High Altitude Baking: Snowballs are perfect for holidays
November 28, 2017
High altitudes makes cookies spread in the pan, cakes fall and few baked goods turn out as they do at sea level. This twice-monthly column presents recipes and tips that make baking in the mountains successful.
Maybe I'm hard to please, but I'm not satisfied with just any holiday cookie.
I want to make one that's tasty, festive, not time-consuming (aren't we busy enough this time of year?), with a long shelf-life and that kids and adults can prepare together. These snowballs fill the bill and are a wonderful choice for those of us who rejoice every time the flakes fall.
They've been a favorite on December cookie trays for decades because of their white-Christmas-good-looks and their appealing taste — tender, sweet, sandy-textured and flavored by vanilla and pecans.
Like most classic cookies, there are a variety of recipes for this little gem. This is my current favorite; it works well at high elevations with a few changes (which I've made below). And, the inclusion of cream, which isn't used in most snowball recipes, makes the cookies unusually tender.
To assure their success, use high quality ingredients (fresh butter and nuts, real vanilla extract), make sure to toast the pecans (it really makes a difference) and measure the flour by spooning small amounts of it into the cup until it's full and then sweeping a knife blade across the top to level it; don't dip your measuring cup into flour or you'll get too much and the cookie will be dry and tough.
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If you want to make gluten free snowballs, then simply replace the all-purpose flour with a measure-for-measure gluten-free flour.
Yields 20 1 ½-inch cookies
Make on a cookie sheet
½ cup pecans, toasted and cooled
¼ cup powdered sugar
¾ cup plus 3 tablespoons bleached all-purpose flour, spoon and level
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons heavy whipping cream
About 1 cup confectioners' sugar for coating the finished cookies
1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees with a rack in the center position. Line your cookie sheet with parchment paper or non-stick aluminum foil (don't grease the pan or the cookies could spread).
2. To make in a food processor: Put nuts, sugar and flour in the processor's bowl and pulse until the nuts are finely chopped and the mixture is well blended. Add the butter in about six pieces and pulse until partially mixed with the dry ingredients. Add the vanilla and cream to the dough with the machine off. Process only until the dough comes together in big, moist clumps, don't let it form a ball. To make with a mixer: Finely chop the pecans and set aside. Cut the butter into six pieces, place them in a mixing bowl and let them come to room temperature. Add the sugar, and, using your mixer at medium speed, beat until creamy and light in color. Add the vanilla and cream and mix until well combined. By hand, gently stir in the flour and pecans with a silicone spatula or wooden spoon until the dough comes together. Don't overmix.
3. For both methods, roll the dough into balls one inch in diameter and place on the prepared cookie sheet, spacing them about one inch apart. (Wet your hands if the dough is sticky.) Refrigerate the cookie sheet, with the dough balls on it, until the balls are quite firm to the touch (this will prevent them from spreading).
4. Bake in the center of the oven for about 15-20 minutes (the time depends on the temperature of the cookies when placed in the oven) or until they are just firm and starting to color. The bottom should be lightly colored, firm and fully cooked (check one cookie). Remove to a cooling rack, wait about 2-3 minutes, and carefully slide each cookie off the pan onto the rack. When fully cool, put powdered sugar in small bowl and roll each cookie in it until well coated. Store these pretty things between sheets of waxed paper in an airtight container at cool room temperature for five days or freeze them. Give them another coating of powdered sugar before serving.
Vera Dawson teaches high-altitude baking classes and is the author of two high-altitude cookbooks, "Cookies in the Clouds" and "Baking Above It All" (available at The Bookworm of Edwards and Next Page Bookstore in Frisco). Her recipes have been tested in her Summit County kitchen and, whenever necessary, altered until they work at our altitude. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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