Sunday, December 11, 2011

Like Buttah

Tonight marks the beginning of my annual Baking Extravaganza.  I'll be sharing the recipes (if not the calories) of this esteemed event here on The Book Pantry.  This evening brings us the Butterball.  This cookie is my Da's favorite (I've only been taunting him about it all week), and I inherited the recipe from his mother.  Since I never got the chance to know my paternal grandmother, I didn't actually learn this one from her.  Instead, I spent several Christmases recreating the cookie from her original, basic recipe (like many cooks, her practice varied from its record).  The result is a tasty, not-too-sweet, slightly crumbly cookie. Best of all, (despite how long it took me to tweak it to perfection) the recipe is probably the easiest of Christmas cookies.

What You'll Need
Large mixing bowl                                                     Cutting Board
Wooden mixing spoon (well-loved)                              Cookie sheet
Measuring cups and spoons                                        Small bowl
Knife for chopping
1/2 lb butter, very soft                                                1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts
1/2 cup powdered sugar + some for rolling               1/2 tsp vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour                                               Salt

Now Let's Make Butterballs!
Start (as usual) by preheating your oven to 350F (yes, I forgot. Again.). Plop a 1/2 pound of butter - also known as 2 sticks - into your large mixing bowl.  If your butter is not already soft from being left out, pop it in the microwave for about 20-25 seconds. Watch it carefully!  You do not want to actually melt the butter; we just want it very soft.  If you melt your butter, the recipe will turn wrong . . . very wrong. (Do I hear gasps of horror? Did you melt your butter? You did, didn't you? Don't worry a tiny amount of melt won't hurt). Anyway, soften your butter.  Then, beat the butter with your mixing spoon until it is creamed.

Chop, chop.
On your cutting board, chop your pecans using your knife in a lever motion, moving across the pile of pecans. Stop occasionally to scoop your pecans back into a pile and repeat until all the pecans are chopped finely. Keep chopping pecans until you've filled a 1 cup measuring cup.  I find that two really big handfuls of pecan halves tend to equal out to 1 cup of chopped nuts. (Yay for measuring: like science, but tastier!)

Confusing amount of salt
Add your pecans to the bowl of butter.  Measure out 1/2 cup of powdered sugar, packing it into the measuring cup as you do so (like you would for brown sugar). Add this to the bowl.  Now, measure out 2 cups of all-purpose flour, making sure to level each cup off before adding it to the bowl. (Freak out when you can't find the flour, curse your cousin for using it all in chocolate-chip cookies at Thanksgiving, make boyfriend put on shoes, *oh wait, I found it! heh heh*). Then, add 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla; measure it over the bowl so that you can allow it to run over a bit as you measure.  Lastly, add enough salt to mostly fill the dip in the palm of your hand when your hand is cupped.  Confusing?  See the picture (click to enlarge).

While safe to eat, this raw dough
tastes not so nice.
Mix all the ingredients together in the bowl.  The batter will be very dry, so it takes some time to get everything mixed thoroughly.  Take your time and patiently mix.  If you wind up with parts of the dough that are softer and more buttery than others, those buttery cookies won't hold their shape! 

Once the dough is sufficiently mixed, begin rolling the dough into balls that are about 1 inch in diameter.  To do so, take a pinch of dough and either form it into a ball-shape with your fingers or roll it between the palms of your hands. If your dough is crumbling and refusing to take shape, squeeze it together in your fist; this will mush the ingredients more and allow you to make a ball.  Place each ball on your cookie sheet.  They shouldn't increase in size much during the cooking process, so you can space them pretty close together, about 1/2 an inch.

Bake the cookies at 350F for about 15 minutes until the bottoms begin to tun a golden brown.  You'll have to watch the very edges of the cookies for signs of this browning. Remove the cookies from oven and begin moving them from the cookie sheet to a cooling rack (also known as paper towels on the counter in my house). You'll know pretty quickly if you didn't mix your butter in thoroughly enough as those cookies will have spread out more, perhaps even running together, as in the second picture here.  Don't worry too much if your Butterballs aren't actually ball shaped anymore, though; they'll be more like mounds than balls.

No deep breaths!
Allow the Butterballs to mostly cool.  Pour some extra powdered sugar into your small bowl. While the cookies are still slightly warm, begin rolling them in the sugar until they are lightly coated (so that little bit of emphasis applies mostly to me). Don't try to roll the balls while they're very warm still or your powered sugar will become gunky, which is gross.

Store in an airtight container.  Or, better yet, serve with a nice glass of milk! Enjoy!
Yay, cookies!



  1. I just made butterballs today, but I have a different recipe (from your maternal grandmother). I'm going to try this one, too.

  2. These were originally pean crescents, but she always did balls


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