It’s that time of the year again – cookie party time. This party/marathon of confectionery was my second abroad, though this year I was blessed with more backup: Dan and Erin, my fellow Americans. Last year I flew mostly solo, so I didn’t take them for granted. More important than their labor (which was nonetheless herculean) was having my people around me to listen to Christmas music with and crack jokes in English. Though we did take some time out for Curso dandalu (Curso de andaluz, the accent we live in now).
One and a half kilos of butter combined with only one lonely and hardworking cookie sheet can produce a shocking amount of cookies with enough time and patience. And arm strength, since I still don’t have a stand mixer here in Spain – and probably never will since those cost upwards of 500 euros each. I.e. most of my monthly salary. We ended up with about 450 cookies: two batches of spritz, one batch of gingerbread, two batches of chocolate chip, two batches of oatmeal raisin (right off the top of the Quaker Oats lid, though my oats were bought from my miracle workers at the herbistoría), and of course, two batches of Swedish teacakes.
Swedish teacakes aka Russian teacakes aka Mexican Wedding cookies, cousin to pecan puffs (according to Dan) drive Spaniards cookie crazy. They are the cookie that best matches the Spanish palate for sweets. Here they are all olive oil based, sweet, and crumbly. The flavor profile is generally honey, almond, and anise. The teacake first the bill by being crumbly and almondriffic, but has the richness and tenderness that comes with an obscene amount of butter.
Now these aren’t just for Spanish people – my old roommate Gabrielle is absolutely crazy about these, and they are the only cookie my grandpa eats. But they earn their multicultural stripes by their name and the fact that this obsession has crossed borders; they are the only cookie my friend Sergio will deign to eat. I had to twist his arm into trying the first one but now whenever there is a special event he drops a leaden hint that maybe it would be a good time to whip up a batch. when I left for the summer, there was a group insistence that I make them one more time. They were the first thing I made when I got back to Sevilla, too. They were the tipping point in my angling to get a ride to the beach. Yep. we ate teacakes on the beach in October. Go figure.
So to honor my long personal history of cookie bribery and to honor Spain’s favorite cookie, I’ll walk you through it. Oh, and then go check out this awesome webcomic that uses them as a delightful side plot.
Recipe from my mom’s battered, yellow 1970s Pillsbury cookbook
1 c butter, softened
1/2 c powdered sugar
2 tsp vanilla
2 c flour
1/4 tsp salt
1 c finely chopped almonds
More powdered sugar for rolling
Quick note before we get going. I actually like to roll my teacakes in superfine sugar. It was a happy accident born of frustration. I needed to make an emergency batch of consolation teacakes on a Saturday afternoon and the only store that sold powdered sugar in my neighborhood was closed. So I decided to make it by processing regular sugar for quite awhile. Unfortunately, our food processor is weak so I gave up halfway through, when it was at the superfine stage. You can buy it premade, usually in the bartender’s supplies area, but it’s expensive and simple to make. Blenders can also make it up in a jiffy. Ok.
Preheat the oven to 325 F. Cream the butter, sugar, and vanilla. It’ll look different than other cookie bases due to the powdered sugar. Have no fear.
Blend in flour, salt, and almonds.
Roll the dough into little balls, about one inch. If you have a melon baller and you don’t like getting your hands dirty, that would be about right. I’m a firm believer that the hand tool is the best tool, but hey. To each his own.
Place the cookies an inch or two apart on a cookie sheet and bake for fifteen to twenty minutes until set, but not brown. They shouldn’t even be golden, really.
They aren’t leavened, so they won’t really expand, just flatten out a little. Roll them immediately in powdered sugar (or superfine if you are cool).
Set them on a rack to cool, then roll them again in your sugar of choice after the first layer melts in a little. Eat.
They are buttery and crumbly and not too sweet and delicious and I’m going to go eat one right now.
Oh! And a spritz cameo. Because my brother John bought me the coolest cookie cutters in Japan. Then carried them from Tokyo to Yokohama because the earthquake killed the train.