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Mexican Wedding Cookies
If you have any time to bake, try these delicate cookies.
Yield: about 50 pieces
2 cups butter, room temperature
1¼ cups confectioners’ sugar plus extra for sprinkling
2¼ cups bread flour
1 cup ground pecans
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with parchment. Cream the butter and sugar until blended. Add the flour, pecans and vanilla, mixing until just combined. Do not overmix.
Scoop a portion of dough onto the cookie sheet, and bake for 15 to 18 minutes. Remove from the oven, cool, and roll in confectioners’ sugar.

With the exception of Santa and all the reindeer, nothing says “holiday” and Christmas like a platter of cookies, elegantly decorated cakes, and hand-rolled truffles in assorted flavors (champagne!) and colors.

Finding the time to produce these goodies is another story, and that’s why bakeries such as Herndon’s Patisserie Lille, Sweet & Savory Pastries is nothing short of a ribbon-wrapped holiday gift.

Under the direction of its owner/baker Dalo De La Paz, this one-very-busy-man operation — with the help of his wife and business partner Caroline — succeeds in filling every baking need, not only in December but throughout the year. And De La Paz even fits catering sweet and savory party platters into his rather rigorous schedule.

But the real treat here is ogling all the sweets in the glass cases, and finding out how one man can work so hard and produce so much. As it turns out, De La Paz has been a lifelong baker, realizing even at the age of 14 all he wanted to do was bake. A native of Mexico who grew up in Chicago, De La Paz says he grew up in a large family in which everyone cooked and loved to cook.

After attending the Washburn Trade School in Chicago — and working simultaneously in a restaurant — De La Paz spent eight years after graduation working in an Italian-French restaurant. His cooking focused on the savory side of the kitchen until he moved to work in the kitchen of the Four Seasons Hotel, where he learned about the sweeter side of gastronomy. “The pastry chef there was amazing,” he said. “I started working with him for six years.”

That experience certainly changed the course of his life.

After several transfers to other Four Seasons locations and kitchens, De La Paz ended up working for the Four Seasons in its Georgetown location. Looking for a change, however, De La Paz started working for local bakeries, getting a business sense of how they operated and succeeded. “I figured I could do that myself,” he said, adding that he and his wife love living in Northern Virginia.

Just by chance, he said, he strolled past this location, and stopped in to ask for a job. “I ended up buying the business,” he said. That was more than five years ago, and today, De La Paz can point proudly to his filled-up glass cases, stocked with every sweet, from breakfast pastries and petit fours to cookies, cakes and breads on weekends. “The most popular items we sell are the tiramisu, Opus 1 (a rich chocolate cake), fresh fruit tarts and napoleons,” he said.

Customers also can order elegant wedding cakes and even special-occasion cakes that De La Paz will personalize to the customer’s request.

But now is the time to think “holidays.” To fill your Santa stocking and gift lists with baked goodies, visit Patisserie Lille, Sweet and Savory Pastries, Clock Tower Shopping Center, 2451 Centreville Road, Herndon. 703-793-2787.