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Light, crisp, nutty and delicious… Why you NEED to try my gluten free Mexican Wedding Cookies
I’ve become a little obsessed with these Mexican Wedding Cookies. They seriously took me by surprise with just how delicious and dangerously moreish they are. They are without doubt, one of the most melt-in-the-mouth cookies I have eaten… Gently crumbly… rich and buttery…crisp and deeply nutty. In texture, they are perhaps best compared to the lightest of shortbread, superbly delicate but with a balanced sweet nuttiness.
Even better, they are incredibly easy to make and safe for people with Coeliac Disease (Celiac). So if there’s one new gluten free biscuit recipe you try this year, make sure Mexican Wedding Cookies are at the top of the list. They are utterly divine and deserve a place in the gluten free cookie hall of fame. And given they’ve been tried and tested at a party full of gluten-eaters, I can also confirm that no one will ever know they’re wheat free!
What are Mexican Wedding Cookies?
Mexican Wedding Cookies are light shortbread-type biscuits that are rich with pecans or walnuts. They are also characteristically coated in a snow-white layer of icing sugar. But perhaps surprisingly, they seem to have very little to do with Mexican weddings! While they are nonetheless popular in Mexico and enjoyed at Christmas and other celebrations, if articles by food historians are to be believed, their connection with weddings remains somewhat of a mystery.
According to the Institute of Culinary Education, Mexican Wedding Cookies originated outside of Mexico and can be traced back to medieval Arab baking. Over time (and with the extending trade routes), they spread eastwards across Europe, eventually finding their way to Mexico with the Spanish conquistadors and/or European nuns.
These days, the basic nutty shortbread base has differently named and shaped versions around the world. They are perhaps most familiarly also known as Snowball Cookies. But other examples include Russian Tea Cakes, Polish snowballs, Pecan Sandies and Kourambiedes (made with almonds). They are generally baked with a domed shape (although the roundness of the dome appears to vary).
Ingredients to make gluten free Mexican Wedding Cookies
The ingredients needed to make gluten free Mexican Wedding Cookies are simple and consist essentially of fat, flour, sugar, nuts and flavouring. You need:
Butter (or an equivalent dairy free alternative) is an essential ingredient to making them. Indeed, they completely rely on fat from the butter to bring the ingredients together as well as for their delightfully buttery flavour and texture.
It is important to use a ‘block’ butter. However, this MUST be softened to room temperature to allow it to amalgamate with the other ingredients into a smooth dough. I use unsalted butter as this allows greater control over taste. If using a salted variety, do not add the extra salt listed in the recipe.
Icing (or powdered) sugar is used for its textural fineness. This contributes to the characteristically delicate, gently crumbly texture of the cookies. Granulated or caster sugar will not produce the same result. Thus, if you don’t have any, I would advise making your own… It’s a simple process of blitzing either granulated or caster sugar in a blender until it becomes a fine powder.
Mexican Wedding/Snowball Cookies are also dipped and coated in icing sugar after baking to give them a white, ‘snowy’ coat. Because of the sugar coat, the amount of sugar used in my biscuit dough has been balanced to avoid excess sweetness.
Vanilla brings decadence and a deliciously exotic aroma to the biscuits. I always use vanilla paste as this offers a stronger flavour hit without the addition of excess liquid (which may impact the texture and spread of the cookies).
Gluten Free Flour
Mexican Wedding Cookies are one recipe that revels in being gluten free! Why? Because the starchiness of your average white gluten free flour blend lends itself perfectly to the traditional melt-in-the-mouth crumbly texture.
I used my Gluten Free Alchemist White Blend A (found on my Gluten Free Flours and Flour Blending page). If using a commercial gluten free blend that is particularly rice-heavy however, I would suggest switching out a couple of tablespoons for some additional tapioca or corn starch.
Because these biscuits are crumbly by nature (and rightly so), it is essential not to skip the xanthan gum (or an alternative binder) when making them. If you can’t tolerate xanthan gum, switch it for the same amount of guar gum or twice as much psyllium husk powder.
Pinch of salt
Salt is used to enhance flavour and to give a gentle tangy ping on the tongue. If using salted butter, do not add this as an extra ingredient.
Pecans (or walnuts) – ground or finely chopped
Mexican Wedding Cookies are characteristically nutty, usually with pecans or walnuts. Both offer a unique and buttery nuttiness that is quite delicious. Pecans are my favourite as they are a little less earthy than walnuts and are naturally slightly sweeter. But the biscuits are also amazing when made with a combination of the two mixed together.
For a finer-textured cookie, grind the nuts into a ‘meal’ using a blender. But if you like a more nutty bite, use a combination of half and half ground and coarsely chopped. If you don’t have a blender, chop the nuts very finely using a sharp knife or place them in a sealed bag and crush them with a rolling pin.
For a more intense nuttiness, you can (optionally) toast the nuts before grinding. I didn’t, as the nuts intensify on baking anyway, but it’s up to you…
Can I make Mexican Wedding Cookies with other nuts?
Yes. Although Pecans and Walnuts are the most authentic base for Mexican Wedding Cookies, they can also be made with other ground or finely chopped nuts… Almonds, pistachios, and hazelnuts all make suitable alternatives.
Can I make these biscuits dairy free as well as gluten free?
Yes. To make them dairy free requires one simple switch… Use a vegan butter alternative in place of the dairy butter. Make sure it’s a dairy free ‘block’… In the UK, I recommend either Flora or Stork Baking Blocks.
