Walnut Snowball Cookies

Back on the butter train, folks . . . if you'd like to find vegan cookie recipes with whole wheat pastry flour or flax meal . . . please point your browser elsewhere today.  'Cause for me, the real culinary spirit of Christmas is in a wide array of buttery, sugary treats.  But what do I always say?  Moderation in everything . . . so during this indulgent season, pick your battles.  Don't eat a sweet roll for breakfast, a heavy mayo-laden sammie for lunch and a rich prime-rib dinner, OK?  If you've got a gathering in the evening, balance the apps, dinner and cookies with a light, fruit- and veggie-rich breakfast, a high fiber lunch that contains a bit of protein (think big green salad with some chicken, tofu or beans on top) and then have whatever you like later.  Consider, however, having only what really looks super delicious and special to you - blindly grazing on all the options is a bigger deal fat- and calorie-wise.  But here's the thing - this is a once-a-year thing and you should ENJOY yourself, too . . . so if that means that if you really love indulging here and there, then I say, have at it.  Life is waaay too short to deny yourself all that pleasure.

Today's recipe evokes warm memories in me.  My Grandma Helen's walnut snowballs are a riff off Mexican Wedding Cakes, Russian/Swedish Tea Cakes, and a Lebanese cookie called mamoul.   And while I've tweaked her recipe a bit over the years, no one can touch my Grandma in the cookie-baking department.  Every Christmas, Grandma whipped up about 8 different kinds of cookies, placing them neatly in between sheets of waxed paper in Currier & Ives tins that she'd collected.  Before guests came over, or after a meal, we'd haul out the various tins of goodies and pick and choose our favorites.  Going to her house at Christmastime and eating all those different cookies is one of my top-ten childhood memories.

This recipe is my favorite of the lot.  Rich and crumbly and not over-the-top sweet, with a great toasty walnut flavor.  Best ever is that they also happen to be L.'s favorite Christmas cookie.  So the traditions of my Swedish-American grandmother, who married my Lebanese-American grandfather, are living on through her Chinese-American great-granddaughter.  Life is good.

Helen's Walnut Snowballs

 1 c. (2 sticks) salted butter, at room temperature
2 c. powdered sugar
2 t. vanilla extract
2 c. all purpose flour
1 c. walnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped


Beat the butter in a large bowl until light and fluffy.  Add 1/2 c. powdered sugar and the vanilla; beat until well blended.  Beat in the flour, then the walnuts.  Divide dough in half; form each half into a ball.  Wrap each ball separately in plastic wrap and chill until cold, about 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Place the remaining 1 1/2 c. powdered sugar into a pie plate.  Set aside.

Working with half of the chilled dough, roll the dough by 2 teaspoonfuls between palms into balls.  Arrange the balls on a baking sheet lined with parchment, about 1/2-inch apart.  Bake until golden brown on the bottom and just pale golden on the top, about 18 minutes.  Cool cookies 5 minutes on the sheet.  Gently toss each warm cookie in the powdered sugar to coat completely.  Transfer the coated cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.  Repeat the same procedure with the other half of the dough.

Makes about 4 dozen.

Here's a little tip - did you know that most Christmas cookies can be baked and then frozen?  It's true!  So if you're a compulsive over-achiever planning type like me, you can start cranking out the goods weeks in advance, then layer them in air-tight containers (parchment or waxed paper in between layers, please) and pop 'em in there for later.  Cookies make welcome gifts and you'll always have some on hand for company.