No, not the kind that’s made from actual snow and ice – the snowballs I’m talking are these practically spherical, crumbly cookies dusted with a generous amount of powdered sugar, which makes for a delectable morsel that resembles – you guessed it – a snowball. Actually, before last week, I had never heard of these cookies being called “snowballs.” I had always referred to them as Mexican Wedding Cookies or Russian Teacakes. And yet, after learning these were also called snowballs, I went online and found out that they’re actually called a plethora of other names as well, such as Swedish Teacakes, Italian Snowballs, Snowdrops, Sand Tarts, Sandies, Butterballs, Pecan Cookie Balls – and those are just some of the ones I can pronounce! It seems to me that these cookies have a bit of an identity crisis. These short-bread like teacakes share the tradition of saving the finest and most expensive foods (quality sugar, richest butter, choicest selection of nuts) for special occasions – such as weddings, formal social gatherings, etc.
The inspiration for these little tidbits came while discussing baking interests with a friend. He was telling about his attempt to make these orb-like cookies, but had ended up with half domes instead. Intrigued by the idea of a perfectly spherical cookie, I looked up a recipe for Snowball cookies and found that while the recipe was basic, the pictures of finished cookies varied greatly in shape and size! Most common were the dome, boulder-like shapes; then, there were some that appeared flat, rounded, and smooth – like river stones; crescent shapes were also depicted; as well as the typical flat, circular shaped cookie. Perhaps striving for spherical was more difficult that I expected. After turning the idea of a ball shaped cookie in my head over and over for a couple of days, I could only come up with two very similar ideas (well, three if you count the mini rotating rotisserie designed only for cookies) – either freezing or refrigerating overnight. So, without further ado, I made the dough – a simple sugar/butter/flour recipe, and substituted half of the butter for 1/2 cup of pumpkin puree. Then, I shaped the dough into little balls, wrapped them in plastic, and placed half in the refrigerator and half in the freezer to chill overnight.
The next morning, the sun streamed bright and strong through the windows, I baked my tester batches – four smaller spheres (two in the fridge and two in the freezer). To my surprise, besides the frozen ones needing an extra minute or two to bake through, neither the cookies from the fridge nor the ones from the freezer lost their shape during the baking process. Each ball was slightly cracked, but each one was generally and acceptably spherical. After baking and cooling on the rest of the cookies, they were rolled around and dusted generously with powdered sugar – voila! Snowball cookies! I find that these are perfectly adorable to give as favors or as small gifts. Simply place a couple – two to six – in a small decorative box lined with parchment, and dust powdered sugar over the top of the cookies.
The powdered exterior lends an excellent touch of sweetness to an otherwise not-very-sweet cookie. The color of the interior definitely gives it away as a whole grain tidbit; texturally, it is dense, yet soft and somewhat fluffy, and is actually quite crumbly – more cake like than a chewier cookie. A mixture of whole wheat flour and ground, toasted pecans give each teacake a deep nutty taste. And while the taste can certainly be distinguished as “healthy,” I prefer to call it a healthy indulgence that goes excellent with coffee or an afternoon tea!
Whole Wheat Snowball Cookies
When I can, like in this recipe, I like to substitute half the amount of butter for a puree that will not overpower the taste of the cookie. In this case, the original recipe calls for 1 cup / 2 sticks of butter – so I substituted 1/2 cup of butter for 1/2 cup of pumpkin puree. Applesauce may work just as well. I also added a dash of cardamom and cinnamon to help play of the nuttiness of the pecans. As mentioned above, the dough is simple – I would place a stick of butter out to room temperature for a day, make the dough towards the afternoon/evening, refrigerate overnight, then bake the next day.
1 cup pecans or almonds toasted and cooled to room temperature
1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 cup oat/spelt flour (I didn’t have any on hand, so I just used regular whole wheat flour)
1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
1 cup / 2 sticks unsalted butter
– may substitute 1/2 cup butter for 1/2 cup puree
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
splash of bourbon or rum (optional)
1/2 cup powdered sugar for dusting
Pulse the nuts in a food processor with 2 tablespoons of the measured out flour. Grind until the almonds or pecans become a fine meal. You don’t want to go too far as to make a paste out of them. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the pecan/almond meal, flours, and salt. Set aside for now.
In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar together until everything is fluffy and a light yellow color. The vanilla and bourbon go in next. If using puree, slowly incorporate into the butter – the mixture will look funny, as if the butter has separated from the puree (Although it makes no difference in the overall outcome, short of melting the butter, I’m still trying to figure out how to avoid creating this odd looking mixture).
Slowly add the flours and salt – possibly in increments of 3 or 4 – and mix until a stiff dough is formed. Scoop out level tablespoons of dough and form into balls. Place the dough balls on a place and cover securely with plastic wrap. Chill in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours, ideally overnight.
Preheat the oven to 335 F degrees, baking racks in the middle of the oven. Line a couple of baking sheets with parchment paper or Silpat mats.
Once the oven has been heated, remove the dough balls from the refrigerator and quickly transfer to the baking sheets – the natural, yet small base created while sitting overnight should be stable enough to prevent the cookies from rolling around too much. The cookies should not spread very much, but just in case, place dough at least 1 inch apart on the prepared baking sheets. Bake for 12-13 minutes until the exterior looks golden and the bottoms of the cookies begin to darken.
Cool completely. Place the powdered sugar, along with 5-6 cookies in a plastic bag and shake to coat well. Gently brush off any “caked on” sugar and then gently sift additional sugar over the tops for a freshly powdered look.
