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Pecan Balls

2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups pecans, hazelnuts or walnuts, or a combination of all 3, ground
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Cinnamon sugar, vanilla sugar or vanilla confectioners' sugar, recipes below

Combine the flour, salt and ground nuts on a sheet of wax paper and set aside. In a mixing bowl, cream the butter with an electric mixer, add the granulated sugar and beat until the mixture is light and fluffy. Beat in the vanilla, then add the flour and pecan mixture and mix very well, at first with the mixer and then with your hands. The dough will be very soft; form it into a ball, wrap in wax paper and refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours, or until firm.

Break off small pieces of dough and form them into cherry-sized balls. Place the nut balls on a baking sheet and freeze them. Either bake the cookies as soon as they are frozen or store them in freezer bags for up to 3 months.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the frozen pecan balls 1 inch apart on ungreased cookie sheets and transfer the sheets carefully to the oven. (The frozen balls of dough skid around on the cookie sheets, and if you're not careful they can fall off and roll all over the kitchen floor.) Bake the cookies immediately in the middle of the oven for 13 to 18 minutes, or until they are barely golden at the edges. Cool on the baking sheets for 2 or 3 minutes. Pour the dusting sugar you've chosen into a flat soup bowl, roll the warm cookies in the sugar and transfer them to racks to cool. Store in an airtight container for up to 1 week; freeze for up to 2 months.

Chocolate Pecan Balls: Increase the granulated sugar to 10 tablespoons (an addition of 2 tablespoons). Add 6 tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa powder (preferably Dutch-process cocoa) to the creamed mixture. The dough will be very stiff, so you'll have to knead in the final addition of the flour mixture by hand. Form the dough into balls, freeze and bake as directed. Allow the cookies to cool for 3 to 4 minutes on the baking sheet, then transfer to racks. While they are still warm, dust the cookies generously with plain or vanilla confectioners' sugar. Makes 90 cookies.

Cinnamon Sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
4 teaspoon cinnamon

Combine the sugar and cinnamon in a jar, cover and shake. Store indefinitely. Makes 1 cup.

Vanilla Sugar
3 cups granulated sugar
1 vanilla bean, cut into 1-inch segments

Place the sugar and the vanilla bean in a food processor fitted with the steel blade and process for 2 or 3 minutes, or until the vanilla bean is ground. (There will still be black specks visible in the sugar.) Transfer the vanilla sugar to an airtight container and let stand for 1 week. Sift the sugar before using. Store indefinitely. Makes 3 cups.

Vanilla Confectioners' Sugar
2 cups confectioners' sugar
1 vanilla bean, cut into segments

Place the sugar and vanilla bean in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade and process until the vanilla bean is very finely chopped. Transfer the mixture to an airtight container and let stand for 1 week. Sift the sugar before using. Store indefinitely. Makes 2 cups.

"The Christmas Cookie Book,"
by Judy Knipe and Barbara Marks
Tested by Arlene Burnett

Thursday, December 07, 2000

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