you add all the flour, remove mixer from stand and mix in the pecans with a spatula.
  • With floured hands, take out about 1 tablespoon of dough and shape into a crescent.
  • Continue to dust hands with flour as you make more cookies.
  • Place crescent shapes prepared cookie sheets.
  • Bake for 40 minutes.
  • Before the cookies are ready to come out, prepare a shallow bowl with confectioners sugar
  • Remove cookies from oven and when cool enough to handle but still warm, roll in additional confectioners sugar
  • Cool on wire racks

* QUICK TIP: If you’re short on time, you can raise the oven temperature to 350 and cook for 12-14 minutes per batch.  I prefer the slow cooking method, it keeps them evenly cooked and you have less chance of overcooking them, but the hotter oven also works.

Buying vanilla extract can be a challenge as there are so many choices. The first thing to do is to make sure that it’s labeled “pure” and not “imitation”. The best I have found, although it is quite expensive, is Nielsen-Massey Madagascar Bourbon Pure Vanilla Extract that can be found in specialty food stores and online.

 

 

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October 17, 2011

Walnut Banana Bread

I’m not one to go for the fat-free, low-carb, no flavor recipes.  I like everything in moderation and this is a good recipe for those who want to meet in the middle, a little bit on indulgence without all the guilt.  This recipe usually calls for a stick of butter, but I decided to substitute in some other ingredients to give it the same moist consistency you’re looking for in traditional banana bread.  I’ve made more banana bread than I like to think about trying to perfect this combination, and I’ve finally found one that’s a winner.

I’m not a huge fan of bananas, but there’s something about the smell of warm nuts and toasty bread in the oven that warms my heart and has me waiting by the oven to dig in.  Spread a thin layer of honey or jam on top and settle in for some much-needed deliciousness.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 3 tablespoons melted butter
  • 1/4 cup plain yogurt
  • 1/4 cup applesauce
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 2-3 overripe bananas, mashed
  • 1/2 cup walnuts, chopped and toasted

Method

  • Preheat oven to 350°F
  • Line a baking sheet with foil and lay out the chopped walnuts
  • When oven is ready, toast the nuts for 10 mins.  Remove and set aside to cool.
  • Lightly grease a 9×5 inch loaf pan.
  • In a large bowl, combine flour, baking soda, nutmeg, cinnamon and salt.
  • In a separate bowl, mix melted butter, yogurt, applesauce and mashed bananas, and vanilla.  Then add 2 eggs and mix until well blended with a whisk.
  • Gently stir banana mixture into flour mixture; do this quickly and only until the mixture is moist, if you over mix you will end up with rock hard banana bread.
  • Take the nuts you set aside and lightly dust with flour (this will help them float in the bread and not sink to the bottom)
  • Stir in nuts and pour batter into prepared loaf pan
  • Bake for 50~60 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into center of the loaf comes out clean.
  • Let bread cool in pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack.

This bread lasts for about a week if you keep it in a Ziploc bag in the fridge.  I like to toast the slices after the first day and spread honey and butter on the top.  It’s also been known to be a good companion to your cup of coffee on those early Monday mornings.

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