Russian Tea Cakes

A cookie by any other name would taste as sweet. (With my apology to Mr. Shakespeare.)

This particular cookie, usually made around Christmastime, goes by many names. I went digging through my library and found (essentially the same) recipes for:

  • Russian Tea Cakes (or Teacakes as one word) (what I grew up with) (Betty Crocker)
  • Mexican Wedding Cookies (or Cakes)  (Bittman’s How to Make Everything)
  • Italian Wedding Cookies
  • Pecan Puffs (Joy of Cooking)
  • Snowballs
  • Viennese Sugar Balls
  • Polvorones (Spain)
  • Filbert Balls (Better Homes and Gardens)
  • Swedish Tea Balls
  • Kurabiye (Ottoman / Turkey)

And so on.

 

Basically, it’s a ping-pong-ball-sized shortbread cookie with nuts rolled in powdered (or confectioner’s) sugar. I decided my family’s recipe name, Russian Tea Cakes, was my final answer because that’s what Wikipedia calls it. And they redirect Mexican Wedding Cookie and Butterballs to it as well.

It’s also very popular on the big cookie tray at the office holiday parties too (hint, hint). With good reason. It’s delicious!

Hey, I have proof. Because no matter how many batches I seem to make, and this gives me joy, they disappear in two shakes of lamb’s tail. (I said that because my Grandma always used to say it and I was thinking of her the last time I made these. She loved these. And no, she’s not Russian. I seriously have no idea where the Russian part of the cookie name comes from. And I looked!)

You know me, I used organic ingredients, didn’t make them too terribly sweet, and (perhaps most importantly) kept them quick and easy to make.

Russian Tea Cakes (aka Mexican Wedding Cakes / Cookies) (aka Snowballs) are round, little, shortbread-like cookies with nuts, dusted with powdered sugar, and oh so good. And not just for Christmas Holidays! Visit suppertimeblues.com to learn more.

 

Butter

Just a couple of ideas here. First, and I know it probably goes without saying but, use good butter. Per my rule, the best you can reasonably afford. I don’t mean  St. Clair’s Animal Farm butter at $50 / pound. But go for a package with a USDA AA grade if you can. (Costco has an organic AA at a good price but you have to buy 8 sticks of it.)

Point two, which my wonderful next-door neighbor Ted reminded me of, you must use butter at room temperature.

Don’t microwave it, don’t melt it, don’t use cold butter, and so on. The perfect cookie texture absolutely depends on a butter that will whip up nice and creamy.

 

Nuts

I use pecans and most of the recipes I could find do as well. I finely chop mine, some people grind them into a meal. I prefer that little crunch but it’s your cookie, you do you.

Also, some people like to lightly toast them first (make sure you let them cool!). I think they’re plenty toasty just by baking but I would probably change my mind if I used walnuts.

Russian Tea Cakes (aka Mexican Wedding Cakes / Cookies) (aka Snowballs) are round, little, shortbread-like cookies with nuts, dusted with powdered sugar, and oh so good. And not just for Christmas Holidays! Visit suppertimeblues.com to learn more.

Cream the butter until smooth with your favorite hand mixer or in a stand mixer using a paddle attachment. Add the sugar and mix well for another minute. It should be smooth.

Add the water and vanilla and mix those in well.

Using a spoon now, add the flour and nuts and mix well until it comes together in the mixing bowl as a nice big ball of cookie dough.

Roll into two dozen tablespoon-sized balls and space evenly on your lined baking sheet. (It’s a bit like making meatballs.)

Russian Tea Cakes (aka Mexican Wedding Cakes / Cookies) (aka Snowballs) are round, little, shortbread-like cookies with nuts, dusted with powdered sugar, and oh so good. And not just for Christmas Holidays! Visit suppertimeblues.com to learn more.

Bake for 30-35 minutes or until lightly brown.

As soon as they’re just cool enough to handle, either dust with or roll in powdered sugar.

Let them cool completely and then do it again.

 

Sweetness

I use four heaping tablespoons of powdered sugar in the cookie dough. That’s like a heaping quarter cup. If you want your cookies to be sweeter, use more sugar (like 1/3 cup) and a bit more water to keep the dough from being too dry.

(If you really want  to go a bit crazy, substitute some cocoa powder for a bit of the flour and follow the step above to make them sweeter. It’s not traditional, granted, but that’s never stopped us before, has it?)

Look at that. What’s not to love?

Russian Tea Cakes (aka Mexican Wedding Cakes / Cookies) (aka Snowballs) are round, little, shortbread-like cookies with nuts, dusted with powdered sugar, and oh so good. And not just for Christmas Holidays! Visit suppertimeblues.com to learn more.

Russian Tea Cakes (aka Mexican Wedding Cakes / Cookies) (aka Snowballs) are round, little, shortbread-like cookies with nuts, dusted with powdered sugar, and oh so good. And not just for Christmas Holidays! Visit suppertimeblues.com to learn more.

Russian Tea Cakes (aka Mexican Wedding Cakes aka Snowballs)

Course: Dessert
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 45 minutes
Servings: 24 cookies
Author: Bill

Russian Tea Cakes (aka Mexican Wedding Cakes / Cookies) (aka Snowballs) are round, little, shortbread-like cookies with nuts, dusted with powdered sugar, and oh so good. And not just for Christmas Holidays! Visit suppertimeblues.com to learn more.

Print

Ingredients

  • 1 cup butter 2 sticks
  • 4 large tablespoons powdered sugar
  • 2 teaspoons water
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 2 cups pecans, finely-chopped
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour

Plus

  • about 1 cup powdered sugar for dusting / rolling

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 325°F.

  2. Beat room temperature butter for 30 seconds. It should whip smooth like a frosting.

  3. Add the sugar and cream the two together for a minute.

  4. Add the water and vanilla and beat for a few more seconds.

  5. Add the flour and chopped nuts and mix well until a ball of cookie dough forms.

  6. Roll two dozen tablespoon-sized balls and space evenly on a silicone mat or parchment paper lined baking sheet.

  7. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until lightly brown.

  8. Roll in (or dust with) powdered sugar while still hot and again when cool.

2 thoughts on “Russian Tea Cakes

  1. A good looking Russian Tea Cake, but one should never but a Russian and a Swede in the same barrel. Bad history. Said with a smile!
    I can’t find a reference “Swedish Tea Ball” (te bullar) in any of my Swedish recipe sources. Perhaps they exist, I sent out an info request to my local baker friend. I’ll let you know what he says.
    If you went to a coffee shop and ordered “te bullar” ( tea ball) they’d bring you a cup of tea and a cinnamon bun.
    I love food mysteries and this one’s on exception. Oh, another clue, no Pecans in traditional Swedish recipes. You might find them in a American specialty shop, but they’d very expensive. Almonds however, are very common.
    Nice post. Keep’m coming.

    • The provenance of this one is a bit murky. I could not find a reference to cite for an actual Russian origin of the recipe, just the name. Perhaps the Swedish recipe is the same story. Though pecans are native to Mexico and South America, they’re grown many places these days. I’m surprised they are still difficult to come by in places. Thanks!

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