Why It Works
- For a change of pace, the traditional ingredients of polvorones—pecans and a powdered sugar coating—are swapped for almonds and a tart lemon glaze.
- Lemon zest is added to the dough for maximum citrus aroma.
I was five years old, and it was recess. My evergreen uniform blazer just got a fine dusting of powdered sugar and crumbs, but I was too absorbed in eating to bother with the mess.
It was love at first bite with the polvorones, made by the Mexican baking company Marinela. The tender shortbread cakes crumbled with no resistance; a feathery coating of confectioners' sugar clung to my lips and fingers.
Unfortunately, my family and I were only in Mexico for a few years, and I never saw the polvorones again until years later at a bodega in New York. And by then, it was bitter disappointment—the product had been altered beyond recognition.
But chin up, this isn't a cookie telenovela with a weepy ending. In 2005, Bon Appétit published a recipe for Mexican wedding cakes. The photo reminded me of my school days, and without too many expectations, I made them. The cookies brought back the uniform, the cold flagstone courtyard, the recess bell.
I've made Mexican wedding cakes scads of times. Butter, confectioners' sugar, flour, and toasted ground pecans are beaten together to form a dough which is briefly chilled. The dough is shaped into balls and baked, and finally, the cookies are dusted with cinnamon and confectioners' sugar. Sublime as these cookies are, I'd baked enough batches to be ready for a change.
The alterations I made to the recipe are minor, but add a fresh and sophisticated twist. In lieu of pecans, fragrant almonds, and instead of warm, spicy cinnamon, the bright bite of freshly grated lemon zest. There's nothing wrong with topping these with confectioners' sugar but in this edition, the rich, sandy crumb of these cookies is more appropriately hidden under a veil of sharp lemon glaze.
- 1 cup toasted slivered almonds (see note)
- 3 tablespoons grated zest plus 3 tablespoons juice from 3 lemons
- 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
- 1 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar, divided
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
Pulse almonds and lemon zest in a food processor until almonds are coarsely ground. Set aside.
Beat butter on medium-high speed in a large bowl until light and fluffy, about 1 minute. Stop the mixer and add 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar. Beat on low speed until fully incorporated, about 30 seconds. Scrape the sides and bottom of bowl with a rubber spatula and add vanilla. Mix on medium-high speed until incorporated, about 10 seconds.
Stop mixer. Add flour, salt, and almond-lemon mixture and mix on medium-low speed until dough comes together, 60 to 90 seconds.
With rubber spatula, scrape down sides and bottom of bowl, patting dough down to unify it. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, arrange oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350°F (180°C).
Using a 1 tablespoon measure, scoop dough out and quickly roll between palms into a ball. Arrange balls on an ungreased baking sheet, spacing them 1/2 inch apart. Lightly press cookies down to 1/2 inch thickness. Bake cookies until golden brown on bottom and pale golden on top, 15 to 20 minutes. Transfer baking sheet to cooling rack and cool cookies on sheet for 5 minutes. Transfer cookies directly to cooling rack and cool completely, about 1 hour.
For the glaze, in a small bowl, whisk together remaining 1 cup confectioners’ sugar and lemon juice until smooth. Arrange the cooling rack in a rimmed baking sheet or set it over parchment or aluminum foil to catch any drips. Dip tops of cookies in glaze and transfer to prepared rack, glaze side up. Allow glaze to set, about 15 minutes, before serving.
To toast slivered almonds, adjust oven rack to center position and preheat the oven to 325°F (165°C). Spread the almonds out on a pie plate and toast until golden, about 8 minutes. Let cool before grinding.
Make-Ahead and Storage
Cookies will keep in an airtight container for up to 1 week.