My days in the U.S. were marked by both the sweet and the bitter. I remember this particular episode vividly. It was in the late summer of 2007.
The university ground saw a sudden influx of students; there were the new and the returning ones. After a 3-month-long summer break, the campus came to life with all the hustles and bustles rolling around.
It was the first week of a brand new term. Fellow students were thrilled to see their friends again. They hugged and were busy visiting with each other. Of course, how could I not be caught up with the buzz!
Coincidentally, it was during that summer in which I picked up baking as a hobby. I was (and still am) a novice in the kitchen. Knowing that Molly, a good American friend of mine, was shifting back for school, I decided to chitchat with her in the dorm and bring her some freshly baked zucchini bars. (I moved out of the campus just before the summer break.)
|These are the zucchini bars, one of my very first bakes, from August 2007.|
Molly had shaggy auburn-blonde hair and dreamy turquoise eyes. Born and raised in Bigfork, a small Minnesotan town with a population of under 500, she was one of the most amazing people I’d ever met. Yet, our friendship didn’t hit right off.
I couldn’t remember how it all began. One thing for sure, though, is that we met in the same class and it took us quite an exchange of words before we finally got out of the shell. That instant rectified my false perception of her forever. Her mighty dose of friendliness and curiosity to learn about different cultures blew me away! That might explain why she was actively involved in the university’s international students’ organization!
Albeit busy unpacking her belongings and cleaning up her new dorm room, I was still greeted with open arms by Molly and her parents. Her parents left not too long thereafter to attend an event in another town nearby. Nevertheless, the two of us had tremendous fun chatting away while getting to know each other better. The afternoon came to an end in a flash!
Molly was noshing on my zucchini bars as she spoke of her fond memories from Bigfork. “My mom is famous for her Russian tea cakes,” she said. “She never fails to whip up batches of the cookies on special occasions like Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas!”
Boy, I could sense the excitement in Molly! “Ya know what, I shall bring you some on my next trip back home,” she added. And she kept her promise! I had the honor of trying her mom’s Russian tea cakes! These morsels were divine!
Buttery. Nutty. With an enchanting kiss from the sweet vanilla. Russian tea cakes, or Mexican wedding cakes (Pastelitas de Boda), are made into the form of a near-perfect sphere. The fine bits of toasted pecans within add a lovely crunch to the melt-in-your-mouth texture of these cookies. Mmm … Moreish!
Because of Molly and her mom, I got to know of the Russian tea cakes and have been associating the cookies with the holiday season. And because they are coated in layers of powdered sugar, their snowy looks reinforce that Christmassy connection in my head further.
Once in a while, I’d be missing these cookies. At this time of the year, the nostalgia hits me even harder. With Christmas approaching, I decided to bake a big batch of Russian tea cakes to drive away the melancholy in me.
While I’m somewhat loyal to the real McCoy, I’m also partial to fusion food. When I saw the matcha Russian tea cakes by Wendy, a Hong Kong baker based in Montréal, I knew I had to incorporate the East into the West. I just had to.
|Russian tea cakes. Those in beige are the original ones while those in dark green are the matcha ones.|
There’s a confession I have to make: My matcha Russian tea cakes were pampered with a heavy dose of matcha goodness. The cookies bore a strong milk-tea flavor. I felt like as if I was sipping on thé vert matcha au lait!
Now that my nostalgia has been remedied. Albeit feeling better, withheld deep inside me is remorse … about something that I can never be forgiven of.
I took Molly for granted. I’ve completely lost touch with Molly, someone I could have called friend for life … had I put in more effort and time in watering and growing our blossoming friendship. She introduced me to the Russian tea cakes. She showed me another facet of the American way of life and thinking: the openness and eagerness to experience the new and the different. I admire and respect her for that. I truly miss her.
This post is dedicated to Molly, her family and her mom’s Russian tea cakes. This post is also my entry in the Christmas giveaway, as hosted by Swee San of The Sweet Spot.
Christmas, just like any other major festivities, comes by once a year without fail. Nonetheless, one shall never take what’s given for granted, especially the people and things around you … for that tomorrows are unforeseeable. Don’t become another Pei-Lin. Don’t ever let go of another Molly.
Russian Tea Cakes: The Original and the Matcha Flavors
Adapted from “Joy of Cooking: Christmas Cookies,” by Irma S. Rombauer, Marion Rombauer Becker and Ethan Becker
57 g pecans
114 g unsalted butter — softened
1/8 tsp salt
25 g powdered sugar — sifted
* 1 tsp vanilla extract
** 142 g all-purpose flour — sifted
*** 14 g or enough powdered sugar — sifted, for coating the cookies
- Toast the pecans by baking them at 150°C for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool completely. Chop the cooled pecans into fine bits and set aside.
- Cream together (A) till fluffy and well-combined. Mix in the finely chopped pecans, then followed by the flour, till evenly incorporated.
- Pull off pieces of the dough and roll in between your palms into generous 1-inch balls. Place on parchment-lined baking sheet(s), spacing 1¼” apart.
- Bake at 180°C for 12~15 minutes or till faintly tinged with brown. Transfer the sheet(s) to wire rack(s) and let the cookies firm up slightly, for about 5 minutes. Next, roll the warm cookies in some powdered sugar till well coated. Now, transfer them to wire rack(s) to cool thoroughly.
- Roll the cooled cookies in some powdered sugar once again till well coated. Serve and/or store the cookies in an airtight container.
For matcha Russian tea cakes:
* Reduce the vanilla extract to ½ tsp
** Combine the 142 g all-purpose flour with 20 g matcha powder; sift before use
*** Combine the 14 g powdered sugar with ¼~½ tsp matcha powder; sift before use. However, the suggested ratio is for reference only; therefore, please adjust to taste.