These Russian Tea Cakes, also called Snowball cookies, are a yummy Christmas cookie! A crumbly and buttery treat they are fun to make and eat – and this Russian tea cake recipe includes Nutella to add an extra chocolate hazelnut taste to these holiday cookies.
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When it comes to cookies some things are universal – everyone loves rich buttery cookies. That is probably why these cookies are so popular and are known by so many different names! These cookies are called many different things, including:
- Russian Tea Cakes
- Mexican Wedding Cookies
- Italian Wedding Cookies
The names snowballs and butterballs make sense, since the cookies look like snowballs and contain quite a lot of butter. But it does seem kind of unusual that Russia, Italy and Mexico are all credited with these cookies, depending on where you live! No one really knows where these cookies originated from, but everyone seems to agree they are popular because they are so easy to make and so tasty.
I personally like to call them Russian Tea Cakes because I think that sounds the most elegant, although my kids call them snowballs, for obvious reasons. The kids don’t care much about sounding elegant after all!
Ingredients for Russian Tea Cakes
The classic Russian Tea Cake is made with butter, powdered sugar, flour, and nuts. The type of nut used in the cookies can vary. I used walnuts because they are one of my favorite nuts and they aren’t too expensive. But pecans are also very commonly used, and macadamia nuts, almonds and hazelnuts also work well in the cookies.
I replaced some of the butter in the cookies with Nutella. Nutella is practically a staple food in our house, so I figured it would be fun to try. It gave the cookies a subtle chocolate taste, and the walnut and hazelnut flavors go well together. Obviously the Nutella would also work if you used hazelnuts in the cookies, although I probably wouldn’t use Nutella with macadamia nuts or pecans. But who knows, my kids think Nutella goes with everything!
Since the recipe for Russian tea cakes contains no eggs or baking powder these cookies don’t rise or flatten much. All the nuts and flour combine to make a very thick batter, which is chilled and then rolled into little balls. Like snowballs!
Rolling the Snowball Cookies in Powdered Sugar
The recipe calls for only a small amount of sugar in the batter, so after baking they are rolled in powdered sugar to make them even sweeter. I always wait until the cookies have been out of the oven for about 5 minutes to take them off the trays and roll them in powdered sugar, to reduce the chance of burning my fingers.
The key to making these cookies their best is coating them in lots and lots of powdered sugar. The first layer of powdered sugar soaks into the cookies to make them sweet. Then after they are cooled completely they are rolled in powdered sugar again, for an extra layer of snowy sweetness.
These are excellent holiday cookies to make with children. Kids love rolling the dough into little snowballs and they also love rolling the baked cookies in powdered sugar. And since the snowball cookies are rolled twice the kids can safely do the second rolling after the cookies are cooled.
Can you freeze Russian tea cakes?
Russian tea cakes freeze well, and they are an excellent cookie to make ahead of time and freeze. Then you can unfreeze them for a Christmas party or cookie exchange! For the best results they should be frozen as soon as possible after they are cooled and rolled in powdered sugar for the second time. Like most cookies they should keep about 2 months in the freezer.
Russian Tea Cakes
- Get the butter out of the refrigerator and let it sit for about 20 minutes to soften.
- Process the walnuts in the food processor until they are well chopped.
- Mix the flour, walnuts and sugar together in a bowl.
- Add the softened butter, Nutella and vanilla, and mix until it is well combined and the dough starts to clump together. Chill the dough for an hour or so to make it easy to handle.
- Preheat the oven to 325 F.
- Roll the dough into balls and place on an ungreased cookie sheet.
- Bake for about 22 minutes, until the balls are brown on top.
- Let them cool for 5 minutes, then put the powdered sugar on a plate and roll the cookies in them.
- Let them cool completely, and then re-roll in powdered sugar.
These cookies are rich and buttery. The powdered sugar coating melts in your mouth and they are crunchy on the outside and soft in the middle. In this recipe I like the contrast between the chocolatey center and the powdered sugar exterior of the cookies. Once you sample a few snowball cookies it is easy to see why these cookies are so popular that they are known all over the world.
Find more Christmas Cookie Recipes