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November 21, 2004

early snow



I was meant to be all ready for today's 10th edition of Is My Blog Burning? event, a Cookie Swap hosted by Jennifer of The Domestic Goddess from a long time ago. I dwelled on what cookie to make for this fun event, came up with a lot of ideas and eventually picked one up, and composed a recipe well in advance.

I had several different ideas as to kinds of cookie suitable to this festive theme, such as classic ginger cookies or fancier-looking florentine cookies, but I settled on snowballs, my all-time favorite cookies, very easy to make which I thought is great for a cookie recipe swapping.

These nutty cookies may be called Mexican wedding cookies or Russian tea cakes depending on your culture or personal preference, or maybe almond crescents if they are so shaped (and made with almonds among other nuts). I like to call them snowballs though, because the cookies really look like snowballs and I think that is a nice name that you can associate with the festive season.

So much so I even suspected that I would not be the only one who loves them and bring this particular kind of cookie for the IMBB 10. So I decided to give it a twist, by throwing in something extra - like caramel. That's how I came up with the idea of praline snowball cookies, as the caramel-covered nuts sounded like the best bet to add a caramel flavor to this nutty cookie. Also, I chose to use hazelnuts rather than more commonly-used almonds this time around, just because I had a bag of ground hazelnuts at hand, which would save me time and effort to grind nuts myself. I was all set.

And suddenly I figured that I didn't have much time to carry out the planned project. The posting date is the 21st of November, on which day I knew I would not be home, so I managed to squeeze some time out of my last 9 hours before leaving home on the 17th.

I should have gotten on it earlier. Although I had my idea pretty well organized in my head, I had too much stuff to take care of before leaving, unable to focus myself on the cookie making very well. There was no trouble in making the dough as nothing could hardly be easier than making this, but I messed up in dough-shaping and baking; I made the balls way too small (I don't know how, but I might have mixed up inches and centimeters) and thus ended up baking the cookies too long for their size, to have rather too well-browned balls for snowballs. Also, I didn't crash the praline very well, leaving somewhat large chunks in the relatively small cookies.




Despite all this, the cookies tasted lovely. A bit too crunchy due to the overbaking, but the praline did a great job, adding another dimension to this already sweet and nutty cookie with its nice crunchy texture and caramel-y sweetness.

And I have to confess that I couldn't bother to roll the cookies in confectioners sugar and instead sifted the sugar over the cookies (twice, at least), which is why my snowballs aren't all the way covered with snow. A bit like snow in early winter, right at around this time of the year, maybe?



Hazelnut Praline Snowball Cookies

My version has a high content of nuts, probably higher than most other recipes of this kind, and uses a very little sugar in the dough as the praline contributes a lot to the sweetness of the finished cookies, along with the double sugar dusting.

Ingredients:

1/2 cup (1 stick / 113g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 Tbs. confectioners sugar
Pinch of salt
1 cup (120g) pastry flour
3/4 cup ground hazelnuts
3-5 Tbs. praline (recipe follows)

1/2 - 1 cup confectioners sugar, for dusting

Directions:

In a large bowl beat the butter and confectioners sugar until light and fluffy. Stir in the salt and ground hazelnuts, and mix. Sift in the flour and stir until mostly blended. Stir in the praline and mix until just blended. Cover and refrigerate until firm, at least 30 minutes and preferably overnight.

Preheat an oven to 350F (180C). Shape the ball into 1-inch (2.5cm) balls and place 1 inch apart on cookie sheets. Place the sheets in the preheated oven, immediately lower the temperature to 325F (160C) and bake until the cookies are just golden on the bottom, 12-15 minutes. Transfer the baking sheets to wire racks and while the cookies are warm, sift the confectioners sugar over them to cover the surface entirely. Let cool the cookies completely, and roll them in the confectioners sugar to give the second layer.

To make the praline: lightly toast 1/3 cup whole hazelnuts and coarsely chop them. Lightly oil a baking sheet and set aside. In a heavy saucepan over low heat, heat 5 Tbs. granulated sugar and 2 Tbs. water, shaking the pan occasionally, until the sugar dissolves. Bring to a boil and cook until the mixture is deep amber. Stir in the hazelnuts, remove from heat, and spread thinly on the prepared baking sheet. Leave it until cool and crisp, about 30 minutes.

Crack the praline into pieces. Using a food processor chop the praline chunks to obtain coarse meal (do not overwork or the praline will become a paste), or alternatively, put the praline chunks in a heavy-duty plastic bag and run a rolling pin over the bag to shatter the praline. Set aside.

Note:
Hazelnuts, both in the dough and praline, can be substituted with other nuts such as almonds, walnuts or pecans. In any case it might be a nice idea to match the kind of nuts used in the dough and praline.

Store-bought praline powder, if available, can be used in place of home-made one.

The dough can be prepared ahead of time and tightly covered and stored in the freezer for up to a few weeks. To use, thaw the dough in the fridge until it is soft enough to handle.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Chicka -- these cookies sound so amazing! I love pralines and I love Snowball cookies..how much better can it get?

Thanks so much for sharing this recipe and for participating in the IMBB holiday cookie swap. Also, that photo of the snow outside is gorgeous. I can't wait for us to get that sort of dusting. Beautiful.

Jennifer - http://www.domesticgoddess.ca

Reid said...

Hi Chika,

These look good. =) Isn't it funny how both you and Renee (over at Shiokadelicious!) had similar ideas? These look yummy...and I love these cookies to have lots of nuts and a little bit of a crunch!

Cat said...

oh the snow, the beautiful snow... how i miss it *sniff* :( the food looks lovely, heartwarming perfect winter food!

Cathy said...

Chika - what a great idea - they really sound delicious!

Santos said...

hey chika

i'm sorry i missed you in la :-( i told joyce that at least we were in the same orbit, just different speeds :-)

i wasn't planning on making any cookies for xmas but these look so tasty, i may just have to.

happy thanksgiving to you and yours!

chika said...

Hi all, please forgive my unreasonably late replies to your comments...

Jennifer - thanks for the great theme and the thoughtful roundup, I enjoyed it a lot!

Reid - yeah I could see it wasn't just me who thought of these cookies as a holiday treat. They are yummy!

Cat - you don't have snow in the Netherlands? Maybe by now??

cathy - thanks, I was really pleased with the results!

Santos - it was too bad we missed each other, but I found it funny that we really followed somehow the same paths in different times!

Anonymous said...

I actually tried these when I was in Germany last week and it was freezing cold outside: what a success: even my mum (allergic to hazelnuts) was so tempted she tried them - and: loved them! (like all family members....) did not manage to bring any of them with me to France (since none left) 

Posted by Petra