December 22, 2010

Walnut Snowballs and Coconut Pyramids

If there were ever two cookies that heralded the holiday season it's these two, walnut snowballs and coconut pyramids.   I only make them in December - any other time and it wouldn't seem right.

Walnut snowballs go by many different names: Mexican wedding cookies, Russian tea cakes, noel nut balls, etc.  Whatever their name they taste delicious and are my absolute favorite holiday cookie.  They're super simple to make and despite the generous coating of powdered sugar they aren't too sweet.

The coconut pyramids are just shaped macaroons.  For the first time in a year I'm making a macaroon that isn't of the French variety and this version is a lot more forgiving!  Like the snowballs, these macaroons are lightly sweetened.  To shape the cookies in to pyramids I used a silicone mold but you can easily do it by hand or with a bench scraper.

Walnut Snowballs (adapted from Cook's Illustrated)

2 cups whole walnuts, chopped fine
2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon table salt
1/2 pound unsalted butter (2 sticks), softened
1/3 cup superfine sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar for rolling cooled cookies

Adjust oven racks to upper- and lower-middle positions and heat oven to 325 degrees. Mix 1 cup chopped nuts, flour, and salt in medium bowl; set aside. In workbowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade, process remaining chopped nuts until the texture of coarse cornmeal, 10 to 15 seconds (do not overprocess); stir into flour mixture and set aside. (To finely grind chopped nuts by hand, roll them between two large sheets plastic wrap with rolling pin, applying moderate pressure, until broken down to coarse cornmeal-like texture).

In bowl of an electric mixer at medium speed or by hand, beat butter and sugar until light and creamy, about 1 1/2 minutes with an electric mixer or 4 minutes by hand; beat in vanilla. Scrape sides and bottom of bowl with rubber spatula; add flour mixture and beat at low speed until dough just begins to come together but still looks scrappy, about 15 seconds. Scrape sides and bottom of bowl again with rubber spatula; continue beating at low speed until dough is cohesive, 6 to 9 seconds longer. Do not overbeat.

Working with about one tablespoon dough at a time, roll and shape cookies into balls. Bake until tops are pale golden and bottoms are just beginning to brown, turning cookie sheets from front to back and switching from top to bottom racks halfway through baking, 17 to 19 minutes.

Cool cookies on sheets about 2 minutes; remove with metal spatula to wire rack and cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes. Working with three or four cookies at a time, roll cookies in confectioners’ sugar to coat them thoroughly. Gently shake off excess. (They can be stored in an airtight container up to 5 days.) Before serving, roll cookies in confectioners’ sugar a second time to ensure a thick coating, and tap off excess.

Coconut Pyramids (adapted from Cook's Illustrated)

1 cup cream of coconut (like Coco Lopez)
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
4 large egg whites
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon table salt
3 cups unsweetened, shredded, desiccated coconut (about 8 ounces)
3 cups sweetened shredded coconut (or flaked), about 8 ounces

Adjust oven racks to upper-middle and lower-middle positions and heat oven to 375 degrees. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper and lightly spray parchment with nonstick vegetable cooking spray.

Whisk together cream of coconut, corn syrup, egg whites, vanilla, and salt in small bowl; set aside. Combine unsweetened and sweetened coconuts in large bowl; toss together, breaking up clumps with fingertips. Pour liquid ingredients into coconut and mix with rubber spatula until evenly moistened. Chill dough for 15 minutes.

Drop heaping tablespoons of batter onto parchment-lined cookie sheets, spacing them about 1 inch apart. Form cookies into loose haystacks with fingertips, moistening hands with water as necessary to prevent sticking.

Bake until light golden brown, about 15 minutes, turning cookie sheets from front to back and switching from top to bottom racks halfway through baking.

Cool cookies on cookie sheets until slightly set, about 2 minutes; remove to wire rack with metal spatula.


  1. You can actually powder the walnut cookies faster (and easier) by putting the sugar and as many cookies as will fit in a plastic bag, sealing it, and shaking/ rolling gently. Figured that one out just this year...

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