Photo: Allison Shoemaker

I find baking very soothing—for the most part. Like 90 percent soothing. Maybe 75 percent. Still, mostly soothing. First and foremost in the pro column, in the winter at least, is basically everything having to do with the oven. The gorgeous aroma! The waves of warmth! Nostalgia! All that. Wonderful. I love doing something that involves lots of chopping and smooshing and stirring and blending and measuring. Great way to turn your brain off. I like that at the end, if you just pay attention to all the details, something goo-like transforms into something delicious and solid that can be dunked into coffee. It’s like a magic trick. All great stuff.

The 10 to 25 percent I don’t like consists of two things. The first: The potential that you’re just going to absolutely fail, and what does that say about your life choices, Allison? The second: Making decisions. When to stop mixing. When to stop chilling the dough. When to take something out of the oven. What kind of chocolate chips to use, which variation to take and which to pass, how big things should be, what pie crust recipe to use and whether or not you can pull off a lattice crust, you get the idea. So when it occurred to me that I could attempt to my favorite childhood holiday cookie without choosing between things, I got very excited, and I am delighted to inform you that the results are no joke.

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Russian tea cakes—which depending on who you ask are either also called or related to Mexican wedding cakes, Italian wedding cookies, and snowball cookies—are made with butter, confectioners sugar, vanilla, and nuts. What kind of nuts, you ask? Well, it depends on the recipe. Some recipes basically say, “yeah, just pick one of these six kinds of nuts, all right?” and I love these cookies, but that is a nightmare for someone indecisive like me. So when setting out to make them again this year, I decided to choose less. Two kinds of nuts. Add cinnamon, but only for some of them. What the hell, dip some of them in chocolate. I’m a grown-ass adult and if I don’t want to choose between pecans and hazelnuts, I don’t have to.

Reader, I am very pleased with this decision. The combination of nostalgia and mistress-of-my-destiny, I-do-what-I-want thinking made for an experience even more soothing than usual. All that, and they taste great, too.


Russian tea cakes, indecisive-style

Adapted from Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen, who adapted from Epicurious

Makes 4 dozen cookies

  • 1 cup (two sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 cups of powdered/confectioners sugar
  • 2 tsp. vanilla
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup pecans
  • 1/2 cup hazelnuts
  • 1 cup confectioners sugar
  • 1/8 tsp. cinnamon

For chocolate sauce (optional, sorry to do that to you)

  • 1 cup chocolate chips
  • 2 oz. cream

Toast the pecans and hazelnuts in the oven (350 degrees Fahrenheit for roughly 12 minutes, stir every four minutes, remove when they start to smell amazing and/or are a little browned). Separate hazelnuts while still warm and roll in a dishtowel to remove most of the skins. Let cool to room temperature. Do a number on the nuts in a food processor or other grinding tool by pulsing until fine, making sure to occasionally scrape the sides of the bowl. Set aside.

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Beat butter with electric mixer until fluffy. Separate 1/2 cup powdered sugar and add to butter along with vanilla. Set remaining powdered sugar aside. Beat until blended. Add flour, beat until blended; add nuts, beat until blended. Split dough into two balls, wrap each in plastic and chill for 30 minutes to an hour.

Preheat to 350 degrees. Put remaining powdered sugar in a large bowl. Take half the chilled dough and roll into balls in roughly two-teaspoon increments. Space balls 1/2 inch apart on large baking sheet. Bake about 18 minutes until the cookies are lightly golden on top. Cool on cookie sheet for five minutes, then toss in powdered sugar. Cool on cooling rack.

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Whisk cinnamon into powdered sugar. Repeat process wth second ball of dough.

When cookies are cool, melt chocolate chips and stir in cream (I used the microwave, but however you like). Dip one side of however many of the cookies you please in the chocolate. Let cool. Enjoy being drunk with power.

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