And, now that the COVID-19 panademic is causing millions around the world to quarantine or shelter in place, with a major economic depression a likely consequence, high anxiety has quickly become our new normal.
But there’s also a corner of joy in my teal and white kitchen, where there’s butter, sugar, flour and cookie sheets.
Because snowball cookies usually make an appearance around Christmas, folks forget that they can be made all year long.
Thought to originate in England during the Middle Ages, these two or three-bite treats are also known as Mexican or Greek wedding cookies; butterballs, or powdered sugar balls. My version calls them honey sand balls since honey is added. But each share this: there are only a handful of ingredients, and once the dough is put together, the cookies can hit the oven quickly since the dough needs no refrigeration.
When snowballs aren’t part of a frenzied holiday ritual, making these cookies provides a comforting rhythm.
Cream together softened butter (always use the real, good stuff) with a bit of powdered sugar, then add flour, vanilla (also use real) and a touch of salt. Lastly, mix in your favorite nuts (walnuts or pecans or hazelnuts work). I get about
a dozen balls per sheet because even though the recipe has no baking powder or soda, the balls flatten and expand
Then comes the very best part (except for the eating): use your (very clean) hands to roll one buttery treat at a time into a one-inch or so sized ball. Just as studies have shown that gardening in dirt may help ease depression, I think it’s also true when it comes to immersing our hands in cookie dough.
You also can’t fret about anything while making snowballs.
This is because you have to single mindedly be on top of the timing.
Snowballs, you see, are fragile, and even in an oven set at a low 325 degrees, these cookies will burn unless carefully monitored. Although my recipe calls for 14 minutes, I check the cookies at about 11, and usually find them done with just a tinge of very light browning around the edges. I’ll take the sheet out and let it sit for only a minute on a wire rack. Then, with my (very clean) hands, I gently take each ball and roll it in powdered sugar. After all the balls are done, I roll them in powdered sugar a second time. A third time won't hurt. The important point of the sugar assemblage is to do the rolling as soon as possible, because the sugar only sticks when the cookies are hot.
Snowballs are also pretty, so I display them in a glass domed cake stand. They’ll stay fresh for more than a week this way, but they freeze well, too. When ready to eat one of the latter, just pop it in the microwave for about 10 seconds. And, since these treats are much lighter than chocolate chip or heavily iced cookies, one or two make a perfect bedtime snack with tea or milk.
In the end, though, it doesn’t make any difference how or when you eat snowballs.
Because no matter what, your taste buds will do a happy dance.
Honey Sand Balls
1 cup (2 sticks) softened butter
½ cup sifted powdered sugar
2 tablespoons honey
2 cups all-purpose flour
¾ chopped walnuts (or pecans or hazelnuts
1 teaspoon vanilla
¼ teaspoon salt
More powdered sugar for the last step
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter and sifted powdered sugar, then add the honey. Mix until blended.
Beat or stir in the flour, nuts, vanilla and salt. Mix thoroughly, and if you’d like, use your (very clean) hands.
Shape the dough into 1-inch balls, places about 1 ½ inches apart on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.
Bake for about 14 minutes, but check at about 11 minutes to see if the cookies are done. They should be very lightly browned around the edges.
While the cookies are still warm, roll them gently in powdered sugar, then roll again. Roll a third time for them to be extra powdery.
Makes about 35 cookies.