I usually make lemon bars that are tart and refreshing, more lemon than egg. But this year I decided to riff on one of my favourite cookies, the Mexican wedding cookie, also known as the Russian tea cake, pecan butterballs, snowballs, and many other names. Regardless of what you call them, these much-loved powdered sugar-coated cookies tend to be made mostly around the Christmas holidays.
But the delicious simplicity of these treats begs for a burst of lemon, and by adding a healthy dose of lemon zest, these nutty shortbread-like cookies become a "lemon wedding cookie." The zest adds a delicate lemon flavour that I find is a perfect balance to the richness of the butter and the pecans.
If you want an even bigger burst of lemon, you can add a 1/2 teaspoon of lemon extract to the dough and 1 teaspoon of unsweetened lemon-aid mix to the powdered sugar used to coat the cookies. You also can add a drop or two of yellow food coloring to make the cookies yellow and more in keeping with Easter colours. If you make them small and oval instead of round, they even look a little like miniature eggs.
The recipe also is easy to adapt to other nuts, and other flavours, even chocolate (adding about 3 tablespoons of cocoa powder to the dough and substituting orange zest for the lemon). The cookie dough is so easy to make that you could whip up several variations for Easter brunch, or make it even easier on yourself and serve ham sandwiches and these cookies and call it an Easter tea.
LEMON WEDDING COOKIES
Start to finish: 1 hour
Makes 3 1/2 dozen cookies
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar, sifted, divided
1/4 teaspoon fine-grain salt??
Zest of 1 very large or 2 small lemons
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 drop yellow food coloring (optional)
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour ??
1 cup lightly toasted pecans, finely chopped in a food processor or nut chopper
In a large bowl, use an electric mixer to beat the butter until light and fluffy. Add 1/2 cup of the powdered sugar, then beat well. Add the salt, lemon zest and vanilla and beat until creamy. Add the food coloring, if using. A little at a time, beat in the flour just until mixed.
Add the nuts, using a silicone spatula to stir them in. Place the dough in a small bowl or a plastic bag and chill for 30 to 60 minutes, or place in the freezer for about 15 minutes. At this stage, the dough also can be frozen for up to 1 month.
Meanwhile, heat the oven to 375 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place the remaining 1 cup of powdered sugar in a medium bowl.
Once the dough has chilled, divide it into 1/2-inch balls. Arrange the balls on the prepared baking sheet, leaving 1 inch between them. Bake on the centre rack for 10 to 12 minutes, or until the cookies are set on top and lightly golden on the bottom.
Let the cookies cool for 2 to 3 minutes on the cookie sheet. A few at a time, place the cookies in the bowl of powdered sugar and toss gently to coat well. Transfer the coated cookies to a rack to cool completely. Once cool, repeat the coating process with the bowl of powdered sugar. Store in an airtight container.
Nutrition information per cookie: 90 calories; 60 calories from fat (67 per cent of total calories); 6 g fat (3 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 10 mg cholesterol; 8 g carbohydrate; 0 g fiber; 4 g sugar; 1 g protein; 15 mg sodium.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Elizabeth Karmel is a grilling and Southern foods expert and executive chef at Hill Country Barbecue Market restaurants in New York and Washington, as well as Hill Country Chicken in New York. She is the author of three cookbooks, including "Soaked, Slathered and Seasoned."