Mexico Life
Holiday season is baking season: time for some pecan pie. Holiday season is baking season: time for some pecan pie.

It’s baking season: try these recipes with pecans, or walnuts if available

Pecans are a good substitute for walnuts, which can be hard to find

The holiday season is upon us and I find myself in the mood for baking. The trick is to make things that are easy to give as gifts, so I don’t end up eating the whole batch of whatever it is myself.

That said, when living in Mexico there are some limitations on available ingredients – or the quality of ingredients. The flour is irritating (it’s like powder!), most brands of baking powder and baking soda have a strong bitter/salty aftertaste and much of what’s labeled “butter” is really what we’d call margarine. Nevertheless, a cheerful holiday spirit can prevail!

Another challenge is walnuts. In Mazatlán, where I live, they’re basically impossible to find. Once in a while a bag might appear at Sam’s Club, Costco or Walmart, but pecans are much more common and affordable. I’ve learned to save my walnut cravings for visits north, although friends in Guanajuato have told me walnuts are grown locally there.

And after all, Chiles en Nogada, the traditional Mexican Independence Day dish, features nogada, a rather scrumptious cream sauce made with walnuts. One surmises then that at the very least walnuts must be grown in the state of Puebla, where the dish is said to have originated.

Back to pecans. Turns out Mexico produces about half of the world’s total crop (who knew?!) and they’re harvested in October/November – coincidentally just in time for holiday baking. I didn’t realize how many of my favorite cookie and cake recipes have walnuts in them, but it’s no problem to just substitute pecans, which taste almost – but not quite – the same.

These Wedding Cookies can also be made with a chocolate version.
These Wedding Cookies can also be made with a chocolate version.

Mexican Wedding Cookies

Everyone loves these cookies, and it’s easy to make lots and give them as gifts. Don’t use margarine – the rich taste of real creamery butter is a must!

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
  • About 2 cups confectioner’s sugar (azucar glas in Spanish)
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2-¼ cups flour
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • ¾ cup chopped walnuts or pecans

Preheat oven to 400 F. Combine butter and ½ cup confectioner’s sugar in a large mixing bowl. Beat till smooth and creamy. Add vanilla, mix well, then add the flour and salt. Stir until completely mixed. Stir in the walnuts.

Using your hands, roll bits of dough into bite-size balls, about 1-inch in diameter. Place about an inch apart on cookie sheets and bake for 10-12 minutes or until the bottoms are light brown and tops and sides are pale yellow. Remove from oven, and taking about 6 cookies at a time, roll them gently in the remaining confectioner’s sugar. Set aside on rack to cool completely, and then roll them again in the sugar. Makes about 48 cookies.

Chocolate version: Reduce flour to 2 cups and add ¼ cup unsweetened cocoa, sifted if possible or whisked well into the flour before being added to the butter-sugar mixture.

Sometimes it's easier to find pecans than walnuts, but they can be used as a substitute.
Sometimes it’s easier to find pecans than walnuts, but they can be used as a substitute.

Potato Chip Pecan Cookies

These are unbelievably delicious – they taste like salted caramel cookies. No one will guess the “secret ingredient.”

  • 2-¼ cups flour
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
  • ¾ cup packed light brown sugar
  • ¾ cup regular sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • ¾ tsp. salt
  • 4 cups crushed potato chips, regular style – not Ruffles or thick-cut (2 big bags, about 10 oz.) divided
  • 1 cup pecans, toasted & coarsely chopped

Heat oven to 375 F. Beat butter and sugars together on high speed till fluffy, 2-3 minutes. Add vanilla and eggs one at a time, beating after each addition until combined. Add flour, baking soda and salt. Beat on low till mixed well. With a wooden spoon or spatula, stir in potato chips and nuts. Dough will be soft! Roll into 1-1/2 to 2-inch balls, then roll in remaining potato chips to coat. Place 2 inches apart on cookie sheet. (Do not flatten.) Bake 18-20 minutes until golden. Yield: About 24 big cookies.

Grandma Ozeta’s Pecan Pie

This recipe is from a friend’s grandmother in North Carolina, who used pecans from her own trees. Try to find real corn syrup without added sugar or flavoring, which is common in Mexico. Feel free to use a store-bought pie shell.

  • 1 cup corn syrup
  • ½ cup light brown sugar
  • ½ cup butter
  • 3 eggs, slightly beaten
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1-½ cups pecan pieces
  • 9-inch baked pie shell

Preheat oven to 325 F. Combine sugar, syrup and butter and bring to a boil; cool 5 minutes. Slowly pour over beaten eggs, add vanilla and nuts, and mix gently but well. Pour in pie shell and bake for about 45 minutes.

Sour Cream Coffee Cake

Easy to make and classically delicious, this cake will be loved by everyone. Perfect for breakfast, brunch or with afternoon coffee.

Topping:

  • 1 cup pecans, chopped
  • ¼ cup melted butter
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon

Cake:

  • ½ cup butter or shortening
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 1 cup sour cream or plain yogurt

Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease a 9-inch square pan. Mix all topping ingredients together in a small bowl and set aside.

In large bowl cream shortening and sugars till fluffy; add eggs one at a time, beating well after each one. Add vanilla. Combine dry ingredients separately and then add alternately in three parts with sour cream or yogurt. Beat until smooth after each addition. Put half the batter in prepared pan; top with half the topping mixture. Repeat with remaining batter and topping. Bake 45-50 minutes till knife inserted in center comes out clean. Note: Recipe can be doubled and made in a 9×13-inch pan. Just be sure center is cooked through.

Janet Blaser of Mazatlán, Sinaloa, has been a writer, editor and storyteller her entire life, and feels fortunate to write about great food, amazing places, fascinating people and unique events. Her work has appeared in numerous travel and expat publications as well as newspapers and magazines. Her first book, Why We Left: An Anthology of American Women Expats, is available on Amazon. Contact Janet or read her blog at whyweleftamerica.com.

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