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Holiday Cookies and Vintage Cookie recipe

It was a couple of weeks before Christmas when the packaged arrived from my Aunt Doris who lived over 2,000 miles away. I was only five years old at the time but I remember that day like it was yesterday. Inside the box was a beautiful blue willow type cookie jar filled with Mexican Wedding cakes–a shortbread-style indulgent treat made with chopped pecans and rolled in powdered sugar. Suddenly my Aunt did not feel so far away.

Since that day long ago, cookies have remained a tasty tradition for the holidays. During the many years that followed I’ve made my share of bar cookies, pecan pie squares, gingerbread animals, thumbprint cookies and decorated sugar cookies. But it’s Mexican wedding cakes that remain a favorite to this day. Especially this year as I asked my Aunt for the original vintage recipe. And in keeping with tradition, I baked several batches to share with family and friends.

Whether you bake holiday cookies for a cookie exchange, give them as a gift for neighbors and friends, ship a batch to someone you love, or make them as a fun family event with your children or grandchildren, here are a few tips to cookie success.

Choosing a dough: Keep it simple by choosing a basic cookie dough (like shortbread cookies, sugar cookies, or gingerbread) to make different cookies. For example, use a gingerbread dough to make thumbprint cookies, cut-out cookies or gingerbread men. Or use sugar cookie dough for cut-out cookies or decorated cookie thins.

Simply the process: Some cookies take less time and are easier to make than others. Bar type cookies, Mexican Wedding cakes and sugar cookies simplify the process because they are easy to make and/or easy to assemble and take little effort as the only decorating required is to roll or sprinkle the cookies with sugar. And since bar cookies are baked in a shallow pan and cut into bars, you skip the process of shaping your dough by hand or with a cookie cutter.

Secrets to successful cut-outs: When using cookie cutters, start with sugar or gingerbread cookie dough for the best cut-out cookies every time. Once the dough is made, refrigerate several hours or overnight before rolling out. Don’t overwork the dough and use flour sparingly on the rolling pin and work surface, rolling dough out evenly from center to edge for even baking. For even cut-outs, dip the cookie cutter in flour to keep dough from sticking, then use a large spatula to transfer the cut-outs to the cookie sheet.

Timesaving tip to perfectly-shaped cookies: In a hurry with no time to wait until the dough has properly chilled overnight? Get the Wilton Cookie pan  at your local Kmart or Kmart’s online store. The cookie pan features 12 different holiday-themed shapes ranging from an angel and bell, to a snowman, wreath and gingerbread man. It’s quite the timesaver and bakes perfectly-shaped cookies every time–just press the dough into the shaped cavities and bake.

Simple decorating solutions: Looking for simple ways to make your cookies more festive? Decorate drop cookies with drizzles of chocolate; sprinkle with finely chopped nuts, dried fruit, sesame seeds or chia seeds; or dip baked cookies in colored granulated sugar or confectioner’s sugar. Make a natural colored glaze by combining 1 cup confectioner’s sugar with 1 to 2 tablespoons fruit juice and 1/4 teaspoon vanilla, then spread or drizzle over baked and cooled cookies. (Use a fruit juice concentrate for a more intense color.) Add more sugar if you want to thicken the glaze for piping.

Pretty-up the presentation: Get creative for gift-giving by presenting your cookies in unique baskets, holiday-themed tins, or colorful foil-wrapped boxes. Add ribbons, pinecones, holly leaves or a sprig of winter berries from the garden to create more impact with colors and textures. Or do as my Aunt Doris did by packaging the cookies in a cookie jar. The original one she sent has remained on display in my kitchen all these many, many years and brings back memories of the sweet Mexican Wedding cakes and an even sweeter Aunt.


My Aunt Doris has had this recipe for over 50 years. The sweet shortbread cookie is known by many names: Mexican wedding cakes, Mexican wedding cookies, Russian tea cakes, Spanish polvorones, Swedish tea cakes, Danish almond cookies, Southern pecan butterballs, snowballs, and pecan sandies. But despite the difference in names, these cookies are basically just variations of similar ingredients.

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened

1/4 cup confectioner’s sugar

2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup finely chopped pecans*

1 1/2 cups confectioner’s sugar, for dusting cookies

*Mince pecans quickly by pulsing in a food processor with knife blade attached.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

In a large bowl, beat butter and 1/4 cup confectioner’s sugar with a mixer on medium speed until creamy. Beat in vanilla until blended.

Stir flour and finely chopped pecans together in a medium bowl. Reduce mixer speed to low and gradually beat in flour/pecan mixture just until blended.

Roll dough into small balls (about 1 inch thick) or shape by rounded measuring teaspoons into balls. Place balls on ungreased large cookie sheet. Bake at 325 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes or until bottoms are slightly browned and cookies are light golden. Remove from oven and transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool.

Place 1 1/2 cups confectioner’s sugar in a pie pan. Roll cookies when nearly cool in sugar to coat. Roll again once or twice when cookies are completely cool. Makes 2 to 3 dozen cookies, depending on the size of the balls.

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  1. I love that cookie pan! I think that is worth it for easy cookies.

    Thanks for that recipe, as well. Mexican wedding cake cookies are my all time favorite, too!

    1. In response to SHC-JulieK

      I find myself baking cookies just so I can use the pan. It's quick, easy, and fast. What's not to love about that!!

  2. Thank you for the special gift of bringing back warm memories of Christmas with my mom. Christmas was always special in our house and one of our favorite cookies to make was Mexican wedding cakes! I plan on baking a batch in her memory. Happy Holidays!

    1. In response to favoritesister

      I hope that your batch as well as your fond memories are extra special this year :):):) ! Thanks for the pleasant thought, favoritesister {^^, !

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