One of my fondest memories of growing up was helping my Mom with Christmas baking. Every year the menu was the same; fruitcake (which I didn't really like), shortbread, almond rolls, cranberry loaf and my favourite, Mexican wedding cake. Despite the name, it wasn't cake at all, but a wonderfully tender, rich shortbread-like cookie full of butter and pecans. Heaven in every bite. When I was really young, my job was to take the baked cookies off the tray and drop them into a bowl of sieved icing sugar, coating both sides before carefully placing them on waxed paper to finish cooling. My job also involved keeping Dad from eating too many before they were put away for another day. As I grew older, I took over baking them from start to finish. Once I had my own kitchen, the smells of buttery cookies filled the air every year, and my daughters took over the role of sugaring. It was a wonderful tradition.
Our first few gluten-free Christmas's were sadly missing these sweet treats. Two years ago I decided to try converting this recipe. I still remember how excited I was when I took a bite of the first one out of the oven. It was perfect! When my celiac daughter tasted it, her smile was radiant, full of excitement at having these cookies back in her life.
A conversation yesterday with a new celiac acquaintance reminded me that it has been too long since I posted on this blog, and that I want to share these amazing cookies with
others who can't handle wheat. A word of caution though... these cookies are incredibly crumbly when they come out of the oven, so give them a minute to cool, and then very carefully lay them in the icing sugar. But of course, if they break, it means you can eat the damages instead of having to wait for a special occasion!
DO NOT double this recipe. It doesn't work. And do not press them too flat before baking - they will spread out to paper thin size and be ruined. I just lightly touch the top with the palm of my hand to take them out of the ball state.
As fussy as they are to make, the results are so delicious, you will quickly forget the pain and begin a second batch. Trust me. They are heavenly. And your kitchen will smell divine.
For those of you who do eat wheat, use regular flour and leave out the xantham gum. Enjoy!
GLUTEN-FREE MEXICAN WEDDING CAKE
1 cup butter (1/2 lb), at room temperature
1 cup brown rice flour
1½ cup certified wheat-free oat flour
4 tbsp. granulated sugar
2 tsp. xanthan gum
4 oz. (1 cup) very finely chopped pecans (may use food processor but be careful not to over-process)
2 tsp. GF pure vanilla extract
Mix dry ingredients in bowl of electric mixer, then add butter in large chunks. Using kneading hook, mix at medium speed until dough pulls away from sides of bowl. Add vanilla and mix until thoroughly incorporated into dough. If you don't have an electric mixer, cut the butter in with a pastry blender and then knead by hand as you would shortbread.
Put small teaspoon-size balls of dough on parchment-lined cookie sheet and slightly flatten the top with palm of hand.
Bake in 325° oven for 25-30 minutes, until slightly browned. Let cool slightly, remove from tray and dip in sieved icing sugar and place on rack lined with waxed paper.
Handle these gently, especially when still warm, as they are crumbly by nature, even in the regular recipe.
Store between sheets of waxed paper, and keep refrigerated for maximum freshness. Makes about 42-48 cookies.
Diane Zwickel lives and knits in South Surrey, B.C. Canada