Personally, I think these cookies are probably one of the most popular amongst a variety of cultures. And for good reason too- they’re delicious! In Mexico they are called Polvorones con Canela or Mexican Wedding Cookies. I’ve read somewhere that the origin is Arabic, taken to Mexico by the Spaniards at some point. Now a days these cookies play an important role at most every Mexican wedding (thus the name), mounted in a pyramid at the reception. In America we simply call them pecan balls or pecan powder puffs. A variation of this cookie, shaped as a crescent, can be found all over Eastern Europe and Germany- known as the kipfel usually. The recipe obviously varies slightly from culture to culture, but the foundation remains the same- a crumbly cookie resembling a shortbread that is speckled with ground pecans (or sometimes another favorite nut) and dusted generously with powdered sugar (whether in the shape of a ball or crescent).
In America, these cookies tend to make their greatest appearance around Christmas time when cookie season is in full swing. And because of their “snowball-like” appearance they make the perfect seasonal treat! I rarely go a full December without running into these cookies at least once during some social function. I can’t complain though- I just LOVE them! And so does everyone else, so why not bring them to the party??
I’ve tried a number of recipes for Pecan Balls (which is what I call them since I am 100% full-blooded American). I usually make Dorie Greenspan’s, but as of lately I have had better luck with other avenues, specifically from the book “Baking From the Heart“. It’s a compilation of recipes by a variety of chefs, all coming together to raise money for The Great American Bake Sale. Each recipe shared is preceded by a sweet story about the sentiment behind the recipe. This particular recipe is by Miguel Ravago, who shares his Mothers’ recipe for the famous treat. I found it to be almost identical to Dorie’s and most others. Dorie’s uses granulated sugar though and I prefer the texture of confectioners’ sugar in this recipe. I think it makes the cookie more tender. They also use two different preparation methods as well- Dorie uses the food processor while Miguel sticks with the mixer. Personally I like the stand mixer for these. I feel like the food processor can sometimes get away from me and mix doughs longer than I would like. Using the mixer allows me to keep a better eye on it. But whatever the recipe for these cuties that you decide to make, one thing is for sure- people will devour them!
- ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- ¾ cup sifted confectioners' sugar, divided
- 1½ tsp vanilla extract
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- ¼ tsp salt
- pinch cinnamon, optional
- ⅓ cup ground or finely chopped pecans
- confectioners' sugar, sifted, for rolling
- In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium speed for 1 minute or until creamy. Add ¼ cup of the confectioners' sugar and the vanilla; mix for 1 to 2 minutes or until creamy.
- In a large bowl, combine the flour, salt, and cinnamon, if using. With the mixer on the lowest speed, add the flour mixture to the butter, a little at a time. Add the nuts with the final addition of flour and mix just until combined. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to 2 days.
- Center oven rack and preheat oven to 350°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone mat.
- Form the dough into ¾-inch balls by rolling small pieces between your palms. Place the balls 1 inch apart on sheet pans. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes or until the edges are golden brown.
- Put the remaining ½ cup confectioners' sugar in a large bowl. Remove the cookies from the oven and, while they are still warm, put the cookies into the sugar mixture and cover completely. Allow cookies to cool completely on wire rack and then dust again with confectioners' sugar.