Russian Tea Cakes ~ also known as Mexican Wedding Cookies, Snowballs, or just plain Tea Cakes, are easy to make, crunchy sugar-dusted nut balls that are not too sweet, and melt-in-your mouth delicious!
Originally published December 24, 2010 – updated December 20, 2017
This recipe, and these cookies, bring a flood of happy memories to mind. Even the smell of them baking triggers vivid thoughts of my mom and the years when our own children were small. I’ve been making these cookies since I was a young girl, and given that I’m a grandmother now, that’s been a while.
I still have my mom’s original typed recipe that I keep in a plastic sleeve. As you can tell, this recipe is very old and barely held together with tape. I work from a photocopy now so it won’t deteriorate any more. This recipe for Russian Tea Cakes has been well loved for a very long time. The description reads “crunchy, sugar-dusted nut balls” and that pretty much says it all.
These are hands-down, without a doubt, my husband’s favorite cookie that I bake for the holidays.
The ingredients are simple, and I believe that’s why these are so good. I’m often baffled how recipes using the same list of ingredients can turn out so different, but they do! The science of baking is fascinating. For these Russian Tea Cakes, all you need is flour, powdered sugar, vanilla, pecans, and butter.
I’ve perfected these cookies over the years and added all my little tweaks and tricks to the notes section of the recipe card. We’ve always used pecans as our nut of choice, and instead of chopping, I grate the nuts for a very fine, powdery consistency. If you ask me, grating the nuts is the secret to making these a terrific melt-in-your mouth cookie.
The cookies don’t dramatically change their shape when baked, nor do they need to get overly brown on top. If they are browned on top, they’re probably over-baked. Check the bottom of a cookie for a light brown color and try to make them ‘bite sized’ to prevent a sugar mess on the front of your shirt.
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- 1/2 cup powdered sugar, plus 2 cups for rolling the cookies
- 2 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 3/4 cup finely grated pecans, measured after grating (see notes)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
Sift together 1/2 cup of the powdered sugar, the flour and salt. Add to a large mixing bowl along with the butter, vanilla and grated pecans. Mix on low with an electric mixer until the dough is starting to come together. Increase the speed to medium and blend until all ingredients are incorporated.
Place the remaining 2 cups of powdered sugar in a low-rimmed pie plate and set aside.
Scoop the dough (I use a small cookie scoop) and roll firmly into a 1-inch dough ball. Place the cookies on the parchment lined baking sheet and bake for 10-12 minutes or until lightly browned on the bottom.
Once baked, immediately remove several cookies from the baking sheet using a small spatula and turn them upside down in the bowl of powdered sugar. Allow the hot cookies to rest in the sugar for about 30 seconds then carefully turn to cover the bottoms. If you mound the powdered sugar toward the center of the plate, this will help when you go to cover each hot cookie. Working with one cookie at a time, gently turn in the sugar until the entire cookie is covered. Remove to a wire rack to cool. Working quickly, repeat with the remaining hot cookies until all are coated.
Once cooled (after about 1 hour) roll the cookies in powdered sugar again and store in an airtight container in a cool location. These cookies will keep about a week making them great to make ahead!
- Grated pecans will have a powdery, light texture. Scoop the grated nuts into a measuring cup, then lightly tap the cup on a countertop to lightly pack the nuts. Then add more grated pecans to the cup until you reach the desired 3/4 cup total. If you don’t grate the pecans, I cannot guarantee these cookies will turn out correctly.
- The flour is measured before sifting. When measuring flour, gently scoop the flour into the measuring cup and level off the top using the dull blade of a table knife.
- If you believe your oven runs hotter than it should, you may want to bake at 375 degrees. Test a small batch of cookies first, or reduce the time baked to ensure they don’t burn. Remove from the oven when the tops are set and the bottom is lightly browned.
- Don’t place the dough balls on a hot baking sheet. It’s best to alternate between cooled baking sheets or pieces of parchment. I use a rimless baking sheet that I love (see below for a link) so I can slide parchment onto the sheet and bake immediately.
- Even though you can fit a large amount of unbaked cookies on each baking sheet, I prefer to bake just a few each time since you have to roll them in the powdered sugar while hot. The hot cookie melts the powdered sugar and forms an icing covering the entire cookie - yum!
Here are a few of our favorite kitchen tools used when making these cookies: (click on the photo for more information)
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Classic cookies are often the best desserts on the table. We love these Lemon Meltaways for another simple, lightly sweet one-bite cookie. These fun Vanilla Pretzel Cookies will rival those store-bought in the tin cookies any day! How about these super simple cookies all made with 1 Dough, 4 Christmas Cookies from Bless this Mess. Another great classic cookie with a short ingredient list, are these beautiful Holiday Pinwheel Cookies from That Skinny Chick can Bake. And finally, I really love these 4-ingredient Almond Joy Cookies from Mom on Timeout for a quick and easy treat.
Thanks so much for stopping by! I hope you have a wonderful holiday season with family and friends. Blessings to all!