First I have to apologize for being so MIA the past week. The regular excuses for this time of year apply: holiday parties, cookie baking, Christmas shopping, and more holiday parties. Somehow after Thanksgiving the days rush by and suddenly there are three weeks until Christmas to pack in parties, work events, end-of-year birthdays, ice skatings, gift wrappings, tree trimmings, cookie exchanges and everything else holiday you can think of. Oh, and still work a full day. But it's the holidays, and that's what you do during the holidays. You push and push until you fly home, collapse into the arms of family and friends, sit by a fire, and forget about your Blackberry for a few days. And you live for it all year.
In my last post I mentioned having a tough time getting into the spirit (and thanks for all of the supportive comments!), but after this past weekend not even Scrooge himself could deny that Christmas is all around. Yesterday, myself and a few hundred friends dressed as Santa Claus descended on NYC with the force of Kriss Kringle and Saint Nicholas combined. It was Santacon NYC 2009 and for those of you who don't know, what ensued was a Santa convention/parade/bar crawl through the outer boroughs and into Manhattan that involved copious amounts of... merry-making. It was a full day, but the absolute highlight came while fueling up at Starbucks on West 86th Street before trekking to the Park Slope meeting point. Dressed in full Santa suits and appropriate gender-defining accessories (Lady Gaga-esque fake eyelashes for me and a full white beard for my friend Matt), we were approached by a 4-year girl as we waited in line for our caffeine fix. She tugged on my Santa coat and asked in the sweetest Cindy Lou Who voice, "Do you know Santa?"
I think my heart almost exploded a la the Grinch as Matt and I answered that yes, we knew Santa and that we were his New York City helpers since he was at the North Pole getting ready for the big day. I bent down as her Mom pointed out my elf-eyelashes and the little girl was so adorable that I literally wanted to scoop her up and put her in my pocket. Instead, we put the Amber Alert on hold, wished her a Merry Christmas and headed out to Brooklyn to get freak nasty with the other Santa's. And. It. Was. Awesome. Santa at the Brooklyn Museum. Santa kick ball in Prospect Park. Santa Christmas carols on the subway. Santa's on Wall Street. Jews for Santa. It was the most fun I've had in a long time (and you bet I felt the after-effects of the fun this morning).
So in celebration of Santa's magic, here's a great Christmas cookie recipe my friend Emily and I made as part of our bake-fest last week. I've always called them "Russian Tea Cakes" (no clue why) and my brother and I used to leave them out for Santa with a glass of cold milk before bed on Christmas Eve. I've also heard "Mexican Wedding Cakes" and "Snowballs," so take your pick. But whatever you call them, they're a delicious version of shortbread that's light, delicate and melt-in-your-mouth good.
These turned out perfectly per the recipe, but I'd love to try them with different "add-ins" like sliced almonds and dried apricots or dark chocolate and cherries (the possibilities are endless). Oh, and the dough is REALLY YUMMY. Not that I tried it. Or ate half of it while waiting for the other half to bake.
Pistachio and Cherry Mexican Wedding Cakes
2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup powdered sugar, plus more for coating
2 tbsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. salt
1 cup shelled unsalted natural pistachios (about 4 oz.), chopped
1 cup dried tart cherries
3 1/3 cup sifted cake flour (I used all purpose)
1 2/3 cups sifted all purpose flour
Preheat oven to 350 F. Butter 3 large heavy baking sheets (we just used parchment paper). Using electric mixer, beat 2 cups butter and 1 cup powdered sugar in large bowl until light and fluffy. Beat in vanilla and salt, then pistachios and cherries. Using spatula, stir in all flour (do not overmix dough).
Shape dough by generous tablespoonfuls into football shaped ovals (Emily used two spoons to shape them into footballs and it worked beautifully). Place on prepared sheets, spacing 1 inch apart. Bake cookies until bottoms just begin to color, about 16 minutes. Cool cookies on sheets 10 minutes before coating.
Pour generous amounts of powdered sugar into medium bowl. Working with 5 or 6 warm cookies at a time, add cookies to bowl of sugar; gently turning to coat thickly. Transfer cookies to sheet of waxed paper. Repeat to coat cookies with sugar again; cool completely. Can be made 4 days ahead. Store airtight at room temperature.