Butterballs are one of my mother’s favorite cookies. Growing up we would travel to Pittsburgh to visit my Aunt Marie’s family for many of the major holidays. My mother wasn’t always able to come with us but Aunt Lucy (my Aunt Marie’s mother) would always make a special package of butterballs just for Mom that we would carry home with us. They were the most disappointing cookies of my childhood. Their primary ingredient is walnuts, my least favorite nut as a child. The cookies themselves were so tempting. They were these small rounded cookies that were rolled in powdered sugar. They looked like delicious little snowballs but I was always disappointed when I popped one in my mouth. They were soft and crumbly, buttery and redolent of…walnuts. There was no escaping the in your face nut factor which was the reason why my mother and others adored them. I usually ended up discreetly (if there were guests around) spitting the cookie out. It took years but eventually I stopped trying them.
After Aunt Lucy passed away I took it upon myself to bake the holiday cookies in New York. Another of the Aunts gave me the recipe for the butterballs and I made them with great success. Or so I’m told, I still refused to eat them myself. Immediately after the holidays I managed to lose the recipe. The next year, not wanting to admit that I had lost that and other cookie recipes that had been passed on the previous year, I turned to Betty Crocker. There I found a remarkably similar recipe for Mexican Wedding Cookies that called for pecans. I substituted walnuts for the pecans and baked them off. Lo and behold, Mexican wedding cookies were exactly the same thing as Butterballs, just with a different nut.
I recently saw a photo of Mexican Wedding cookies and it made me think of Butterballs. I had always wanted to enjoy them and it suddenly occurred to me that I could. I could make them with cashews, a nut I actually enjoy and create cookie to satisfy myself. So, this snowy afternoon with the AFC game playing in the background I made new improved Butterballs. Then while the first batch was in the oven I realized that I had some French fleur de sel caramels and part of a ScharffenBerger chocolate bar in the house. Since I couldn’t resist gilding the lily, I quickly chopped them up and folded them into the dough to create chocolate caramel cashew cookies. The caramel melted and oozed a bit so that the outside pieces were crunchy while the inner pieces were chewy. Paired with the slightly floral bitterness of the chocolate, they balanced the crispy, crumbly flavors of the buttery cashew cookies. Rest assured, when I tasted these, I didn’t spit them out.
Chocolate Caramel Cashew Balls
This is a food processor recipe because when I cook at home I like things to be as easy as possible with as little clean up as possible.
1 1/2 cups cashew pieces
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1 1/2 cups AP flour
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
8 ounces sweet butter
3/4 cup powdered sugar
2 teaspoons rum or vanilla extract
1/2 cup chocolate chips or chopped chocolate
1/2 cup chopped salted caramels
1 cup powdered sugar
Preheat the oven to 350ºF In a food processor pulse the nuts and 1/4 cup of powdered sugar to coarse crumbs. Add the flour and salt and pulse to blend. Empty the flour mixture into a bowl and wipe out the food processor. Add the butter and 3/4 cup powdered sugar to the bowl and process until light and creamy looking. Add rum (I used Meyers) and process briefly to blend. Return the flour mixture to the food processor and pulse until it comes together as a crumbly bowl. Turn the dough out into the bowl originally used for the flour mixture and fold in the chocolate and caramel by hand.
Form teaspoons of the dough into slightly flattened balls and place them on a cookie sheet about an inch and a half apart.
Bake for 12-14 minutes rotating after six minutes. Larger cookies may take longer to bake.
Let the cookies cool and then roll them in a bowl with the remaining 1 cup of powdered sugar till they look like snowballs. If you like your cookies less sweet, you can eliminate this final dusting.