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By the Book: Virginia Willis’ Wedding Cookies

February 14th 01:02pm, 2012

Seeing as today is Valentine’s Day, I thought a sweet treat for your significant other would be fitting. I often use food to express affection for my fiancé but get frustrated because my cooking is never as good as his mother’s. There are about five recipes that she makes that he holds in the highest regard. At his request, I emailed her asking if she’d be willing to share these golden recipes, to which she politely declined, stating something about how she wanted these dishes to be special treats for her boys when they come to visit. Not to be entirely callous, however, she did pass along a single recipe for one of her son’s favorite treats: Mexican wedding cookies.

It was a simple recipe, one that she thought I could “handle.” Both grateful and annoyed, I baked the cookies. He said it was the best thing I’d ever baked. Again, bittersweet. I resolved that I would one day find a recipe for my own Mexican wedding cookies, one that would blow my soon-to-be mother-in-law’s out of the water.

So you can imagine my delight when I found this recipe in Virginia Willis’ refined Southern recipes cookbook Basic to Brilliant, Ya’ll (her follow-up to Bon Appétit, Y’all). In this book, each recipe comes with a simple(ish)-to-execute recipe as well as an addendum on how to give the dish that presentation wow-factor. I chose to stick with the simple recipe, as I baked them on a lazy Sunday.

Aside from the desire to outdo my mother-in-law for obvious reasons, I did have some objections to her recipe, which called for copious amounts of Crisco. To me, the use of shortening feels like cheating. Willis’ recipe uses butter instead – lots of it. It’s also chock-full of pecans, another improvement on the “original.”  I had a sneaking suspicion that this might be the clincher for the win.

This recipe is super simple, but there are a few things to note: First, let the butter come to room temperature naturally. I tried to coax the process along with a quick spin in the microwave. The butter didn’t melt exactly, but it ended up being a bit more “room temperature” than was ideal. This made it so I didn’t get the perfectly round cookie I wanted. Also, once you’re ready to roll out your cookies, if your batter is a bit gloppy or feeling difficult, just stick it in the fridge for a few minutes.

The recipe calls for a 300-degree oven, which seemed a bit low to me. At this temp, it took my cookies about 45 minutes to bake (15 minutes longer than the recipe recommended). To know that the cookies have finished baking, you must check the bottom. They’re done when the bottoms are browned; the tops will still look undercooked. Don’t skimp on the powdered sugar, either. The cookie itself contains very little sugar, so the confectioners’ sugar is essential to create that fabulous salty/sweet balance.

Now for the verdict: I didn’t tell him they weren’t his mother’s recipe – I just let him taste and waited for his reaction. He loved the extra pecans and said that they were the best Mexican wedding cookies he’d ever had. At that point I casually mentioned that I felt his mother’s recipe needed tweaking and that I had made a few (ahem, major) adjustments.

Wedding Cookies
Makes about 4 dozen

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
¼ cup granulated sugar
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
2 cups cake flour (not self-rising)
1 cup chopped pecans
½ tsp. fine sea salt
½ cup confectioners’ sugar for rolling

• Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with a silicone liner or parchment paper. (Note: I didn’t line my baking sheet. The cookies didn’t stick at all.)
• In the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter, granulated sugar and vanilla on medium speed until light and fluffy.
• Add the flour, pecans and salt, beating on low speed after each addition until well blended. Using a small Ice cream scoop, shape the dough into 1-inch balls. Place 1½ inches apart on the prepared baking sheets.
• Bake until the bottom of the cookies are lightly browned, about 30 minutes (Note: It took mine 45 minutes). Transfer to a wire rack to cool slightly.
• While still warm, roll the cookies in the confectioners’ sugar until evenly coated.
• Transfer on a wire rack set on top of a rimmed baking sheet to cool completely. Store in a tightly covered container at room temperature for up to one week.

Basic to Brilliant, Y’all by Virginia Willis, Random House, 2011 ISBN: 978-1-60774-009-4

For a chance to win a copy of Basic to Brilliant, Y’all, tell us about a dish you’ve made to win your way into someone’s heart.

And now, we’d like to congratulate Courtney, whose comment on last week’s By the Book column has won her a copy of Yvette Van Boven’s Home Made.  Courtney, keep an eye out for an email from the Sauce crew regarding your prize!

By Kylah Brown

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2 Responses to “By the Book: Virginia Willis’ Wedding Cookies”

  1. katie Says:
    February 20th, 2012 at 12:00 am

    The first time I really cooked for my future husband was lobster thermidor from Julia Child’s The Art of French Cooking. But I cheated and bought precooked lobster!

  2. Sauce Magazine Blog » Blog Archive » By the Book: Jennifer Trainer Thompson’s green eggs and ham Says:
    February 21st, 2012 at 3:27 pm

    [...] now, we’d like to congratulate Katie, whose comment on last week’s By the Book column has won her a copy of Basic to Brilliant, Y’all. Katie, keep an eye out for [...]

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