“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”
Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2)
A Snowball By Any Other Name
Snowballs, also called Russian Tea Cakes and Mexican Wedding Cookies, are the one cookie I recall my mother-in-law baking when she was alive. But she left us no recipes, or at least none we found in her scattered belongings. So through a bit of deduction, my husband and I have pieced together what we think was her method. She was a simple cook and a product of the 1950s so we thought it logical that she would use a side-of-the-box kind of recipe. We turned to our cookie-baking group for guidance and the snowball expert emailed us the Betty Crocker recipe, saying her grandmother swears by it. Seemed like a good start.
The Burning Secret
The first time I baked them, it wasn’t quite right. But what was the variable? The type of nuts? The size of the nuts? I switched from pecans to macadamias – thinking my MIL would have used those in homage to her Hawaiian birthplace. Still not quite right. Then I “burned” a batch. Not really burned, just overcooked according to the recipe. But we smothered them in powdered sugar to cover up the color and gave them a try. Wala! That was it – she overcooked her cookies – the crispier, crunchier, nearly burnt flavor was the childhood memory my husband was yearning for. With that mystery solved, I felt comfortable experimenting with different nuts and this year, a new flavoring.
Enamored with the exotic flavor that rose water can add to a dish – both savory and sweet – (learn more about rose water from my Tasting Jerusalem cooking community post), I decided it would be lovely in these buttery snowballs, especially married with a pinch of cardamom and with pistachios as the nuts. This combination of flavors and the snowball cookie itself remind me of a Middle Eastern cookie called ghraybeh. It uses ghee (clarified butter), powdered sugar, flour, rose water, and orange blossom water, finally topped with a pistachio.
Sure enough, the combination of rose water, cardamom, and pistachio enhanced the snowballs without changing their crispy but melty texture. I used minimal amounts of rose and cardamom, creating a subtle floral aroma. But if you love these Middle Eastern flavors, the amounts can be increased. Just be careful with rose water – at the right amount it’s floral in a lovely way – too much and you’ll think you’re eating dish soap. Rose water can be found at your local international market or ordered online. These days you may also find it at a well-stocked grocer as well.
The Perfect Accompaniment
If you enjoy these flavor combinations, be sure to head over to our Tasting Jerusalem FaceBook page to learn about our Dec 2015 topic – it’s known as the hot chocolate of the Middle East and also has many names – sachlav, salep, saloop, sahlab but it always uses milk and some rose water and is finished with cinnamon, cocoa, or pistachios. Would be a lovely pairing with these rosey snowballs.
I wish you all a happy holiday season and a peaceful, healthy, and prosperous 2016. Be sure to follow me on social media (1-click Follow box in the right hand column) and let me know what’s cooking in your kitchen over these busy holiday weeks. I love to know and I’m also happy to answer questions.
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Rose, Cardamom, and Pistachio Snowballs
- 1 stick soft butter
- 1/4 cup sifted confectioners' sugar
- ½ teaspoon rose water
- ¼ teaspoon cardamom I think you can go heavier on the rose water and cardamom.
- 1 1/8 cups sifted flour
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cups finely chopped toasted pistachio nuts
- In a stand mixer, mix together thoroughly the softened butter, sifted confectioners' sugar, rose water, and cardamom
- Mix in the flour and salt. Then add in the pistachios. At this point, you can mix by hand if you like.
- Once the nuts are thoroughly incorporated, wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill. The dough can remain in the fridge for just a 1/2 hour or even overnight.
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees or 375 convection while the dough chills.
- To bake them, roll into 1" balls. Place about 2 inches apart on an ungreased baking sheet (I used parchment). Bake until set but not brown - about 8 - 12 minutes depending on whether you appreciate the softer lighter original version or my MILs "burnt" version. While still warm, roll in confectioners' sugar. Cool. Roll in sugar again. (I used a small tea strainer as a sifter to put the second coat of sugar on.)