AUNTIE BERYL’S MEXICAN WEDDING BISCUITS
My mother’s dearest friend, who became our surrogate aunt, was called Beryl. She was a very special person – big-hearted, generous to a fault and we all loved her dearly. She was also a fabulous cook and would ring me up and say, “Darling, I’ve just made the most fabulous chocolate cake/biscuit/tart (you name it) and want to give you the recipe. Now have you got a pen…”, and off she’d rattle it at a rate of knots while I’d desperately try to keep up the pace. These particular biscuits have a special place in my heart as she made mountains of them for my wedding day. They’re delicate and melt-in-your-mouth, and I never make a batch without immediately seeing her in my mind’s eye, surrounded in a flurry of icing sugar as she made them. I’m afraid you’re going to have to get out the electric mixer (hand-held or the whole kit and caboodle, whichever you have) for these, but it’s only to beat the butter and sugar for a few minutes.
Makes about 45 biscuits.
250g unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into large chunks
1/2 cup (80g) pure icing sugar, sifted
2 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
70g roasted hazelnuts (or pecans), finely chopped
2 cups (300g) plain flour, sifted
Icing sugar, for coating
Preheat your oven to 175C. Line two or three baking trays with baking paper and set them aside.
Put the butter, icing sugar and vanilla into a bowl and, using an electric mixer, beat them together on medium speed for 5 minutes or until they’re light and fluffy. In another bowl thoroughly mix the nuts and flour together. Tip the nut mixture into the butter mixture and stir them together until they’re well combined. I find it’s best to do this stirring together with a spoon rather than using the mixer because too much mixing can cause the biscuits to toughen as they bake.
Drop heaped teaspoonfuls of the biscuit mixture onto the prepared baking trays, leaving a few centimetres between each one so the biscuits can spread a little as they cook.
Sit the trays in the oven and bake the biscuits for about 20 minutes. Halfway through the cooking time, rotate the trays so they sit on different shelves and turn each tray around, back to front; it may sound a bit fiddly but this really helps them to cook evenly. After about 18 minutes start, checking the biscuits – they’re ready when the tops are speckled with gold and the bottoms golden brown (lift them carefully to check as they’re rather fragile at this stage.)
When the biscuits are ready, remove from the oven and let them cool for a minute or so on their baking trays. Carefully transfer them to a cooling rack and immediately sieve a generous coating of icing sugar over the top. Leave them to cool completely.
To store the biscuits, carefully stack them in airtight jars or containers and seal tightly. They keep well for at least a fortnight.
Roast your own hazelnuts …
Although you can buy roasted hazelnuts, it’s very simple to do your own and they taste much fresher. Just spread the shelled nuts (they will still have their dark skins), onto a shallow baking tray. Pop the tray in a 180C oven and roast the nuts for 8 – 10 minutes or until the skins have darkened and started to split.
When they’re ready, remove them from the oven and immediately tip them into a clean tea towel. Bundle the nuts up in the towel and leave them for a few minutes to sweat. Now, rub the nuts together through the tea towel to loosen and remove the skins. Don’t worry if they still have some bits of skin clinging stubbornly to them, it’s nearly impossible to remove it all (unless you want to go stark raving mad!)