Sunday, December 13, 2009

Irma v. Williams

Cookies are not my thing. Never have been. Not making them, not eating them. I might enjoy one sometimes, but I’ll always choose a brownie over a cookie, a tart over a whoopee pie. Cookies are nice. I’ll take one if offered and enjoy it, but they rarely make me my taste buds flare up in happiness.

Today I was invited to not one but two cookie parties. While flipping through cookbooks trying to find something I thought I might like to make I found Mexican wedding cakes. Also known as Russian Tea Cakes, Italian Butter Nuts, Southern Pecan Butterball, Viennese Sugar Ball, and Snowdrops they are considered a traditional holiday cookie.

The problem was that I had two recipes for them: one from The Joy of Cooking and another from The Williams-Sonoma Cookbook and they were different.

I learned how to cook with The Joy. While growing up I had ignored my mother’s dire warnings that I would never find a husband if I couldn’t cook and found refuge in books while staying away from the kitchen.

When I moved to Bogotá for school I no longer enjoyed the benefits of my mom’s cooking, but I could still have homemade meals. Near schools and business areas there are lunch places that sell home cooked food by subscription. They have no menu. They just have one lunch item, but it’s a full homemade lunch and it’s different every day. That was my one good meal a day while going to school in Bogotá. For dinner I was happy to have toast.

It was when I moved to New York that I became interested in cooking. Even though New York is a great place to find all kinds of cheap and delicious food, it’s not easy to have good homemade meals here. And so, craving food at home that did not come out of a can, I started to cook.

Irma was my first teacher. A friend gave me a copy of The Joy of Cooking and through its pages I learned not only how to follow a recipe but when and how to experiment with one. Not only does it have reliable recipes, but it’s also a great reference source. Got a spare butternut squash? Check out pg. 423 for everything you might need to know from selecting one, storing it, different ways of cooking it, to ideas about what to use it for and what foods it goes well with.

Williams, on the other hand, has given me some excellent soups. I have a copy of Soups from the Williams-Sonoma kitchen library and it has yielded an excellent Pumpkin Soup with Gruyere among others.

Another friend gave me a copy of the Williams-Sonoma Cookbook more recently, but since I rarely use cookbooks these days I hadn’t tried any of the recipes. But the pictures are lovely.

Including the one for Mexican Wedding Cakes.

Williams makes them with blanched almonds, Irma with toasted pecans. William uses more sugar, but other than that they’re very similar. Williams’ picture is compelling, but Irma has been my friend for longer. I briefly considered doing a cookie-off and making both versions to see which one I liked best, but decided against.

I stuck by Irma. She may not be flashy, but she’s been true.


  1. They were delicious everyone, just so you know, I tried them, 2 thumbs up.

  2. Thanks, Pae. I'm thinking of making another batch soon.