This History of Mexican Wedding Cookies
Chef Norma Salazar shares a recipe and tips for making traditional Mexican wedding cookies.
Beyond traditional snickerdoodles and gingerbread snaps, Mexican wedding cookies may come to mind when brainstorming recipes for a holiday cookie swap. Though the name may imply otherwise, Mexican wedding cookies are made for occasions other than celebrating matrimony. During Christmastime, you’ll likely find some variation of these powdered sugar-dusted, crunchy, nut-filled cookies among an assortment of holiday treats.
More than just a sweet treat, Mexican wedding cookies date back to centuries worth of history and traditions spanning the world. In addition to delicious flavor, these cookies carry more history and significance than meets the eye.
Mexican Wedding Cookies Origin
Also referred to as Mexican wedding cakes, these buttery cookies originated outside of Mexico. Their creation has been traced back to medieval Arab baking that predominantly featured ingredients like butter, sugar, spices and nuts. As trade routes began to broaden, these sweet confections made their way from the Middle East to all parts of Europe.
Historians believe that the recipe migrated to Mexico by way of European nuns or Spanish conquistadors in the Americas in the 16th century. Traditionally, these sweet cookies are made with finely chopped nuts like walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts or almonds, though this can vary depending on the recipe’s origins.
Cultural Adaptations of the Recipe
As the recipe spread and gained popularity, it was subject to cultural variations and adaptations. Today, this same cookie has dozens of names and slight nuances depending on where it’s made. In Greece, butter cookies are shaped like crescents and referred to as kourabiedes. The name is based on the Turkish version called kurabiye, which means dry (kuru) and biscuit (biye). Shaped much like a kourabiedes, Eastern Europeans make a version called Viennese crescents.
According to Pastry & Baking Arts Chef-Instructor Norma Salazar, these popular cookies are also called snowballs or pecan sandies on the East Coast of the United States, as they resemble snow or sand thanks to their powdered-sugar dusting. Some even refer to them as Russian tea cookies. Yet, speculation indicates that in the 1950s, the name changed to Mexican wedding cake or cookies in the U.S. to diverge from any Cold War context due to the strained relations with Russia at the time.
Nowadays, Chef Norma notes that Mexican wedding cookies are also called polvorones or bizcochitos and are a staple of wedding buffets and holiday parties. Similarly, Italians serve these cookies at celebratory feasts; however, they add star anise for a more pungent, aromatic dough.
How to Make Mexican Wedding Cookies
Chef Norma explains that “Mexican wedding cookies are a unique type of dough that contains no egg.” During the cookie preparation lesson, Pastry & Baking Arts students practice making pecan snowballs known as Mexican wedding cookies and other cookies like Linzer and crinkle.
Unlike most traditional cookie recipes, however, Chef Norma notes that this one relies on the “fat from the butter to bring together the ingredients.” To make the perfect cookie, she says that “the secret is not to overbake the dough.” She explains that you “don’t want much color on the top or bottom of the cookies; they should be just a little bit golden.” This tip helps to keep the cookie from becoming too dry, brittle and crunchy.
Chef Norma says that the goal is for the cookie to have an almost “melt-in-your-mouth type of consistency” as you take a bite. This drier, dense, shortbread-like cookie can last about one week in an airtight container in a dry, cool place in your kitchen.
Mexican Wedding Cookies
Yields approx. 72 cookies
- 565 grams butter
- 170 grams sugar
- 8 grams salt
- 15 grams water
- 14 grams vanilla extract
- 680 grams all-purpose flour
- 565 grams pecans, very finely chopped
- 500 grams powdered sugar
- Cream the butter with the sugar and salt. Add vanilla and water. Add flour and mix to incorporate, and then add pecans. Do not over mix.
- Scoop dough with a small ice cream scoop. Place on a parchment-lined sheet pan and bake at 350 F for about 15 minutes until firm.
- Remove from the oven and immediately place in a hotel pan filled with the powdered sugar, making sure to cover and coat each cookie.
- Allow the cookies to cool in the powdered sugar overnight, if possible.
- After thoroughly cooled, remove from the powdered sugar and roll in fresh powdered sugar again.