Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Holiday Sandies... Pecaned, Zested, Fruited and Gluten- and Dairy-Free



These little treats have been toted to their fair share of cookie exchanges and holiday gatherings over the years. Dating back to the early 1950's (or, perhaps even prior), the making of these nuggets has remained relatively unchanged... a simple shortbread-like dough is dotted with nuts and then more than generously coated with confectioner's sugar once cooled from the oven. While the precise date of their original unveiling may be of question, one thing is for certain: they have been responsible for many a powder-laced mouth and cookie-crumbed lap through the years.



They aren't new or different, trendy or chic. They are just good. And they are made from quite a versatile little dough, one that will happily produce a jam-filled sandwich cookie with just another step or two, and one that readily wraps its arms around a variety of flavors. It's also a recipe that adjusts beautifully with the substitution of Bob's Red Mill Gluten-Free Flour (and a little xanthan gum) to produce a delicious gluten-free (and in this case, dairy-free) variety, as well.


Sandies have been a staple in our own repertoire of holiday baking since as far back as I can remember. The recipe I use (and the one my own mother used) comes from the Better Homes Garden (BH&G) cookbook. And while this particular recipe has you shake cooled cookies in a bag filled with powdered sugar, there are a number of subtle variations... both in how these cookies are made and what they are called.

While my BH&G cookies are referred to as Sandies, they do incorporate pecans. For many, Pecan Sandies aren't even coated in powdered sugar. Instead, the pecan-laced dough is chilled, and then rolled and cut into rounds or squares before baking, or simply baked as a drop cookie. When our girls were little they called our version of this cookie The Cookie Covered In Sugar. That seemed as good a name as any at the time so that's what we went with. Apart from loving the subtle sweetness of this cookie, their melt-in-your-mouth texture, and the wonderful caking of powdered sugar each gets, I have always loved how easy they are to make (especially appealing for a girl that might rather bake a potato than a cake). One quick mixing of just a few ingredients, and no gadgets required to roll, cut, trim, or ice. A quick 20-minute pop in the oven (8 to 10 minutes in the case of the sandwich cookie) and a shake of powdered sugar. Easy and no fuss.


In addition to calling these cookies Sandies (or Pecan Sandies), some might refer to them as Mexican Wedding Cookies, Russian Teacakes, Polvorones, Snowdrops, Snowballs, etc. Some varieties use pecans, others walnuts or almonds. For as much as I can determine, these latter terms seem to correlate to the same ball-shaped, shortbread-like cookie dotted with nuts and rolled in sugar that we make every holiday.

This year I wanted to switch things up and experiment a little with the bits of goodness added to the dough, resulting in Pecan & Orange-Zested Sandies, Almond & Dried Mixed Berry Sandies, and Pistachio & Dried Cranberry Sandies. And, of course, Jam-Filled Sandwich Sandies. All these versions were great; however, I have to admit I definitely have my favorites. First, you can't beat the straight-up, original BH&G variety Pecan Sandies. And with a bit of orange zest, they are only better... a subtle, welcomed citrusy pop that melds beautifully with the sweet powdered sugar coating. Yum!

Apart from these traditional varieties, I really like the jam-filled sandwich variety. It's basically the same dough with just a touch of maple syrup added. Once the dough is mixed and the nuts added, you pop it into the fridge to chill for 15 to 20 minutes before rolling it and cutting it into one-inch squares. After baking for 8 to 10 minutes, you remove them to a wire rack to cool. Then you spread the underside of half the cookies with a bit of jam, sandwich them with mates, and dust the lot with some powdered sugar. These bite-size cookies are a definite favorite... both using the traditional dough and the gluten-free/dairy-free batch. It's one that will be repeated in our own holiday gatherings, cookie exchanges and such... for some time to come. Not particularly new or trendy... just good.


Holiday Sandies
adapted from the Better Homes & Garden Cookbook
makes approximately 4 dozen, scant one-inch cookies

Basic Dough:

1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks).. (Earth Balance Vegan Buttery Sticks for a non-dairy substitution)
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup chopped pecans
1 cup sifted powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Beat butter (softened in microwave for 15 to 20 seconds) in mixer on medium high for 30 seconds. Add granulated sugar, beating until just combined (scraping sides of bowl). Beat in 1 tablespoon water and vanilla, until combined. Reduce speed to medium low and begin adding flour, until all is just combined. Mix in pecans with a spoon. Shape dough into scant 1-inch balls and place on an ungreased baking sheet, 1 inch apart. Bake for 20 minutes or until bottoms are lightly browned. Transfer cookies to wire rack to cool. Gently shake cooled cookies in a plastic bag filled with powdered sugar.

Almond & Mixed Berry Sandies:

Substitute 1 cup chopped pecans in Basic Dough recipe with 1/2 cup chopped roasted almonds and 1/2 cup chopped mixed dried berries.

Pecan & Orange-Zested Sandies:

Add 2 tablespoons orange zest to Basic Dough recipe

Pistachio & Dried Cranberry Sandies:

Substitute 1 cup chopped pecans in Basic Dough recipe with 1/2 cup chopped pistachios and 1/2 cup chopped dried cranberries.


Gluten- and Dairy- Free Dough:

2 Earth Balance Vegan Buttery Sticks, softened (15 to 20 minutes in microwave)
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (Nielsen-Massey brand)
2 1/4 cups Bob's Red Mill Gluten-Free Flour
generous 1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum
1 cup chopped pecans
1 cup sifted powdered sugar (Whole Foods 365 Organic Powdered Sugar)

Follow same steps for preparation of rolled Sandies as outlined in Basic Dough recipe.


Jam-Filled Sandwich Sandies (using either dough base)

Dough Recipe, of choice
3 tablespoons 100% maple syrup (not pancake syrup)
jam of your choice


Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Beat butter (softened in microwave for 15 to 20 seconds) in mixer on medium high for 30 seconds. Add granulated sugar, beating until combined (scraping sides of bowl). Beat in 1 tablespoon water, vanilla and maple syrup, until combined. Reduce speed to medium low and begin adding flour (with xanthan gum, if making gluten-free variety), until all is just combined. Mix in pecans with a spoon and place dough (wrapped in plastic wrap) in fridge to cool for 15 to 20 minutes. On a lightly floured surface (all-purpose or gluten-free, as appropriate), roll dough to an approximate 3/8" to 1/4" thickness and cut into 1-inch squares. Place squares on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake for 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from oven and transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool. Once cooled, spread  an 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon jam on underside of half of cookies and sandwich with mates. Dust sandwiched cookies with powdered sugar.











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