Russian Tea Cakes
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Buttery, melt-in-your-mouth shortbread cookies filled with nuts and rolled in powdered sugar. A classic cookie at Christmas time!
I cannot believe it’s taken me until my cookie extravaganza (welcome to day #2!) to make Russian tea cakes, or as I prefer to call them, snowballs. I’ve also seen them called “pecan tea cookies” and “Russian tea biscuits” and “buttery Russian tea cookies.”
I have been loving these cookies for what seems like all of my life. I have always looked forward to them during the holidays, but it wasn’t until I started dating Matt that I had almost unending access to them during the Christmas season.
That’s totally why I married him… Kiddinggggg. Kind of…
You see, my in-laws are culinary experts, self-taught chef and baker extraordinaire, and I have learned a lot from each of them in the kitchen (like my MIL’s zucchini bread! and her banana bread!).
The first Christmas season that Matt and I were together (2007), I realized just how seriously his family takes Christmas cookie baking. It’s quite an undertaking, and it lasts several days, even several weeks, starting in early December and ending the week before Christmas when cookie trays are distributed to anyone and everyone who knows the April/Maltese family.
It’s quite amazing.
Cookies range from classics like chocolate chip, peanut butter, and oatmeal raisin to more intricate like pecan pie tarts, pizzelle (actually, my youngest brother-in-law is the pizzelle expert in the family), butter spritz cookies, and one of my favorites, snowballs.
This recipe for Russian tea cakes comes straight from my mother-in-law who is a pro when it comes to cookies.
I didn’t tweak it one bit, because it’s simply perfect and the best Russian tea cake recipe I’ve come across (though it seems similar to Betty Crocker’s Russian tea cakes, so she may have had something to do with it)!
Snowballs are one of those cookies that leave you
wanting needing more. Despite my undying love for oatmeal raisin cookies (chewy only, please), I can easily eat one or two and be done, satisfied with the oaty, raisiny flavors resonating on my palate and in my belly.
Snowballs? Fahgedaboutit. I need 5, AT LEAST.
I think it’s the powdered sugar coating that just melts in my mouth even before I have a chance to sink my teeth into the crumbly yet soft center that also melts in my mouth. Snowballs are double-melt-in-your-mouth trouble.
What a dangerous little cookie, eh??
HOW TO MAKE RUSSIAN TEA CAKES
This Russian tea cakes recipe is so simple. An uncomplicated blend of butter, powdered sugar, flour, a little salt, a touch of vanilla extract, and a hefty dose of chopped nuts.
Don’t like nuts? You can totally leave them out and the recipe will turn out just fine.
I prefer walnuts or macadamia nuts in my snowballs, but you can certainly use your favorite nut. Pecans would work nicely, as would almonds.
Once your cookie dough is all together, you will need to chill it for a bit. Only about an hour. Maybe during that hour, you can take a trip to the gym to combat all of the cookies you’ve been baking.
RUSSIAN TEA CAKES GET TWO COATINGS OF POWDERED SUGAR
After a chill, you’ll roll the dough into balls, bake them, and then, while the baked cookies are still warm, you’ll give them a nice dunk in some powdered sugar.
AND THENNNN, once they’ve cooled completely, they get a second bath in more powdered sugar (I’m starting to see why it’s impossible to stop at just 1 snowball).
This recipe for Russian tea cookies is Christmas cookie perfection. The resulting cookies are easy to put together, they’re small, they’re undeniably good, and they’re covered in powdered sugar so they look like snow.
Plus, if you’re not into sharing your cookies, you can definitely tell if someone steals one from your stash. The indisputable powdered sugar mouth will give your thieves away in a snap.
Although I really do hope you share your snowballs with your friends/family/loved ones. They’ll know how much you love them once they realize you’re sharing such a delightful little treat with them.
gift cookie that keeps on giving.
Love snowball cookies? Check these variations on a theme: chocolate chip snowball cookies and funfetti snowball cookies.
Russian Tea Cakes
- ½ cup (113g) unsalted butter softened to room temperature
- ¼ cup + ½ cup (90g) powdered sugar divided
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 cup + 2 Tablespoons (135g) all-purpose flour be sure to measure properly
- ⅛ teaspoon salt
- ⅓ cup finely chopped nuts*
- In a medium size bowl with a hand mixer or the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter, ¼ cup (30g) of the powdered sugar, and vanilla on medium speed until smooth. Add the flour and salt and beat again on medium until completely combined. Add chopped nuts and stir with a spatula until evenly dispersed. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 1 hour and up to 3 days.
- When you are ready to bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 400ºF (204ºC). Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Set aside.
- Roll dough into approximately 1" balls using a cookie scoop (I use this #50 cookie scoop for all of my standard size cookies). Bake until set, about 10-12 minutes. You do not want cookies to brown at all. Remove from oven and transfer cookies to wire rack. Allow to cool until you are able to handle the cookies.
- Roll warm cookies in remaining ½ cup (60g) of powdered sugar. Return cookies to wire rack and allow to cool completely. When completely cool, roll in powdered sugar again. Cookies remain fresh in an airtight container at room temperature up to 2 weeks.