Tips for making the best Mexican Wedding Cookies
Making Mexican Wedding Cookies is easy! However, it always helps to have some tips for perfection so…
- Make sure the butter is softened to room temperature before using. This is essential for blending the ingredients into a smooth, hydrated dough.
- Use an electric whisk to beat the dough. This ensures the most even mixture.
- Although you can chop the nuts by hand or crush in a sealed bag with a rolling pin, it’s easiest to grind them in a blender. Use a pulse setting for greater control. And be careful not to over-grind into paste. You don’t want nut butter!
- For a uniform, melt-in-the-mouth texture, use only fine-ground nuts.
- To get Wedding Cookies with chunkier nuts, use a combination of about half ground and half coarse-chopped nuts.
- Chill the dough before shaping. This makes it easier to handle and mould.
- Dust your hands in icing sugar before rolling each cookie if the dough is still sticky.
- Leave a gap of about 5 cm between them on the baking tray to allow for spreading. And do NOT flatten the balls before baking.
- Chill the dough balls again for a short while before baking. The colder the dough, the more domed your ‘Snowball’ Cookies will be. I went for something in between ball and flat… But you may prefer them more rounded.
- Watch the bake… Mexican Wedding Cookies are done when lightly golden brown. Any longer and they may become over-dry and brittle.
- Be gentle handling the cookies (especially when still warm). They are fragile and meant to be so. When completely cold, they will harden.
- Coat the biscuits with icing (powdered) sugar in a bowl by hand… Do not put them in a bag with the icing sugar and shake to coat. They are delicate and crumbly and WILL break into pieces if not handled with care.
- For the prettiest, most endearing, snow-white cookies, give them a second dusting with icing sugar when completely cold.
How to store your Mexican Wedding Cookies
Your Mexican Wedding Cookies should stay fresh for up to a week. Although in reality, they will be eaten well before then! Store in an airtight container, carefully layered with baking paper to keep them snow-white pretty.
More celebratory international gluten free cookies and biscuits you’ll love…
- Chocolate Crinkle Cookies
- Soft Italian Amaretti Cookies (Amaretti Morbidi)
- Gluten Free Lebkuchen(Citrus & Spice)
- German Gingerbread Cookies(Lebkuchen 2)
- Chocolate Chip Shortbread Biscuits
- Gluten Free Brandy Snaps
- Scottish Shortbread Petticoat Tails
- Lemon Crinkle Cookies
- Ginger Biscuits(Gingernuts)
- Italian Baci di Dama(Lady’s Kisses)
- Gluten Free Florentines
- Savoiardi Biscuits(Ladyfingers)
- Gluten Free Biscotti(Cantuccini)
- Lemon Amaretti Cookies (Amaretti al Limone)
- Chocolate Amaretti Cookies (Amaretti al Cioccolato)
Ready to make gluten free Mexican Wedding Cookies?
I just know you’re going to LOVE these gluten free Mexican Wedding Cookies. They are SO good! Let me know if you make them with a comment at the bottom of the post, or via social media (Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest). And if you have any questions, just shout and I’ll try to help.
You can find the recipe just below (scroll an extra inch or so).
Mexican Wedding Cookies
- blender or sharp knife
- 230 g unsalted butter (block) dairy free as required – softened
- 100 g icing sugar (powdered/confectioner's sugar)
- 1 tsp vanilla bean paste
- 290 g white plain gluten free flour blend
- ½ tsp xanthan gum
- big pinch fine sea salt
- 130 g fine chopped pecan nuts (or walnuts) (nut meal – grind in a blender)
- 30 g additional icing sugar (powdered sugar) to coat approx weight
- Line a couple of large baking trays with baking paper.
- Using an electric whisk, beat the softened butter until smooth and light in colour.
- Add the icing sugar (powdered sugar) and vanilla and beat again until smooth and evenly blended.
- Weigh and mix together the flour, xanthan gum and salt and then (a little at a time), add and beat this into the butter-sugar mixture.
- Grind the nuts in a blender (or chop them) until they are a finely ground meal with the texture of very coarse sand (be careful not to blend to a paste). If you prefer a coarser nut cookie, then grind/chop about half of the nuts more roughly.
- Add the nuts to the dough mix and beat through until evenly blended. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and re-mix to ensure all the ingredients are fully incorporated.
- Chill the dough in the fridge for at least an hour, until firm enough to shape.
- Once firm, scoop out walnut sized pieces of dough and roll into balls. If the dough is very sticky, dust your hands with icing (powdered) sugar to make it easier to handle, but do not coat the balls at this stage.
- Set the balls on the lined baking sheet with a gap of about 5 cm between them to allow for spreading. Do not flatten.
- Preheat the oven to 180 C (350 F).
- Re-chill the dough balls on the trays for 15 to 30 minutes. The colder the dough cookies, the less they will spread (giving a more domed cookie as preferred).
- Bake the cookies for 10 to 14 minutes until lightly browned. They will still be fairly soft, but should harden as they cool.
- Remove from the oven and leave on the trays to cool a little. Meanwhile, spoon some icing sugar into a shallow bowl ready to coat the cookies.
- When the cookies are firm enough to handle, but still warm, coat them in the icing (powdered) sugar and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. The cookies will still be quite fragile until completely cold, so handle carefully.
- Once completely cold, the cookies can be given an optional second coat of icing (powdered) sugar so that they are snow-white.
- Store (layered with baking paper) in an airtight container for up to a week.
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