For the past few months, I have been ovenless. Till recently, we'd always had an oven at home. Our first oven was a plump, round aluminum one that radiated quite as much heat as it trapped inside. Amma used to set it on the floor with her cake inside, since counter space was at a premium. I would be posted on dog-watch duty. Our dog, then a nosy Dachshund, would come sniffing investigatively, as soon as the cake began baking, and unless we were careful, he'd burn his nose on the heated oven lid.
The next oven we had, was my very own. I had by then scornfully refused all Amma's offers of help and begun baking on my own. She was very patient with all my baking mistakes, never once saying, "I could've told you so," when I forgot and burned my biscuits, or guilelessly halved the amount of fat in a recipe in an effort to make it healthier. That oven, which I bought with Appa from a Secunderabad canteen and clutched proudly on my lap through the drive home, participated in many baking disasters and triumphs. It had a light bulb inside, and I would spent hours with it on, staring at my creations as they rose and bubbled.
Whenever I came home from college, after hugging Amma and Appa and fighting down the dog, I would go into the kitchen and rapturously greet that oven. It was my companion on long nights spent baking goodies for wingmates, an activity that soon became a ritual.
Over the years, it grew old and stained and the light bulb inside it fused. Sometimes, it would forget to turn on a heating coil and my cakes would come out burnt on one end and uncooked on the other. I refused to accept it was growing old, instead insisting that it had character. But one day, early this year, I returned home from college for the last time, hugged Amma and Appa, fought off the dog and ran into the kitchen to find the counter bare. Amma had given my oven away.
I enacted a tragedy that evening. Amma was a recipient of darkling looks and whiny grumbles for quite a while. Even when I got over my loss, I would look at the empty counter space and sigh, long and meaningfully.
Last week though, finally, after much research and debate, Amma and I went to the store and bought me a new oven. This one is rather fancypants compared to my old one. It has chrome finishings and an automatic timer. I grudgingly accepted that a timer might be more handy than my old method of "Is it done yet? Is it done yet? Is it done yet?"
What I should bake with it first was the subject of much agonizing debate. I finally settled upon Mexican Wedding Cakes, because well, the lovely Jess of Sweet Amandine sold me on them. Really, with her description and stories and photographs, you feel like grabbing for them through the monitor.
I sang as I beat my butter, till it was fluffy and white. The dog kept me company, whining over the whir of my electric beater. He knew good things were happening. I toasted walnuts and mixed them in and mixed in the flour with my hands. I sneaked a lick and it tasted good, really good. The dog, who'd been waiting, licked my hand painstakingly and thoroughly clean.
The cookies baked quickly and turned faintly golden. After a dredging in cinnamon sugar, they were ready.
Sweet Amandine, originally adapted from Bon Appétit, May 2003
For the dough:
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, at room temperature (I used salted butter, because that's what I had)
½ cup powdered sugar
2 tsps. vanilla
2 cups flour
1 cup pecans, toasted, coarsely ground (I used walnuts)
For the sugar coating:
1½ cups powdered sugar
¼ tsp. cinnamon
Beat the butter in the bowl of an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add the ½ cup powdered sugar and vanilla, and blend well. Beat in the flour, and then the toasted, ground pecans. Divide the dough in half, form each half into a ball, and wrap separately in plastic. Chill for at least 30 minutes, or overnight. (If you chill the dough overnight, you’ll need to let it soften on the counter for 20 to 30 minutes before you scoop it. Don’t let it get too warm; it should be scoopable, but still cold.)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Whisk together the 1½ cups powdered sugar and cinnamon in a pie dish or a large bowl, and set aside.
Remove half of the chilled dough from the fridge and, using one level tablespoonful of dough for each cookie, roll into balls between the palms of your hands. Arrange the dough balls about half an inch apart on the prepared baking sheet. Bake for about 15-17 minutes, until the cookies flush a shade darker on top, and are golden brown on the bottom. Cool the cookies for about five minutes on the baking sheet, and then gently toss them in the cinnamon sugar. Transfer the coated cookies to a rack and cool completely. Repeat with the remaining dough.
Hold onto any leftover cinnamon sugar for quick touch-ups before serving.
Store these cookies at room temperature in an airtight container, and they’ll keep well for several days. Possibly up to a week, though I’ve never seen them last that long.
Yield: About 40 cookies. I rolled mine a little smaller, and ended up with 53.