‘Tis the season and snow is on my mind today. Snow was part of the winter routine when I was young and living in West Virginia. Even in the cold months my friends and I regularly walked a mile to and from our elementary school (no kidding – I just looked it up on Google Maps), and we took our time despite the cold. After all, the walk was uphill both ways (you saw that coming, right?) and the snow gave us an irresistible fresh canvas. There were boot tracks and mitten prints to make in the virgin white, snowmen to roll, and drifts of snow to whisk off cold iron railings, chrome bumpers, and big blue mailboxes. We must have made a Rockwell-worthy picture as we crunched and squeaked up snow-piled sidewalks, pink-cheeked, laughing, and nibbling handfuls of clean white snowballs. It was a different time and place.
As if reading my mind – or like she was reading over my shoulder as I was writing – my daughter paused from her studies and said “Mom, do you think we’ll have snow this year? When I wake up on Christmas morning I want to look outside and see snow. Inches of snow!”Alas. Living in the Piedmont Triad region of North Carolina means that most of the snow we see is either “Greensboro snow” (meaning rain) or in news reports from other places. The Triad gets some ice and an occasional and short-lived flaky dusting, but rarely do we get a flat-out snow storm. White Christmas? Not here, not often.
Until this year it didn’t matter to me if I ever saw snow again. Snow up your sleeves and pantlegs, nooo thanks! This season is different. I really really really really want snow, not because I want it in the cuffs of my clothes but because a traditional winter season would be a welcome change of pace. I don’t want to be trapped in the house for months but I’d enjoy a couple of knee-deep snows interspersed with a few smaller ones. I’d like for the grass to be hidden and for the squirrel (and chicken) tracks to be visible. I’d like to be able to build a snowman that still looks like a snowman the next day rather than like an eroding white yard stalagmite. Heck, I’d like to be able to build a decent snowman in the first place. I’d like to rush out after supper and make igloos and snow forts with the kids until well after dark, engaging the neighbors in snowball fights, and make peace offerings of snow cream and hot chocolate. And as I recall, sledding is high entertainment especially at night. How much more tolerable the short days would be!
Back to reality. We probably won’t have a winter like that unless we move North or West so we’ll (ok, ok, I’ll) have to be satisfied with a typical central NC winter. Even though we’ll have to be content with our cold rain and messy ice, I’ll make snowballs. Cookies, that is, my mother’s recipe from my earliest memories. It’s one of my favorite winter treats and there’s nothing like coming into the house while they’re baking. They’re like Danish wedding cookies, except with a KEY additional ingredient. See if you can spot it in the recipe. (Eliminating it will still yield some pretty nice cookies, but including it will give your guests something to talk about.)
1 c. butter, softened
1 tsp. almond extract
2 heaping c. flour (If you are using single cup measuring cups to do your measuring, don’t heap the flour with both scoops – heap only one time, and not a mountainous heap, or you’ll wind up with dry dough that won’t form.)
1 c. chopped nuts
½ c. powdered sugar, plus about ¾ c. for later
1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees (these cookies are delicate – be careful not to overheat the oven).
2. Lightly spray a cookie sheet with oil. Set aside.
3. Mix butter, almond, flour, nuts and ½ c. powdered sugar. Blend until the mixture forms small clumps. The dough may seem dry but when you squeeze it, it should form in your hand.
4. Roll dough into 1-1/2 inch balls and place on a cookie sheet. Make sure the balls are tight enough to not fall apart in your hands. As you are forming the cookies, make sure to mix in any dry ingredients remaining in the bowl so that the cookies you make at the end of the end are as moist as those at the beginning.
5. Bake the cookies for 30 minutes. While hot, they should have a slight “give” to them when squeezed. They will harden as they cool. Do not overcook.
6. Place cookies on cooling rack for about 5 minutes then, while they are still warm, shake a few at a time in powdered sugar. Return to cooling rack. Let cool 20 – 30 minutes. The cookie will still be very visible through the sugar.
7. Once the cookies are cooled completely (about a half hour), shake the cookies again in powdered sugar. The sugar will mostly coat the cookie color and will leave you with snowballs that you made in your kitchen! Store them in an airtight container, not that they’ll last long enough to go stale. They will keep well for a few days if you need to make them ahead of time.
If you need to freeze the cookies for an advance date, freeze the formed uncooked dough balls and then allow them to thaw to room temperature when you’re ready to make them. Once thawed, bake as directed. These cookies are exceedingly rich and are ideal with a cup of coffee.