Ensconced here in the artifacts of my childhood, I couldn't help pine for the incomparable flavors of the homemade German Christmas cookies we used to receive each year from my grandmother's home in Franconia, half of them crushed into an etherial mixture of sweet, nutty, buttery crumbs that I used to scoop and gobble by the handful. In a post-holiday attempt to perk up my daughter and recreate some of those flavors, I tried this recipe for powdery nut cookies, similar to her favorite pecan cloud cookies from the Eugene City Bakery.
The cookies are made from a simple butter dough sweetened with powdered sugar and packed with ground nuts (back in Eugene, I would use our supply of hazelnuts from Thistledown Farm). This batch served as an accompaniment to a tea party with toy china my son unearthed from my old bedroom. As we nibbled our dainty nut clouds, real snow clouds gathered in the afternoon sky and by bedtime enough snow had accumulated to ensure that real-sized snowmen will be built tomorrow.
Hazelnut Cloud Cookies
makes about 4 dozen cookies
1 cup (2 sticks) butter at room temperature, cut into cubes
1/2 cup powdered sugar for the dough and about 1 1/2 cups for coating
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup hazelnuts (or use pecans or walnuts or a combination of nuts)
2 cups all purpose flour
1/8 tsp cinnamon (optional)
1. In a dry skillet or a toaster oven, lightly toast the nuts until fragrant. If using hazelnuts, roll them in a dishtowel to remove most of their skin. Combine the nuts and the flour in a food processor and blend into a fine powder (including the flour will prevent the nuts from turning into nut butter). Remove the nut flour to a bowl.
2. Put the butter in the food processor and process until well-creamed. Add the 1/2 cup powdered sugar and vanilla extract and process to incorporate. Now add the nut flour and process into a stiff dough. Transfer the dough back into the nut flour bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and chill for at least 30 minutes.
3. Prior to baking the cookies, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cover two baking pans with parchment paper or silicone mats. Scoop out large teaspoons of dough, roll them into 1 inch balls in your palms, and place them on the baking sheets in about three rows and four columns. Place in the oven. Chill the remaining half of the dough while the first batch of cookies bake. After 10 minutes, rotate the baking sheets 180 degrees and from top to bottom oven rack. Remove the cookies after about 18 minutes, when their bottoms are golden brown and their tops are pale golden.
4. Let the cookies cool on the rack for about five minutes. Fill a shallow bowl with 3/4 cup powdered sugar, and mix in cinnamon, if using. Roll each cookie in the powdered sugar and transfer to a serving plate. If you like, sift the remaining powdered sugar over the cookies to give them a final dusting. Bake the second batch of cookies as above (or you can store the dough to bake later). These cookies store well at room temperature in an airtight container for several days.