December 15, 2009

More on cookies

This weekend I spent baking more cookies while Esperando spent the day climbing up and down a ladder to caulk up the slits in the wood planking on the walls and ceiling in Casa Abeja to prepare for our moving over there in January, both kinds of messy undertakings. Guess who lost more weight?


On Friday I had asked Sr. Jueves to get me some walnuts, which are called nuez here and which is also the word for nuts in general in Mexico. I showed him some pecans and said the nuts I want look similar to this, but the nuez is bigger and paler. I also said to him, before we had pecanas you used to bring me nueces, which is true. When we first arrived a year and a half ago the store carried big bags of shelled walnuts. Nobody seemed to even know what a pecan was here 6 months ago. Then I kept asking for pecanas and finally pecanas arrived. The stores are now chock-a-block full of pecanas, but no nueces. I seem to have influenced the local nut economy in ways that are a mystery to me.

I went to a different store and found one small bag of walnuts still in their shells. I snatched them up, took them home and cracked them in my molquetera (what we gringos know as a mortar and pestle) that was given to me by my friend, Don Diego’s mother. It is the first time I had ever used it and Esperando chided me for chopping nuts in it, but I have to tell you it was the perfect tool. The curved bowl held the nut from rolling away and the pestle was heavy enough to easily crack the shell. I was in love with it before I used it, but now I am even more so. Look at its cute little piggie face.

By yesterday morning I had a vast domain of some really great cookies: frosted and unfrosted biscochitos, chewy walnut squares, the Neiman Marcus $250 cookie, and lemon squares, all baked over the weekend. I bundled them all up and gave them as gifts to the guesthouse staff and my husband’s co-workers in the office downtown. That left us with just a handful of cookies. Good, I thought, we can start getting skinnier before Christmas—no temptations.

Then, I got curious about the Mexican wedding cookies that we made the first day and which had evaporated into thin air. Why was it that none of the Mexicans here knew of this cookie? I looked it up on Wikipedia and didn’t get an answer to that, but I did find an interesting history. It seems that variations on a simple cookie made of nuts, flour, egg, sugar, vanilla and anise or caraway seed used for flavoring, and called a Jumble, has been around since the Middle Ages. It is the basis for our modern cookies known variously as Russian Teacakes, Sand Tarts, Polvorones Sevillanos and, yes, Mexican Wedding Cookies. Apparently this cookie originated in Arab cuisine, spread to Spain and from there to Europe. Yesterday afternoon, looking around at my empty larder and curious about the Polvorones Sevillanos, the little devil on my shoulder caused me to try that recipe. It was a little different as it included cinnamon in the dough. The recipe I made was far too dry to stick together and so I had to add a little brandy (which was a component of a different recipe for the same cookie). Well we’ve all read the joke about making the fruitcake and sampling the liquor, and how the recipe goes to hell. And no, that didn’t happen to me, but the result is sort of the same as we have a whole new batch of temptations to sample now. Esperando informed me he doesn’t like them so I will have stuff them down my gullet alone—such a loathsome task. Hiccup!

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