Not too long ago I wrote about a certain food being like Proust’s madeleine, opening up the trapdoors of childhood memories – I can’t quite recall, but it must have been toast with guayaba jelly. Regardless, I am writing this to set the record straight. Whatever that food was was an impostor, taking the madeleine name in vain. For what actually takes me back are polvorones.
Polvorones were cookies of the prepackaged supermarket aisle variety, made by a company called Marinela; the Little Debbie of Mexico, if you will. Marinela also produced pingüinitos (little penguins – clever!!!) – aka cream-filled chocolate cupcakes – you know, the ones with the little doodle of white frosting on top? Polvorones, though, were my favorite. They were rich and crumbly like shortbread, but with a softer mouth feel, and they were dusted with powdered sugar which I greedily licked off my fingertips. Alright, alright, I admit it – I was a junk food junkie when I was a kid. One of these days I’ll write exclusively about all the empty calories I consumed in the ‘80s.
It would be many moons until I would once again have a polvorón. I was at Citarella in New York one day when I came upon a box of Russian tea cookies. Turned out I’d hit the jackpot: these cookies were exactly like Marinela’s. And then as you’d expect I wanted to make them. I simply couldn’t rely on Citarella – God forbid one day they should decide to stop making them. Or I should move to Boston and not have a Citarella.
But it would be even more time till I discovered that polvorones in the U.S. go by the name of Mexican wedding cookies, and that they aren’t a super-secret recipe, as I suspected. Bon Appétit published a recipe in 2003, and I made them today. You should, too:
Mexican Wedding Cakes
Bon Appétit | May 2003
These “cakes” are really festive cookies.
Makes about 4 dozen.
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, room temperature
2 cups powdered sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup pecans, toasted, coarsely ground
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Using electric mixer, beat butter in large bowl until light and fluffy. Add 1/2 cup powdered sugar and vanilla; beat until well blended. Beat in flour, then pecans. Divide dough in half; form each half into ball. Wrap separately in plastic; chill until cold, about 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350°F. Whisk remaining 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar and cinnamon in pie dish to blend. Set cinnamon sugar aside.
Working with half of chilled dough, roll dough by 2 teaspoonfuls between palms into balls. Arrange balls on heavy large baking sheet, spacing 1/2 inch apart. Bake cookies until golden brown on bottom and just pale golden on top, about 18 minutes. Cool cookies 5 minutes on baking sheet. Gently toss warm cookies in cinnamon sugar to coat completely. Transfer coated cookies to rack and cool completely. Repeat procedure with remaining half of dough. (Cookies can be prepared 2 days ahead. Store airtight at room temperature; reserve remaining cinnamon sugar.)
Sift remaining cinnamon sugar over cookies and serve.
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