Practically Perfect Cookies
For nearly a year, I've been wanting to make a version of these cookies. Lindy posted the recipe way back in January, and while many people, including my mother, make these cookies regularly, I never had. But I also read in the comments about making the cookies with black walnuts, so I wanted to wait until I had some black walnuts, and then I got some black walnuts, but I only had two pounds of them, and they hadn't been easy to find or cheap to buy, so I wanted to make the most of them, and then I got busy or something, and a pound of the black walnuts just sat in my freezer in its little vacuum pack doing nothing, and then someone emailed me to ask if I could make a "finger food dessert" for our church's fiftieth anniversary celebration, and I thought that I should just go ahead and make these.
I know: way more information than you needed or wanted, but that's me, isn't it?
Anyway. I changed the recipe a bit. Black walnuts are considerably earthier and more intense than pecans, so I wanted to highlight the nuts, so I increased the quantity slightly. I also think that black walnuts call for a slightly different flavor profile, so I added some orange zest, and I cut down on the cinnamon. (What I really wanted was to omit the cinnamon and add a smaller quantity of cloves, but the ground cloves in my cupboard are very old, so I would have had to add more than I wanted, and I wouldn't have been able to give an accurate recipe. Because I figured I only needed about a quarter teaspoon of ground cloves, I didn't think that grinding was a good option: my spice grinder needs at least a few tablespoons to work properly. Perhaps when I'm making gingerbread, I'll grind a greater quantity of cloves and reserve a bit for another batch.) I am, truth be told, not really a big fan of powdered sugar, partly because of the cornstarch in it, but mostly because it tends to fly off the cookie and into my sinuses, where it was not invited. So I made the dough with granulated sugar, which I first processed so that it would more closely resemble super-fine sugar. To coat the cookies, I decided to try to make an orange glaze. The glaze itself was very good, but I probably didn't put enough powdered sugar in it, and the cookies were still slightly sticky, even when they'd fully cooled. So I took the glazed cookies and tossed them in a bit of powdered sugar. Alas.
Black Walnut Tea Cakes
1/3 cup granulated sugar
Grated zest of one orange
4 ounces black walnuts
2 sticks butter, room temperature
1/4 t. cinnamon
1 t. vanilla extract
10 ounces all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt (only if you used unsalted butter)
2/3 c. fresh squeezed orange juice
1 T. orange liqueur
2 c. powdered sugar
Put the sugar in the bowl of your food processor and process for about thirty seconds. Add the orange zest and black walnuts, and pulse the processor until the walnuts are finely ground.
In the bowl of your stand mixer, cream the butter until fluffy. With the mixer running slowly, add -- one at a time -- the sugar-and-walnut mixture, the cinnamon, the vanilla, the flour, and the salt. When well combined, move to a smaller bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and either refrigerate for several hours or put in the freezer for twenty minutes.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees and line two baking sheets with Silpats or parchment. Form the dough into balls about an inch across and place on the lined baking sheets, about two inches apart.
In a small, deep bowl, mix the orange juice and orange liqueur, then whisk in the powdered sugar until there are no lumps. The glaze should still be liquid.
Bake the cookies (you should only bake one sheet at a time) for about nine minutes, or until they smell really good but are not yet browning. Remove from the oven and let sit for two or three minutes. Dip the cookies in the glaze and set them on a rack to drain or dry. When cool, toss lightly in powdered sugar.
I got sixty-eight small cookies out of this batch. I formed the cookies with a small cookie scoop. I think that if I had been more diligent about getting the dough off the mixer paddle and the mixer bowl, I might have gotten one more cookie. I reckon that the thought of that missing cookie will haunt me for some time to come.
Glazing the cookies is really a lot of fun, but it's also a bit nerve wracking. When you first start with the still-hot cookies, they feel like they're going to come apart on you, so you'll have to work carefully. If this sort of thing makes you nervous, then wait five minutes after they come out of the oven to be safe. When you drop a cookie (or two cookies: I did two at a time) into the bowl of glaze, it will float on the top of the liquid. Take a fork, slip it under one edge of the cookie, and give the cookie a little flip. Then give it a second flip so that it ends up back like it was when you first put it in the bowl (except that it'll now be coated with glaze), then use the fork to transfer the cookie to the cooling/draining rack. You will want to have put waxed paper under the rack. It may be possible to leave more of the excess glaze in the bowl than I did, but I don't think you can avoid letting a lot fall off. Unless, perhaps, you make the glaze even thicker, which might be a good idea. I also considered beating up an egg white or two with more powdered sugar and then adding the glaze to get a sort of royal icing, but by that time, I was tired of experimenting, and I didn't think that I'd be able to coat all sides of the cookie with the royal icing.
I may have to look around for another sort of icing that starts liquid and dries hard rather than sticky, and I may have to try the recipe with the zest of a second orange (the amount of juice in the glaze came from two oranges, so I could do that easily enough), and I may have to replace the cinnamon with cloves.
But while I might be short of actual perfection with the batch I made, I'm not far away. These are some seriously delicious cookies. (There is really no reconciling this cookie with Weight Watchers, but I really couldn't report to you without sampling, so I had to have one. Okay, I had to have six, but with this cookie, eating six shows amazing restraint.) The black walnuts, the orange, and the glaze make for powerful deliciousness. I do think that the black walnut variety is even better than the pecan variety, but black walnut scarcity being what it is, if you can't find any, you should go ahead and use pecans and Lindy's recipe. They're seriously delicious that way, too.
Still, I have twelve ounces of black walnuts left (and you don't!). I am entirely cognizant of how fortunate I am that whoever sold me the black walnuts vacuum packed them and that they developed not so much as a hint of rancidity during their sojourn in the freezer. I do not, however, wish to tempt fate, so I think that I'll probably be making three more batches of these cookies to give away.