These are a Greek celebration cookie — while they're most popular at Christmas, you also see them at weddings, Easter and other holidays as well. They're almost always served with a powdered sugar topping; at Christmas, it's traditional to stick a whole clove in the top to represent the gift of spices that the Three Wise Men brought to Bethlehem.
Toast the walnuts until golden brown and fragrant, about 6 minutes. Let cool, then chop about half of the nuts (you should have about 1/2 cup chopped). Pulse the remaining nuts in the food processor until finely ground (about 1/4 cup ground).
Stir the flour, baking powder, salt and nuts together in a medium bowl. Set aside.
In another medium bowl, beat the butter, sugar, egg yolk, brandy and vanilla extract together with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until the mixture gets light and fluffy, about 10 minutes.
At low speed, stir in the nut mixture to make a crumbly dough. Cover the bowl and set dough aside at room temperature for 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment or coat with nonstick spray.
With a tablespoon, scoop out 1-inch pieces of dough and roll into balls between the palms of your hands. Pinch the ends of the balls to make a football shape. Place the cookies on the prepared baking sheets. Bake until the cookies set and start to brown, about 18 minutes.
Remove cookies from the oven and immediately sprinkle them lightly with the orange water. (If you don't have a brush, simply dip your fingers into the water and flick it over the cookies a few times.) Take care not to douse them, just enough for them to carry the scent of flowers.
Put the confectioners' sugar in a bag, and add 5 to 6 of the warm cookies to it. Very gently toss the cookies to coat with sugar. Remove them from the bag and cool cookies on a rack. Repeat with remaining cookies. Serve.
Busy baker's tips: Dough can be frozen for up to 2 weeks. Store baked cookies in an airtight container for up to 1 week. Baked cookies can be wrapped in plastic, then aluminum foil, for up to 2 weeks. To serve, let cookies come to room temperature before dusting with confectioners' sugar.
Cook's Note: If you can't find orange flower water, try specialty stores or online.
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