31 January 2011

Almond Polvorones (aka Russian Tea Cakes/Mexican Wedding Cookies)

Every Chinese New Year, home bakers all around our little island will be busy baking up their Chinese New Year specialties for gifting or selling.  In our families, there is always this unspoken rivalry among the aunts and grandmothers as to who bakes the best pineapple tarts, kueh bangkit (a melt-in-the-mouth coconut cookie), sugee cake (a Eurasian almond cake) or kueh lapis (a multi-layered cake).  Needless to say, most of these treats are extremely time-consuming and laborious to make, for what else other than a completely masochistic recipe could set one's skills apart from the other?

Not daring to prove myself against these doyens of Chinese New Year goodies, I choose every year to bake the simplest (and yet oh so delicious!) type of cookie possible for gifting - Almond Polvorones.  The distinguishing characteristics of these cookies is their fragrant, nutty flavour and incomparably fine, melt-in-the-mouth texture.  My kids go crazy for these cookies and snatch them right off the cooling rack. Which creates problems for me since I need exactly 20 cookies to fill a jar ... and it drives me nuts when I am short of 1 or 2 due to these thieving little runts.

I find these cookies a welcome change from the usual Chinese New Year treats (as do my friends and family).  More importantly, I love it that they are so delicious and yet simple to make in large quantities, as that means I can bless more friends and family with these tasty treats. After all, isn't generosity and abundance the hallmarks of a good Chinese New Year celebration?

But don't let my characterisation of these as Chinese New Year cookies stop you from baking them for just about any other event or reason: for fund-raisers, Christmas, or just simply for an afternoon tea with friends. these Polvorones are simply beautiful when enjoyed with a cup of hot tea. 

Recipe for Almond Polvorones
(adapted from Epicurious)

For cookies:
1 cup (226g) butter, room temperature
1/2 cup icing sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup almonds, toasted, coarsely ground

For dusting: 
1 1/2 cup icing sugar/snow powder 
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Method: Using electric mixer, beat butter in large bowl until light and fluffy. Add 1/2 cup powdered sugar and vanilla; beat until well blended. Beat in flour, then nuts. Divide dough in half; form each half into ball. Wrap separately in plastic; chill until cold, about 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 170C. 

Whisk remaining 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar or snow powder and cinnamon in pie dish to blend. Set cinnamon sugar aside.* 

Working with half of chilled dough, roll dough by 2 teaspoonfuls between palms into balls. Arrange balls on heavy large baking sheet, spacing 1/2 inch apart. Bake cookies until golden brown on bottom and just pale golden on top, about 18 minutes. 

Cool cookies 5 minutes on baking sheet. Gently toss warm cookies in cinnamon sugar to coat completely. Transfer coated cookies to rack and cool completely. Repeat procedure with remaining half of dough. 

(Cookies can be prepared 2 days ahead. Store airtight at room temperature; reserve remaining cinnamon sugar.)

Sift remaining cinnamon sugar over cookies and serve.

1) You can easily substitute the almonds in these recipe with other nuts such as pecans, hazelnuts, macadamia, or a combination of the above. I used almonds simply because almond treats are popular and considered 'lucky'during the Chinese New Year. 
2) Note that icing sugar can be used if the cookies are to be consumed immediately, or if your climate is generally dry.  In humid weather, icing sugar will start to melt and turn gunky, so the use of snow powder is recommended instead, especially if you are baking these for gifting.
3) This recipe makes 40 cookies, each weighing 14 g (in dough form)


  1. I absolutely love these cookies! They are perfect to have for Christmas.
    I use a similar recipe, but I include a bit of salt and I let the dough rest in the fridge for a couple of hours.
    I loved the cinnamon detail in the end! I'll certainly try it next time.
    A nice thing to go along with Russian Tea Cookies is a sweet refreshing Russian tea. Have you tried it? It's great!

  2. Hi Mafalda, adding salt is a great move. I haven't tried Russian tea, have to try to get my hands on some ;)

  3. Hello again! Have you tried it with salt already? It makes a different, you will see. It's quite interesting to make some changes and see what it works for us. For example, next time I will try using chocolate essence instead of vanilla extract...just to see how it works.
    Don't forget to try Russian tea!

  4. Hi
    How long can these keep in air tight containers? I fear that they might not last 15 days of CNY

    1. Sorry for the late reply. Been away. I don't keep them for longer than 1 to 1.5 weeks and even then I store them with food dessicants (can get from Daiso). Id say ... 2 weeks is the max.



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