Some families travel, but for those who can't, each winter my school embarks on an in-depth study of a foreign country. This year, the library is transformed into a Mexican villa, where students listen to Mariachi music, shop at la tienda de escuela, admire artwork by Frieda Kahlo, study Mexican geography and wildlife, and perform skits in Spanish.
As I toured la biblioteca with some fourth graders, I noticed a recipe display. Alongside the enchiladas and spicy hot chocolate was a recipe for Polvorones. I'd never heard of these Mexican sugar cookies, but their simplicity caught my eye. There were only four ingredients: flour, sugar, cinnamon, and butter. Were they the purist's snickerdoodle?
I did a bit of research and discovered that polvorones are traditional Mexican wedding and Christmas cookies. They're popular in south Texas, a sweet and mellow antidote to spicy food. Polvo is Spanish for dust. The dough is powdery and dry, because the cookies are meant to crumble and melt in your mouth.
I messed with the recipe a little, but tried to retain its simplicity. I wanted vegan cookies, so I substituted Earth Balance margarine for the butter. I found I needed to add some water to the dough to make it cohesive enough to form balls. I also added grated orange peel; the taste just peeks through alongside the cinnamon.
Polvorones are so mild and innocent, it's easy to get drawn in and eat four or five before catching yourself. Their dry, buttery texture is just right with coffee or tea. I'd bring some into school to share, but it's vacation week. Q
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup (2 sticks) Earth Balance Buttery Sticks
1/4 cup cold water
1 teaspoon freshly grated orange peel
cinnamon sugar (I used a 5:1 ratio of sugar to cinnamon)
Preheat the oven to 300F.
Stir together the flour, sugar, and cinnamon in a medium bowl.
In a large bowl, beat the margarine with an electric mixer until it is smooth and creamy.
Add the dry ingredients to the margarine 1/2 cup at a time, beating after each addition. When all the dry ingredients have been added, you will have a bowl full of powdery crumbs.Beat in the orange peel.
Add the water 1 tablespoon at a time, beating to incorporate after each addition, until the crumbs begin to stick together in pea-sized balls.
The dough will be dry, but you should just be able to form a tablespoon of crumbs into a cohesive ball. Place the balls of dough 2 inches apart on a cookie sheet. Bake for 25 minutes.
Remove the cookies from the oven. While they are still warm, roll the cookies in cinnamon sugar.
Makes 24 cookies.
Pulverize 1 cup of almonds in a food processor. Beat 1/2 cup into the dough with the orange peel. Add the remaining pulverized almonds to the cinnamon sugar before rolling the cookies.