Cookies in good shape


Next to drop cookies, the easiest of all to make are molded cookies - assuming you're willing to dip your hands into the dough. That's the only way to make some of the world's best-loved cookies, such as crescent-shaped kourabiedes from Greece ("kipfels" is their name in Austria), Chinese almond cookies and the hand-rolled, sugar-dusted rounds of shortbread known as Mexican Wedding Cookies.

What enables the dough for most molded cookies to withstand being pinched, pressed and rolled into shape is a good amount of butter, which gives the dough a smooth, plastic quality. Still, overhandling can make a buttery dough impossibly sticky and cause disappointing results. A light touch is the best defense against tough cookies.

To mold dough into balls, as for Mexican Wedding Cookies, pinch off one small piece at a time and roll it gently between your palms until it forms a sphere.

All butter-rich cookies tend to burn easily if they're not watched carefully, especially toward the end of the baking time. To help prevent overbrowning, use insulated aluminum baking sheets or ones made of heavy-gauge metal. Nonstick bakeware may cause cookies to brown more quickly.

Success tips:

* To soften butter, let stand at room temperature until malleable (about 20 minutes). Or microwave at medium power (50 percent) until soft (about 45 seconds for 1 cup butter). Do not allow to melt; melted butter will not produce satisfactory results in a cookie recipe that calls for softened butter.

* Place unbaked cookies on a cool, clean baking sheet. A hot sheet causes cookies to spread and bake unevenly.

* Bake a single sheet of cookies at a time, centering the sheet on a rack in the middle of the oven.

* To cool baked cookies, place on a wire rack. Cool completely before storing.

In the Mexican state of Oaxaca, these little, velvety-white "cakes" are traditionally distributed to wedding guests as keepsakes of the occasion. In truth, they're too good not to be eaten on the spot. The cinnamon variation produces a mildly spicy, darker cookie.

Mexican Wedding Cookies

(Bizcochos de boda)

Makes about 30 (1 3/4-inch) cookies

2 1/2 cups flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup finely chopped pecans

1 cup butter, softened

2 cups (approximately) confectioners' sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

In a bowl, stir together flour, salt and pecans to combine thoroughly; set aside. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In mixer bowl, combine softened butter and 1/2 cup of the confectioners' sugar; beat until fluffy. Blend in vanilla. Gradually add flour mixture, beating just until dough clings together.

Use a spoon or your hands to gently shape dough into 1 1/2-inch balls. Place about 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheets. Bake until firm and lightly browned (20 to 25 minutes).

Spread about 3/4 cup of the remaining confectioners' sugar on a rimmed baking sheet. Transfer baked cookies to sugar-lined baking sheet; generously sift the remaining confectioners' sugar over warm cookies, turning cookies in the sugar, if necessary, to coat all surfaces.

Transfer to wire racks to complete cooling.

Cinnamon Balls: To flour mixture add 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon. Shape dough into 1-inch balls; place about 1 inch apart on baking sheets. Bake for about 20 minutes and proceed as above.

Cole Publishing Group

Pub Date: 6/07/98

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