Mexican tea cakes -- sometimes known as Russian tea cakes -- are among my favorite cookies. Loaded with pecans and filled with light powdered sugar, they are a bite of delight. Really, there's not much that could be done to improve them.
Except maybe adding chocolate.
In this version, I replaced some of the powdered sugar with cocoa powder, for a deep chocolaty flavor. And since they're called Mexican tea cakes, it seems only appropriate to make the chocolate version a Mexican chocolate version. A hit of cinnamon and chili pepper do the trick.
Chili powder spices up these cookies; and then they take a dip in the sugar-cocoa mixture.
These cookies would be great as part of a gift packge for teachers or neighbors, or just to keep on hand to offer guests over the holidays. I'm making a few batches to serve at Mrs. Wheelbarrow's Food52 cookie exchange next weekend.
Let the holiday baking begin!
Mexican Chocolate Tea Cakes
You can add as much or as little chili powder as you like. The heat that it gives will depend on the strength of the powder you use. I liked just a touch to complement the cinnamon flavor, but the best way to make it perfectly is to taste the dough and adjust it to your own liking.
2 sticks butter, softened
1 1/2 cups cocoa powder, divided
2 cups confectioners' sugar, divided
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon chili powder or more to taste (optional)
1 cup whole almonds, finely chopped
Beat together the butter, 1/2 cup of cocoa powder and 1/2 cup of confectioners' sugar until fluffy and lighter in color, scraping the sides of the bowl a few times with a spatula, about 5 minutes. Beat in the vanilla.
In a separate small bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, cinnamon, and chili powder. Add the flour mixture to the butter bowl along with the almonds and mix until combined. The dough will be very stiff. Taste it and if you like, sprinkle on a bit more chili powder and mix again. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate until quite firm, 3 or more hours in the refrigerator (or if you are in a hurry, about 1 hour in the freezer).
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. On a large plate or in a shallow bowl, sift together the remaining 1 cup of cocoa powder and 1 1/2 cups of confectioners' sugar. Mix it with a fork until it blends together.
Remove the bowl of dough from the refrigerator. Scoop out a tablespoon at a time, working first from the edges of the bowl because the dough there will soften first. Roll each scoop into a ball and roll it in the sugar-cocoa mix until it is completely coated. Arrange the cookies on the cookie sheet with about 2 inches between cookies. Cook for 8 minutes.
As soon as you can handle the hot cookies after removing them from the oven, roll them again in the sugar-cocoa mixture and set them on a rack to cool. When they have cooled, roll them yet again in the sugar-cocoa mixture.
The cookies will keep at room temperature in an airtight container for about 2 weeks.
Jobs for children: Children can smash almonds (in a freezer bag using a mallet, for example), sift sugar aned cocoa powder, measure the ingredients, and run the mixer. And they are very good at rolling the cookies into balls and rolling them around in the sugar.