I got to making pecan balls today. Most often I have heard them called snow balls. But they are also Russian tea cakes and pecan sandies, except as balls and rolled in powdered sugar.
Since Better Homes and Gardens changed their recipe and it is rather different from the Land O’ Lakes one, I asked my friend Karen how her mom made them. It’s most like Land O’ Lakes, just slightly different. Karen was offended at the notion of powdered sugar in the cookies, which BHG said to add instead of granulated sugar, and that intrigued me. Her reasoning seemed sound and she has looked more into the science of these things than I have, but it made me curious so I decided to do it. As well, they recommended toasting the pecans, which sounded neat. And they added a little water to the dough.
I ended up making a hybrid, and doing a couple of my own changes, on account of how I know what I’m doing. Don’t you do that unless you are pretty good at baking, and also know why you are. Baking is more of an exact science than most of the other kinds of cooking.
So I did this. I had two sticks of butter on the counter while I cleaned. After an hour they were not soft enough, so I microwaved them for 30 seconds at 50% power. I have experimented with various degrees of butter melting in my microwave oven, which is very strong. They are not all the same, so you have to do your own thing. But you want the butter to be just softened, not at all running or melted.
I combined them with 1/2 cup of powdered sugar, and two tablespoons of bourbon instead of vanilla or water and vanilla. You can instead use 1 tablespoon water and 2 teaspoons vanilla. Then I added two cups of flour. My flour is currently about 1/3 whole white wheat, so my cookies will reflect that, and I added 1/2 tsp of salt, which Karen’s mom and Land O’ Lakes did, but not BHG. I feel that with a wheaty cooky, a little salt is a helpful thing.
I pulsed 1 1/2 cups pecans and a heaping tablespoon of flour in the food processor to a crumbly condition, then lightly toasted them on the stove, and stirred them in. So the dough was warm, but it retained its consistency. Then I rolled it into 40 balls (I like mine a little larger than standard; it would be around 55 otherwise,) and chilled the pans while the oven preheated to 325º. I prefer this method when it’s possible, instead of chilling the dough first and then rolling. But sometimes that is the necessary path because the dough is too soft to shape.
I decided to see how they’d do chilled for different times, so the first pan had about ten-fifteen minutes in the freezer. Then I moved the second pan to the refrigerator while the first one baked. Well, they both took 13 minutes to bake to my satisfaction.
When the first batch was cool, I put them in a bag with 1 cup of powdered sugar, and removed them with plastic tongs. Metal ones will work if you are gentle. I'm not...a super dexterous person, myself.
I really like the texture super much. I think the powdered sugar did fine, and I might continue to use it. But they do taste just lightly sweetened inside, so if you'd prefer them a little sweeter, 1/2 cup of granulated sugar definitely works perfectly well. I like the salt, too, but it strikes me as unnecessary, unless you are using unsalted butter. When I make these again, I will use only 1/4 teaspoon.
Finally, the addition of white wheat flour in that proportion still made a very tender cookie (with a little fiber!) but for the classic texture and flavor, you'll want to just use all-purpose flour.