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.
* 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.
* 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