This type of cookie goes by many names: Mexican wedding cookies, Danish wedding cookies, Russian tea cakes, snowballs, butter balls. But the idea stays the same: a buttery, nutty, crumbly cookie, tossed in more confectioners’ sugar than seems appropriate. Here, I brown the butter to amplify its flavor, toast the nuts, and up the usual amount of them. They’re just as welcome on a holiday table as they are on the couch. —Emma Laperruque
Brown the butter: Add the butter to a large skillet and set on the stove over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until it turns a chestnutty brown. It will sputter a lot at first, then foam, then you’ll start seeing these bits on the bottom going from golden to brown to mahogany. Just before it burns, turn off the heat, and pour the brown butter into a heatproof bowl (preferably one that’s large enough to mix the rest of the cookie dough). Immediately add 2 tablespoons water to the emptied, off-the-heat pan (be careful, it may spatter a bit). Use a wooden spoon to scrape up any remaining buttery bits, then add that liquid to the brown butter in the bowl.
Refrigerate or freeze the brown butter until solid but softish, like you would normally use for chocolate chip cookies.
Meanwhile, toast the pecans. Heat the oven to 350°F. Line a sheet pan with parchment or a silicone mat. Add the pecans and bake for about 8 to 10 minutes, or until fragrant and deeply browned. Cool completely.
When the pecans are totally cool, add them to a food processor. Pulse until they’re very finely ground, scraping down the food processor as needed. Watch these closely! Because pecans are so rich and fatty, they go from finely ground to pecan butter in the blink of an eye. They skip that floury stage that you’d get with almonds.
If the chilled butter isn’t already in a large bowl, transfer it to one. Add the confectioners’ sugar (preferably through a fine-mesh sieve to remove any lumps, but no big deal if you don’t have one). Use a spoon or rubber spatula to combine until totally smooth. Add the salt and stir. Add the ground pecans and stir. Add the flour and stir until a cohesive dough forms.
If the dough is wet and/or soft, refrigerate for a bit until it’s firm enough for you to scoop and roll into balls. If the oven isn’t still at 350°F, bring it back. Line 2 sheet pans with parchment paper or silicone mats.
Scoop the dough into heaping tablespoons and roll each into a ball. You should get about 32. Add these to the lined sheet pans, evenly spaced out with a couple of inches between each—they won’t spread too much. Bake for about 16 minutes, until deeply golden brown. Repeat in batches if needed.
Let the cookies cool for at least 10 minutes on the tray, until they’re sturdy enough to transfer to a cooling rack. There, cool completely.
When the cookies are cool, dredge them in powdered sugar: Dump about 2 cups of powdered sugar on a rimmed plate or in a bowl. Roll around each cookie until completely coated.
Emma is a writer and recipe developer at Food52. Before this, she worked a lot of odd jobs, all at the same time. Think: stir-frying noodles "on the fly," baking dozens of pastries at 3 a.m., reviewing restaurants, and writing articles about everything from how to use leftover mashed potatoes to the history of pies in North Carolina. Now she lives in Maplewood, New Jersey with her husband and their cat, Butter. Stay tuned every Tuesday for Emma's cooking column, Big Little Recipes, all about big flavor and little ingredient lists. And see what she's up to on Instagram and Twitter at @emmalaperruque.