Makes 5 dozen cookies
Before anything else is said, I should probably mention although I strive to cook and bake in a healthier way, I do believe in indulging once in a while. There are just some things – particularly baked goods – that cannot be made healthier yet still retain the same texture, richness, crumb, and overall deliciousness of an original recipe. That being said, I still try.
I made these for a very generous friend. For a past couple of weeks or so, this individual had been kind enough to drive me and other friends to and from San Francisco on a number of occasions. The drive, one way, was always roughly an hour long, and he always refused gas money. So, I pestered him until he gave up his favorite kind of cookie – a peppermint chocolate chip cookie. A good choice! Peppermint and chocolate play off each other quite nicely, don’t you think? Unfortunately, I had never made these in my life. And even though I had read Heidi’s version – which stressed the importance of using a good peppermint bark – I decided to try incorporating the chocolate and the peppermint separately. Big mistake – although the resulting “cookies” came out smelling fantastically of peppermint chocolate, the “cookies” looked more like odd cratered rocks. So much for a successful first attempt. Any and all pieces of peppermint had melted, leaving large gaping holes in my cookies! Though the cookies lacked nothing in taste, their appearance was certainly appalling. I have definitely learned my lesson. I tempered the rest of my chocolate and made peppermint bark instead. (Although I believe that white chocolate has it’s place among desserts, I rank dark chocolate much higher; therefore as seen in the pictures, my peppermint bark is made only with semi sweet chocolate.)
Too intimidated to try and use the bark in a cookie recipe, I decided to try another route today. Fortunately, I still had some time before my friend’s birthday, and at the same time I had stumbled upon an ingenious way of incorporating peppermint bark and cookies – and the secret to that method is in baking a sheet cookie. Combining this new method with some tips from Heidi’s website, I came up with the following recipe:
Peppermint Bark Cookie Bars
This recipe makes a large batch of cookies. The dough itself rises perhaps double its size while baking, so when pressing the dough onto a sheet pan (I used an 11 x 16 inch), make sure to press down as thin as 1/4 of an inch. It would probably be best take half of the dough and freeze half of it for later use. If you use the whole amount of dough (like I did), the result will be more of a cake-like consistency – considerably fluffier and less crunchy than an actual cookie.
3 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks) at room temperature
– (you may substitute 1/2 cup for fruit puree)
1 cup brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon peppermint oil
12 ounces semi sweet chocolate for melting (or tempering)
30 peppermint candies, crushed and sifted
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, position the racks in the middle of the oven, and line the baking sheet with parchment paper or silpats.
Whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and sea salt in a mixing bowl. Set aside.
Using by using a large spoon or a stand mixer, beat the butter until light and fluffy. Then beat in the sugar until the consistency is stiff. Beat in eggs one at a time, making sure to incorporate fully between each addition. Stir in the vanilla and peppermint extracts until evenly combined – if using fruit puree, you may add at this step. In increments of 3 or 4, gradually add and mix in the dry ingredients. The resulting dough should be moist and uniform.
Turn out half of the dough onto a prepared baking sheet and reserve the other half. Using lightly moistened fingertips, press and flatten the dough until it is uniformly spread across the sheet pan. Prick holes all across the dough using a fork and bake for about 20-25 minutes until the top is a dark golden brown and the edges begin to harden. Take out of the oven and place on a cooling rack until room temperature.
Meanwhile, place the chocolate chips into a heat safe bowl and melt over a pot of gently simmering water and reserve on the side. After the sheet cookie has cooled, simply spread melted (I prefer tempered) chocolate and sprinkle crushed peppermint candies on top. Wait until the chocolate has cooled – you may put the entire sheet cookie into the refrigerator to help the chilling process – and then cut into 1″ x 3″ bars or into irregular “bark” like pieces.
Makes 4 – 5 dozen bar cookies
This past week, I finally got around to trying this wonderful recipe I found on 101cookbooks.com. The author of 101 cookbooks, Heidi Swanson, is a fabulous lady who creates wholesome and natural dishes inspired by seasonal fruits and vegetables, and by her own travels. One of the recipes I had had my eye on for a while was her “Triple Ginger Cookies” – a barely bite sized whole wheat cookie made with three kinds of ginger – freshly ground ginger, powdered ginger, and minced crystalized ginger – flecked with lemon zest, and coated with large grain turbinado sugar. These cookies are fabulous on a chilly day, and the smell that wafts through the kitchen while they’re baking – heavenly. While the process of making these ginger bites is a tad tedious, the resulting tidbit is completely worth it. The cookies are not that sweet – it’s more “grown up” than the usual cookie, which I usually find to be too sweet and too greasy. Each of these gingery morsels has a delightful crunchy exterior and a soft, fragrant interior. The gingers give it a flavorful kick, while lemon zest adds hints of brightness throughout. Be prepared to set aside at least 3 hours to commit to this project. The second time I made these cookies, the yield was 101 cookies – an appropriate number, I thought, to pay tribute to 101 cookbooks.
As a side note, Heidi’s recipe calls for ground star anise – I, myself, however, do not really prefer the licorice taste. In lieu of the star anise, cinnamon and a pinch of nutmeg were added instead. It occurred to me later that adding some finely ground black pepper or garam masala would give this cookie another level of spice – something not for the faint of heart, but rather for those with adventurous taste-buds. And that substituting orange zest for lemon might bring out different notes.