For my family, the menu for Christmas dinner practically mirrors the cover of a “Good Housekeeping” holiday issue: creamy mashed potatoes, garlicky spinach, a juicy beef tenderloin, freshly baked cookies – the works. So when my roommate Jenn Berg offered to cook a meal with her take on tradition, you can imagine my surprise when she brought home a giant stack of tortillas and several pounds of ground beef. My Texan roomie was making her famous enchiladas, and I quickly understood why this could become a beloved tradition. She asked me to cover the desserts, and I made two that would make any Texan proud: Mexican Wedding Cakes and Sopapilla Cheesecake.
What’s interesting about Mexican Wedding Cakes is while the recipe is old, the name is fairly new. They are closely related to jumbles, a recipe dating back to the Middle Ages. They appeared in Russian culture around the 18th century as sweet confection in tea-sharing ceremonies. This tradition gave them the name Russian Tea Cakes – the shift to its current name has no evident impetus (though rumor has it the Cold War may have played a key role in the change).
These are easily my favorite cookie – they are basically bite-sized pillows of nutty, sugary goodness that are all-too-easy to make. Their lightness comes from using confectioners’ sugar in lieu of regular, and the addition of ground nuts give them a contrasting texture that is irresistibly perfect. While still warm, they are then tossed in confectioners’ sugar – genius! I can guarantee you will make these a Christmas tradition for it will be love at first bite – click HERE to see the recipe for these addictive cookies.
Sopapillas are another Berg Family tradition. They are essentially fried pastry squares that are served warm with honey and/or confectioners’ sugar. I wasn’t fully certain I’d be able concentrate on deep frying after a long day’s work, so I sought an alternative; that’s when I happened upon this recipe. Cheesecake is a Christmas tradition for my family, so this twist felt all too appropriate. I’ll admit, I was initially apprehensive about this recipe: crescent dough, cream cheese and melted butter? Sounds like a gooey mess out of context. The verdict: this cake is ridiculous. I guess you can credit the butter, but the dough does achieve a flaky texture emulating its sopapilla intention. It’s extremely easy to make, and yet still can bring anyone to their knees with its cinnamon-sugary goodness – click HERE to see how to make this unique twist on cheesecake.
I wanted a pairing the embraced the fun, unique take on tradition, so I chose Danzón No. 2, by Arturo Márquez. A celebrated Mexican composer, his works draw significant inspiration from the traditional styles and rhythms of his culture. In terms of Mexican contemporary music, this piece is one of the more venerated among orchestral repertoire (much like these two desserts will be in your baking repertoire!). I’ve included one of the more famous recordings of this work – Gustavo Dudamel and the Simon Bolivar Orchestra. Enjoy!
“Russian Tea Cake,” Wikipedia.com
“Food Timeline: Cookies, Crackers, & Biscuits,” FoodTimeline.org