Aunt Suzy says . . .

These cookies are a “must bake” for me every holiday season.  This year was no exception, although I made them very late – right before New Year’s Eve.  But then I heard on this radio spot about lucky New Year food traditions that some eat these for good luck on New Year’s Day thinking that the cookies are coin-like to represent money.   Although I heard this after New Year’s Day,  I was glad to have eaten them as part of our lucky New Year’s Day menu!

These cookies are called many different names – Mexican Wedding Cakes, Russian Tea Cakes, Snowballs, Butter Balls and others.  I’ve made a version of them for years from a recipe that was purportedly the one that Jackie Kennedy used which used powdered sugar as the dough sweetener.  Whenever I would tell my Mom (aka Granny) that I’d made these cookies, she’d ask “Did you make Grandma Teegarden’s (my Dad’s Mom) recipe – the one with honey?”  I would confess each year that I did not, having been enamored at a young age by Jackie Kennedy.  Last Christmas, I made both recipes and conducted taste tests, asking friends to say which they liked best.  The votes, including mine, were in overwhelming favor of Grandma T’s, so I think I have dumped Jackie O in favor of Grandma forever!

Margaux says…

I almost never make these cookies for Christmas because everyone else in my family does!  But this year I had a girls’ cookie baking get-together at my house, and my friend Jen wanted to make the Joy of Cooking version of these (which is exactly like the Jackie Kennedy recipe), and I swayed her to Grandma’s recipe instead.  They turned out perfectly, as usual!  This is definitely my favorite version of this recipe, and the times I have made them, this is the one I use.  It was actually one of the first recipes ever given to me (by my dad), when I was in grade school and first learning to bake!

Grandma’s Butter Balls – makes about 30 cookies

Ingredients

1 cup butter (2 sticks), softened

2 teaspoons vanilla

4 tablespoons mild honey

2 cups sifted flour

½ teaspoon salt (omit if using toasted and salted pecans)

2 cups ground toasted pecans*

Powdered sugar for rolling

Instructions

Cream the butter, salt and vanilla with a electric mixer.  Add the honey and the flour and continue to beat on medium until thoroughly blended.  This will be a fairly stiff dough.  Stir in the nuts by hand.  Pinch off small amounts of dough and roll by hand into balls the size of walnuts.  Place on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake at 325 degrees for 20-30 minutes until the cookies are just starting to turn golden brown in spots.  Place the cookie sheet on a rack and let sit for a few minutes to set.  Place the powdered sugar in a pie plate or round cake pan.  Roll the cookies in the powdered sugar while cookies are still warm.  (Make sure you let them set or they can fall apart if too hot.)  You can roll them in powdered sugar again after a couple of minutes.

*A note on the pecans:  This year I bought a bag of toasted pecan pieces from Trader Joe’s and used those.  I had never used toasted pecans before in this recipe and they made a delicious cookie even better – toasted pecans are the way to go!  The pecans need to be chopped or ground fairly finely, but be careful not to overdo it or they will become powdery or oily which will not result in a good cookie.  These low-tech vintage nut grinders are perfect for the job and, I just discovered, available on eBay from $3 to $20.  The one I use is on the left.

Holiday Pumpkin Bundt Cake

December 15, 2010

Aunt Suzy says . . .

I first heard about this cake on the radio a few years ago in a  Dorie Greenspan spot around Thanksgiving. This cake immediately became a holiday staple at my house, and even though I’ve seen this on a dozen other blogs, I’m compelled to share it!  It’s sometimes called “All In One Cake”, most likely because it contains many ingredients used in fall/winter holiday cooking.  I made this prior to Thanksgiving intending to post it then, but had a cake “fail” – the cake stuck to the bundt pan!  So I hotfooted it over to the NordicWare store to get the lowdown on how to make sure this didn’t happen again.  Since the founder of NordicWare, David Dahlquist, invented the bundt pan back in the 1950’s, I knew they’d be able to help.  They have compiled these tips on how to make the perfect bundt cake, and I heartily recommend that you check these out.

Margaux says . . .

This cake is fantastic!  I’ve made it for the past few years at the holidays since Aunt Suzy first shared it with me.  As I’ve said before, I’m a lover of all things pumpkin, and this cake has so many other goodies in it, too!  I really think it’s a must for Christmas or Thanksgiving…I would even give up pumpkin pie to have it.   I am a sucker for cakes, though!  🙂  The last time I made it, I didn’t chop the cranberries, apples and nuts small enough, and it kind of fell apart when we served it.  It’s especially important, I think, to make sure the apples are in really small pieces (like 1/4″).   I might even use the food processor to chop the apples and cranberries next time I make it (just pulse them a few times).

Aunt Suzy says . . .

Great point, Margaux, about making sure all the pieces of goodies aren’t too big.  Thanks for mentioning this!  I, for one, am looking forward to having a piece of this for breakfast with a cup of strong coffee!  It occurs to me to also note that this cake is a great dessert when there’s going to be a crowd – it serves many!

Preheat oven at 350 degrees.  You will need a 9-10 inch greased and floured bundt pan and an electric mixer.

2 cups sifted all purpose flour                               2 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda                                           2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

¼ teaspoon grated nutmeg                                      Pinch of salt

Whisk the dry ingredients together in a bowl.  If you do not have fresh ginger, you can substitute 1 teaspoon dried with the dry ingredients.  Set aside.

1 ¼ sticks butter (10 Tablespoons)                    2 large eggs

1 cup granulated sugar                                             ½ cup packed brown sugar

1 ¼ cups canned pumpkin puree                        1 tsp vanilla

1 ½ teaspoons grated fresh ginger                     1 large apple, peeled and diced

In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter with the sugar on high speed until fluffy.  Add eggs one at a time and beat on high after each for 1 minute.  Add the vanilla and beat a little more.  Reduce speed to low and add the pumpkin, chopped apple and grated ginger and beat till mixed.  Add the dry ingredients and beat on low until incorporated.

1 cup halved or chopped fresh cranberries           1 cup chopped pecans

Fold in the cranberries and pecans with a rubber spatula and stir until spread evenly through the batter.  Spoon the batter into the bundt pan and then smooth the top with the spatula.  Tap the pan on the counter a few times to settle the batter into the pattern in the pan – this is one of the NordicWare tips.

Bake for 60-70 minutes until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean.  Transfer the pan to a rack and cool for 10 minutes.  Unmold onto the rack and cool to room temperature.

Just before serving, dust with powdered sugar.

COOK’S NOTES: Pay careful attention to quantities in this recipe – there’s a lot going on.  For example, this time I used the entire can of pumpkin instead of measuring out the 1 1/4 cups.  I ended up with a custard-like cake vs. cake-like cake.  One time I put in 2 sticks of butter instead of measuring 10 Tablespoons because I had set both sticks out to soften.  This didn’t ruin the cake either, but made it a lot more buttery!  Some would say not such a bad thing.  On another note, you can store the cake, wrapped, for up to 4 days or wrap in foil and freeze.  Unless we are making this for a crowd, half goes in the freezer for later use.  You can use the Maple Glaze that follows if you want, although I think this cake is just delicious plain or with powdered sugar.

Maple Glaze

Sift 6 tablespoons powdered sugar into a bowl.  Stir in 2 tablespoons maple syrup.  Add more syrup a little at a time until the icing runs off the tip of the spoon (maybe ½ tbsp more).  Put the cooled cake on a plate and drizzle with the icing.  Let it set for a few minutes before serving.