Makes about 3 dozen
These aromatic, slightly sweet butter cookies echo Mexican wedding cookies or Russian tea cakes, with an anise scent from the Greek liqueur ouzo. You can swap in a similar spirit like pastis or absinthe, but the anise notes may not be as strong. Paula first discovered these cookies for sale at a small corner store on the Greek island of Paxos in 1983. She loved them so much that she baked them for her wedding later that year.
Impossibly light, these cookies all but shatter into powder when you take a bite. A few tricks help achieve that lightness: three siftings of low-gluten flours, extended beating of the clarified butter, and extra baking powder.
*The cookies only improve with time, so feel free to make them several days ahead.
- 1 1/3 cups (180 g) all-purpose flour with a low gluten content, such as Gold Medal bleached
- 1/2 cup (65 g) cake flour
- 1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (235 g) clarified butter, chilled
- 1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons (55 g) confectioners’ sugar, plus more for dusting (optional)
- 1 egg yolk
- 1 tablespoon ouzo
- 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1/4 teaspoon pure almond extract
- 3/4 cup (80 g) almond meal
Working over a bowl or a sheet of waxed paper, sift together the all-purpose flour, cake flour, and baking powder. Resift the mixture twice; set aside.
In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or in a bowl using a handheld mixer, beat the butter at medium speed until very light and fluffy, at least 5 minutes. (The more you beat, the lighter the cookie.) Gradually beat in the confectioners’ sugar, then continue to beat for 2 minutes. Add the egg yolk and beat for 2 minutes longer. Add the ouzo and vanilla and almond extracts and beat for 1 minute.
Using a rubber spatula, carefully fold the flour mixture into the butter mixture, always working in the same direction, just until combined. Gently fold in the almond meal just until incorporated. The dough will be quite soft. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate until the dough is cold enough to shape into small balls, about 45 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Shape the dough into rounds, each about 1 inch (2.5 cm) in diameter and 1/2 inch (1.25 cm) tall. As you work, place them 1/2 inch (1.25 cm) apart on an ungreased sheet pan (preferably light colored, as darker pans can brown the cookies).
Bake until just firm to the touch, 12 to 15 minutes. The cookies will be pale, not brown. Transfer the pan to a wire rack. Immediately sift confectioners’ sugar, if using, generously over the cookies. Let the cookies cool for 5 minutes, then remove them from the pan and roll them in additional sifted confectioners’ sugar until well coated and set them on a rack. If you are not coating them with sugar, let cool on the pan for 5 minutes, then transfer them directly to the rack. Let the cookies cool completely. Store the cookies in an airtight tin at room temperature for at least 2 days before serving to allow them to mellow. They will keep for up to 10 days.
*NOTE: For a lower-sugar version (and stronger ouzo flavor), omit the dusting of confectioners’ sugar.