“The Perfect Cookie.” By America’s Test Kitchen. 448 pages. $35.

When I was 8, my father married Pam, giving me the bonus mom of my dreams and an extended family that celebrated Christmas with the kind of festive joy I thought was reserved for Hollywood movies.

As winter falls over Maine and the holidays approach, I often find my mind wandering back to those first Christmases together as a blended family. Pam’s grandmother Elsie (Grammy to her and Gram-Gram to us), an expert seamstress whose hands were never still, would deliver mittens and hats and Christmas sweaters she knitted for me and my brothers.

On a Saturday before Christmas, we’d pile into the car for the long drive to Pam’s family Christmas celebration two states away. There was something especially magical about this trip to Aunt Shirley and Uncle Puzzy’s house, where wreaths hung on the porch and a pool waited out back for parties the following summer. An oversized Christmas tree always stood in the corner of the living room, decorations glimmering and presents spilling in piles from underneath the lowest branches.

Aunt Shirley, the kind of perfect hostess I still aspire to be, would serve what seemed like endless appetizers before dinner was ready. The long table in the dining room was always covered with festive Christmas centerpieces and a buffet of favorite family dishes, like fluffy mashed potatoes and carved roasts.

There on the dessert table, between Nana’s peanut butter fudge and other fancy treats, I’d find the dessert Gram-Gram brought. To other family gatherings she’d often bring a lemon meringue pie or a dessert layered with chocolate pudding, Cool Whip and nuts (which I only just recently learned from Aunt Shirley was likely a dish called Better Than Sex). But at Christmastime there were small round cookies, buttery and flaky and rolled in confectioners’ sugar. They were my favorite, even if the sugar sprinkled down on my Christmas dress like a dusting of snow.

Eventually, as family members died and children grew and moved away, the Christmas parties stopped. After Gram-Gram was gone, I never had those cookies again. I’d occasionally think of them and promised someday to find a recipe for something similar.

When I grabbed “The Perfect Cookie” from America’s Test Kitchen off a shelf and flipped it open, it was to the recipe for Mexican Wedding Cookies. I knew these had to be Gram-Gram’s cookies.

As expected from America’s Test Kitchen, this book offers 250 recipes that are clearly explained and promise to be foolproof. Divided into 10 categories of cookies, brownies and bars, the recipes range from “perfect” chocolate chip cookies to baklava to key lime bars. The book includes sections on Christmas cookies and gluten-free desserts. If you have room in your kitchen for only one cookie cookbook, this would be a good choice.

The Mexican Wedding Cookie recipe was easy to follow and came together quickly. As I rolled the cookies in confectioners’ sugar, my mind drifted back to those early Christmases with Pam and her family. Three generations are gone now – Pam, Nana and Gram-Gram – but I still look for ways to keep their memories with me. These cookies were a welcome connection to Gram-Gram and will become part of my holiday baking tradition.


Makes 48 cookies

2 cups pecans or walnuts

2 cups (10 ounces) all-purpose flour

3/4 teaspoon salt

16 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

1/3 cup (21/3 ounces) superfine sugar

11/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

11/2 cups (6 ounces) confectioners’ sugar

1. Adjust oven racks to upper-middle and lower-middle positions and heat oven to 325 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Process 1 cup pecans in food processor until texture of course cornmeal, about 10 to 15 seconds; transfer pecans to bowl. Process remaining 1 cup pecans in now-empty food processor until coarsely chopped, about 5 seconds; transfer to bowl with ground pecans. Stir flour and salt into pecans.

2. Using stand mixer fitted with paddle, beat butter and superfine sugar at medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in vanilla. Reduce speed to low and slowly add nut mixture until combined, about 30 seconds. Scrape down bowl and continue to mix on low speed until dough is cohesive, about 7 seconds. Give dough final stir by hand to ensure no dry pockets of flour remain.

3. Working with 1 tablespoon dough at a time, roll into balls and space them 1 inch apart on prepared sheets. Bake until tops are pale golden brown and bottoms are just beginning to brown, about 18 minutes, switching and rotating sheets halfway through baking. Let cookies cool on sheets for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire rack. Let cookies cool completely.

4. Spread confectioners’ sugar in shallow dish. Working with several cookies at a time, roll in sugar to coat. Before serving, re-roll cookies in confectioners’ sugar and gently shake off excess.

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