When I crave sweets, I don’t crave the inconsequential stuff. I envy people who are satisfied by fat-free licorice, or God forbid, fruit. No, when my sweet tooth starts throbbing, it throbs for layer cakes with moist crumb and stiff icing, half-baked brownies, and my friend April’s decadent shortbread. Mostly, though, I crave Russian teacakes.
You might know the cookie by some other name–Mexican wedding cookies, or perhaps, snowballs. My Chez Panisse Desserts cookbook calls them walnut drops. Whatever you call it, it’s a simple cookie to get together, requiring little more than flour, powdered sugar, ground walnuts, and a Paula Deen-worthy quantity of butter.
Since I became a mom, I’ve justified baking sweets by incorporating whole grains into recipes. I’ve dutifully reduced the sugar in my cookies and quickbreads and mixed in flaxseed and wheat germ arbitrarily where it seemed to make sense, but as any baker knows, even a small tweak of this type can result in disaster. Then, recently, deliverance: I found the King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking cookbook, and now my whole grain baking is making all sorts of sense.
The Russian teacakes shown here have no white flour in them. Instead, they are made with butter, walnuts, oats, and barley flour, plus a little lemon zest to balance the richness of the nuts. Barley flour is higher in protein and fiber than regular flour, and contains very little gluten. It has a mild, nutty taste that works beautifully in baked goods. Even better for moms and dads, most of the sugar in this cookie is in the coating, which you can easily adjust to your liking. The recipe below produces a cookie that is dense, crumbly, lemony, and perfect with a cup of peppermint tea.
In short, crave-worthy.
Recipe adapted from the King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking Cookbook
1 1/3 cups rolled oats
1 cup whole barley flour
2/3 cup chopped walnuts
10 T unsalted butter
1/2 cup confectioners’ (or powdered) sugar
1/2 t salt
1 T vanilla extract
1 t almond extract
Grated zest of 1 lemon
1 cup confectioners’ (or powdered) sugar for coating
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment, or use them without, ungreased. Grind oats, barley flour, and walnuts in a food processor for 30 seconds, or until finely ground.
Beat the softened butter, sugar, and salt in a medium bowl until smooth. You can do this by hand. Beat in the extracts and the zest, then the oat mixture. Roll the dough quickly in your hands into teaspoon-size balls. Place on the cookie sheets, leaving about 1.5 inches space between cookies.
Bake the cookies for 15 minutes. They will only have begun to brown on the bottoms. While the cookies are baking, place the cup of sugar in a plastic bag (a clean used plastic bag is fine for this). Allow cookies to cool for 5 minutes, then toss in batches in the bag of sugar to coat. Cool completely on wire rack.
Yield: 40 cookies
Note: the King Arthur cookbook suggests tossing the cookies in the sugar a second time, once cooled, for an all-white appearance. I find that the one coat of sugar is the perfect amount of sweetness for me, but if you want a cookie that is sweeter and looks like a white snowball (or if you need a pure white cookie for a holiday cookie tray), toss away!
Not only do we both live in Portland and plate our sweets on blue and white, but we both have similar rugs on our upstairs landings, where apparently the best light in the house is to be had.