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Russian tea cakes are actually a form of cookie and seem to spring from a number of geographic locations. Most believe they originate in the US, though many people may know these cookies better as Mexican wedding cakes or by the non-geographic but more descriptive name of butter balls. Comprised of a few simple ingredients, which or may not include flour depending on the recipe, these rich, rounded cookies are often popular around winter holidays.
The principal ingredients of Russian tea cakes are a large amount of butter, combined with flour, chopped nuts (usually walnuts or pecans), and powdered sugar. A few recipes suggest using only finely ground nuts in place of flour. The cookie dough is rolled into balls about an inch (2.54 cm) in diameter and baked for approximately eight to ten minutes. The bottoms of these cookies are prone to burning because of their butterfat content. Using parchment paper on cookie sheets may help reduce this risk.
When Russian tea cakes are removed from the oven, they’re quickly rolled in powdered sugar, and since the cookies are still hot, this results in almost a frosting-like texture on the outside. Once cool, they may be rolled in sugar again, so that they have both the frosting feel and a top layer of powdery confectioner’s sugar. Russian tea cakes will usually keep for about a week in a tight container or they can be frozen for a few weeks. They shouldn’t be stored until completely cool.
The simplicity of Russian tea cakes does make them ideal for serving with tea. They are not overly sweet, though they are definitely rich. It’s not recommended that people use substitutions in recipes they have for these cookies. Making them with margarine or lard robs the cookies of their main characteristic, which is their distinct butter flavor. Sometimes in Mexican bakeries, lard is used to make Mexican tea cakes, but then they principally taste of lard, which may or may not be appealing.
One popular use of Russian tea cakes is in Christmas cookie assortments. For thoughtful givers, cookies should be labeled as containing nuts. Though the nuts used in recipes for these cookies are unlikely to cause the severe allergies associated with peanuts, which are not truly nuts, many people have sensitive reactions especially to walnuts and experience burning sensations in the mouth when they eat them. With this type of sensitive labeling, Russian tea cakes are a delightful part of cookie assortments, but there is no need to restrict their use to holidays. Many people enjoy these cookies year round.
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