Friday, December 20, 2013

Kurabiye (Almond Shortbread) Cookies

Call them Snowballs, call them Mexican Wedding Cookies, or call them Kurabiye: whatever you call them, they are a taste of Christmas that few families are unfamiliar with. These cookies have made the rounds and lots of cultures have a version. This particular recipe is based on the Turkish version, called Kurabiye ("Koor-ah-bee-yay") - which I think just means "cookie", but that goes to show how fundamental these cookies must be to the culture, if this is the one that is named with no qualifiers. It's like me calling Chocolate Chip Cookies just "cookies". 

Despite the Turkish origin, this recipe closely resembles the Greek, Iranian and apparently also the Bulgarian versions. And let's all just admit that it is not too far off from the Spanish/Mexican version. So, it kinda turns out that perhaps the secret to making warring cultures see how similar they are long enough to establish world peace is actually...a cookie. That's probably going to be the basis of my platform when I run for Congress. Will you vote for me??

Perhaps the reason why these cookies are so pervasive among world cultures is that they are so. stinkin'. easy. Cream the butter and the sugar together, add five more ingredients and mix until just combined. No muss, no fuss. Form the dough into balls*, bake for a few minutes and dunk them in powdered sugar. Presto! Cookies.

*Note: I adapted this recipe from the amazing Em at Mbakes. The original is her mom's recipe, which prescribes rolling the dough into fat snakes and bending them into crescents before baking. I'm lazy original, so I did a traditional drop cookie shape, but you can feel free to do these in crescents if you prefer.

There's a little bit of magic in the powdered sugar, too, I think. Not only does powdered sugar do a fantastic job of covering flaws, which is important here because this dough won't form a perfectly smooth spherical top, but if you ask me, any cookie covered in powdered sugar automatically seems exponentially more delicate and fancy. Plus, the dunking part is fun! If you're baking with kids, that would be the perfect step to give them jurisdiction over.

Not only are they easy and fun to make, these cookies are simply luxurious to eat. The taste is extremely delicate and lightly sweet. The texture is light and silky on your tongue and each bite melts in your mouth. These taste fantastic with a tea like Earl Grey, but if you want to be authentic, I highly recommend serving these beauties alongside a Turkish coffee, the strong taste and acid from which will do a great job cutting through the fat in the cookies. Just don't dunk them! They'll disintegrate! If you want a dunkable cookie, you should check out my Triple Chocolate Biscotti. But definitely make these too! They're pretty, delicious, and low maintenance, and they'll make everyone who tries them very, very happy.

Speaking of enjoying the holidays with friends and family, there will be no post next week as I plan to be relaxing (and eating!) with my family and my almost-in-laws, and I hope you all will be enjoying yourself doing the same. If you need more Christmas baking ideas, please check out this holiday recipe page, or the main recipe index, and enjoy your holiday!

Kurabiye Cookies
Adapted, slightly, from Mbakes

16 Tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup + 1 Tablespoon flavorless oil (I used canola)
1 large egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup almond meal
Powdered sugar for coating

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Slow down the mixer and slowly add oil, egg and vanilla. Mix to combine. Stop the mixer, add all of the flour and almond meal at once, and mix until just combined. Do not overmix. If the dough is too sticky to roll into balls, add flour, 1 Tablespoon at a time, until the dough is stronger. Be careful not to add too much.

Scoop or roll dough into 1 1/2" balls and refrigerate for a minimum of 2 hours.

Preheat the oven to 350F and space chilled dough balls at least 2" apart on a cookie sheet covered with parchment or a nonstick pad. Bake for 12 minutes or until the edges are golden.

Cool on cookie sheet for about 10 minutes. Put the powdered sugar in a small cereal bowl and gently toss the slightly cooled cookies to coat. Arrange on a wire rack to cool completely.

Store in an airtight container for up to three days. Makes approximately 32 cookies


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  1. Arabs have a similar cookie called Ghraybeh! It's sooo good, just falls apart in your mouth. Nom nom nom..I want to go make some now.

  2. Love these cookies!!! And love the history lesson too! I knew this recipe could be called by many different names but I didn't realize how ubiquitous they are in so many cultures. So interesting!

  3. Cate @ Chez CateyLouDecember 23, 2013 at 12:21 PM

    I've never heard of Kurabiye! So interesting that there are so many different names for the same cookie. I have always loved Mexican wedding cookies! These look delicious, and I love your platform of cookies for world peace :)

  4. Anne ~ Uni HomemakerDecember 24, 2013 at 1:41 AM

    Love these snowballs Nora! Perfect for me to snack on this holiday season! :) Lovely recipe my friend. Have a fantastic holiday and best wishes in 2014!

  5. Yum! Anything along these lines is bound to be delicious.

  6. I didn't even realize that either, until I tried these cookies! Then, of course, I had to figure out what the deal is. It's so fascinating that so many cultures have developed a variation on a similar cookie! Maybe the cultures of the world aren't so different after all. :)

  7. Thanks, Cate! I'll count on your vote when I run for Congress ;-)

  8. Thanks, Anne! Happy holidays to you and your family!

  9. Ooo these look tasty!! I love these wedding cookies, no matter what you call them!

  10. Haha I'd totally vote for you for Congress -- Nora's world peace strategy: cookies. ;) I adore Mexican wedding cookies (I've always known them as Russian tea cakes.). They're so pretty and delicate and oh-so-delicious. I didn't know they also went by Kurabiye; I love learning new things (:

  11. Well, thanks, Monica! At least I know I will have one vote :)

    I've seen these cookies called all sorts of things, and I think the Mexican ones are made with pecans and the Russian ones are made with walnuts (or maybe the other way around, whatever), but whatever nut you end up using, these cookies are delish!


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