I found a recipe called ‘Tea Cookies’ in a US newspaper circa 1988; here, it’s adapted to be GF. See the footnote, though, as it’s similar to recipes found all over the world – slightly, but not quite, like shortbread.
There are also spicing alternatives in the footnote.
Makes: 30+ biscuits depending on size
- 75g pecans, very finely chopped (weighed after chopping)
- 90g icing sugar (weighed before sifting), plus more for dusting
- 280g gluten-free flour
- 1/2 tsp gluten-free baking powder
- 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
- 115g cold unsalted butter, cubed
- 100g cold lard, cubed
- 1 large egg (65-70g when weighed in its shell), beaten
- 1 small orange, 1/2 of grated zest only;
or, 1 unwaxed lemon, grated zest only
- Two baking trays
- Baking/parchment paper to line both trays
- Two large mixing bowls, plus 1 small bowl for egg
- Pastry cutter (optional)
- Cooling rack
- Line your baking trays with paper.
- Put the chopped pecans in a large bowl. Sift the icing sugar over the nuts, and gently mix together with a fork.
- Sift the flour, baking powder, and spice into a second bowl. Add the butter and lard, and use your fingers (or a pastry cutter) to rub in quickly, to create a coarse breadcrumb mixture.
- Add the nut/sugar mixture and stir it into the dough. Add the beaten egg and zest, and quickly stir it in until fully combined.
- Put the bowl of dough into the fridge to firm up for around 30 minutes. (The bowl can chill overnight, covered with clingfilm, if you like.)
- Preheat your oven to 180 C (160 C fan-assisted).
- Roll up smooth balls of dough between your palms – just under golf-ball sized – and squidge each slightly into a rectangle. (You don’t have to do this – you can leave them round. But rectangles bake into pleasing oval shapes.) Place on the prepared baking trays 3 x 4. Put extra dough back into the fridge.
- Bake for 12 – 14 minutes (turn trays halfway through) until the cookie centres feel firm to the touch and they are just starting to colour all over. Remove the trays from the oven and wait 5 minutes before removing the cookies to a cooling rack. Let the trays cool another 5 minutes or so before loading up with more dough, and baking.
- Dust the fully cooled cookies with icing sugar before serving.
If you’d like to personalise this recipe, use 1/2 tsp ground ginger or cinnamon instead of nutmeg. Or, a 1/4 tsp of ground cloves or cardamom could work.
As per below, there are many regional variations. Some say to roll the warm cookies in icing sugar, then roll again in more icing sugar once cooled. In my experience, this makes them delicious – but very messy to eat!
Looking around the internet, I found loads of similar recipes: The Gluten-Free Girl’s Mexican Wedding Cookies; plus non-GF recipes called ‘Russian Teacakes’; ‘Viennese Crescents’; ‘Pecan Balls’ or ‘Snowballs’ in North America; Spanish ‘Polvorones’; Greek ‘Kourabiethes’, etc. (Most use pecans, but some use almonds, walnuts, or hazlenuts; some add vanilla extract; some use all butter and some part lard; and they’re all different shapes. They all use icing sugar only, though, not granulated.)
Mixing finely chopped nuts with icing sugar, egg, butter/lard, flour, spice, and citrus zest seems to be an international favourite. Virtually all similar recipes were billed as eaten locally on certain holidays or special occasions.