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Almond Christmas Balls

Cookies are an ``American thing,'' says Sebastien Thieffine, assistant pastry chef at the Hotel Meridien. When asked for a holiday recipe, he turned to pastry chef Gina Consentino for help. Consentino's mother used to make these cookies with maraschino cherries, but at the Meridien, Gina uses brandied cherries.

1 cup blanched almonds
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup sifted confectioners' sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon almond extract
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
36 maraschino or brandied cherries, well drained
Confectioners' sugar
until the nuts are finely ground.

In a mixing bowl, beat the butter and confectioners' sugar. Gradually add the almond mixture, flour, and the almond and vanilla extracts and beat until well blended. If the dough is too soft to shape, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate about 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Shape a piece of dough into a 1-inch ball. Remove the top half and reserve. Press an indentation in the remaining dough and add a cherry; cover with reserved dough and shape into a ball. Place on a parchment-lined cookie sheet. Repeat with the remaining dough and cherries, placing cookies 1 1/2 inches apart.

Bake 15 to 20 minutes or until the edges are golden brown. Remove to wire racks to cool. Sift the confectioners' sugar over the tops.

Makes about 36 cookies.

By Jean Kressy, Globe Correspondent

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