All nutritional values are approximate and provided to the reader as a courtesy. Changing ingredients and/or quantities will alter the estimated nutritional calculations.
Whoa, whoa, whoa. MACADAMIA NUTS in snowballs? Girlfriend, you just BLEW MY MIND. Our tried and true family recipe uses walnuts, but growing up my mom would often experiment with using pecans or almonds – we’ve never tried macadamias, but they sound like THE ULTIMATE. Oh darn – going to have to make another batch to taste test 😉
Hahaha, DARN! I like them with macadamias because of that “squishy” texture– you know what I mean? Gives them a whole new taste!! Oh golly gosh, I just love snowballs.
awwww you are too sweet my dear DIL! Mike and I love your extra special tribute even though YOU are the REAL DEAL 🙂 xo
XOXO! Love you, Ma! Thanks for sharing your recipe with me!!
I always enjoy Russian tea cakes from my Daughter-in-law who bakes tons of different cookies for the holidays.
I used to bake when my children were small but I’ve Gotten away from baking because somebody has to eat all of that.
Just out of the oven.
Thanks for the recipe
Thanks for your sweet comment, Marcia! Enjoy the cookies!
Looks amazing! I think I’m going to try these!
They are so easy, Naomi! Definitely not a challenging recipe 🙂
These are some of my favorite cookies! Also. I LOVE the fact that you’re doing a 12 days of Christmas cookies mini series. So much fun. I would love to do something like this one year. The thought of all the cookies is making my starry eyed 🙂
Haha, thanks so much, Chrystina! It was fun making all of them! I mayyyy be cookie’d out here real soon 😉
Yes!! These are butterballs. love them!
Oh ok, yeah, I figured that’s what you were talking about! I actually got to sample Sally’s when we had dinner last week– SO GOOD! She only uses a different kind of nut in hers, but the simplicity of the cookie itself makes the nut flavor really stand out! It was so different from mine!
Any buttery, icing sugar coated, nut-studded baked good is going to be popular in our family for sure! And I already know that my Dad would be walking around with a powdered sugar covered beard because he wouldn’t be able to stop once he started. I need to make these for him to say thank you for our beautiful Christmas display! And I love that Matt’s family is so into Christmas cookie making – you two really are a perfect match!
Haha, we so are, Amy! These cookies are a serious favorite. They are just TOO good to be true, really. Yay for Christmas cookie baking time! It’s just so fun!!
Hi, Lynn, Your mom’s friend Dennee here. Loved your post so much that I tried first to print, then to download the pdf recipe. Neither worked. So I cut and pasted! WIll think of you when I make these!
Please let me know how you like them!
Are you supposed to put them in the oven when they are cold, or do you let them get to room temp first?
Chill the dough, pull it out, start rolling, bake.
I am about to try the macadamia nuts! (sounds yum!)
PS Everyone – Filberts (hazelnuts) make the absolute best, best, BEST Russian Tea Cakes!
Especially if you double the amount of nuts – grind 1/2 the nuts till fine and mix with the dry ingredients….then add the chopped nuts to the finished product, as per usual
I grew up next to a huge, abandoned filbert orchard, and so my mom experimented with these (now expensive) free hazelnuts in every possible recipe – the Russian Teacakes were to die for!
I wanted to bake these for my wedding. Do you know if they freeze well? If so do you know for how long??
I’ve actually never frozen them, but I feel like they should be fine! If you try it, let me know!
I had to add oil to this or it wouldn’t bond up I tried it the way it says did that and they fell apart
Hey, Carolyn– I’m sorry that happened to you. I’ve made these cookies more times than I can count and they always work great for me. In fact, I have two other snowball recipes on the blog (a funfetti one and a chocolate chip one) that have also gotten great reviews.
I am so glad I found your recipe. I found Mom’s recipe box back form the 50’s and made her russian tea cookies Saturday. Preheated Oven to 350 and cooking time lists 18-20 minutes and DO NOT OVERBAKE, 3/4 cup of butter, 1 beaten egg, sugar, salt and Vanilla and 2 cups of flour. add 3/4 cups of finely chopped Pecans and stir in batter. Sift Powder sugar and carefully drop baked cookies in p. sugar. They are very good but new batch will not see Pecans. I cannot taste one of them. I am buyinbg Walnuts today. I will also lessen the cooking time to 15 minutes at 350. They will be much softer. Yes, I have eaten 4 already and hubby has eaten 5. Lil Piggies here. Happy Holiday Cooking.
Delicious, happy memory!
These snowballs are irresistibles, tender and softer, just for the holidays!
Thanks so much, Alicia!
Worked perfectly- so tasty! thanks for the recipe.
Thank YOU, Shelby!
Followed the recipe exactly and it came out perfectly! My family loved it and said they were the best snowball cookies they’ve ever tried. Will definitely be my new go-to for the holidays.
Thank you, Carol! That makes my heart so happy 🙂
These are Mexican wedding cookies, exactly same recipe
Yep! Different names for the same thing 🙂