Russian Tea Cakes Holiday Cookie Recipe

Russian Tea Cakes are a holiday favorite! They are delicate, buttery cookies that have a light nutty flavor and are covered in powdered sugar. Whether you call them Russian Tea Cakes, Snowball Cookies, Butter Balls, Pecan Sandies, or Mexican Wedding Cookies, these classic cookies are melt-in-your-mouth delicious. 

It’s not the holidays without a cookie tray for entertaining or gifting. If you’re looking for more festive holiday cookie recipes, don’t miss our Holiday Rum Balls, Red Velvet Gooey Butter Cookies, Soft-Baked Christmas Sprinkle Cookies, and Classic Spritz Cookies 

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snowball cookies on a plate with holiday decor

Favorite Russian Tea Cakes

Growing up, we always had Russian Tea Cakes on our holiday cookie tray. It was and still is one of my all-time favorite cookies.

While I always think of Russian Tea Cakes, Snowballs, or Mexican Wedding Cookies for Christmas, they make for a delightful treat all year long.

Why you’ll love them too:

  • Quick and Easy
  • Only 6 ingredients
  • Covered in 2-layers of sugar
  • Buttery-soft
  • Great for bake sales, cookie trays, and holiday gifting

close up of snowball cookies in a green dish

What Are Russian Tea Cakes

​​Russian Tea Cakes are cookies that go by many different names, but they all share the same basic recipe; butter, flour, and finely chopped nuts– shaped into balls and rolled into powdered sugar.

The powdery white confections are rich, but not overly sweet, tender, but never dry and keep well, but so buttery delicious you want to eat the whole batch.

russian tea cakes on a plate with a hot mug of coffee

What Are Russian Tea Cakes Made Of?

You may not even have to go shopping for this recipe because these cookies are made with just a few common ingredients. 

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  • Butter – Unsalted and room temperature is what you want. 
  • Granulated sugar– Also known as white sugar, or “regular” sugar.
  • Vanilla extract– Be sure to use PURE vanilla extract for the best flavor, or you can use my recipe to make vanilla extract
  • Flour– All-purpose flour is used in this cookie recipe
  • Finely Chopped Pecans– You can crush your pecans with a nut chopper, electric food chopper (mini food-processor) or place the nuts in a zip-top bag and run a rolling pin over them.
  • Powdered sugar– Powdered sugar gives these cookies a little dust of sweetness. 

photo collage of how to make Russian tea cakes

How to Make Russian Tea Cakes

(full printable recipe at the end of this post)

Simple and delicious, there’s no reason not to love these Russian tea cakes. Get out your ingredients and let’s start whipping up a batch. 

Preheat and prep: First, preheat your oven to 325℉. Then, line a cookie sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.

Beat butter and sugars: Place your butter in a large mixing bowl and beat it for 30-seconds. Then, add your sugar and beat until fluffy. Add the vanilla and water and beat until thoroughly combined. 

Add flour and pecans: Slowly add in the flour and mix on low speed just until the dough comes together. Then, fold in the chopped pecans. 

Shape your cookies: After everything is incorporated, shape your dough into 1-inch balls. Then, place them on the prepared cookie sheet. 

Bake: Place the cookie sheet in the oven and bake your Russian tea cakes for 20-minutes. 

Roll in powdered sugar: Remove the cookies from the oven and allow them to cool on the pan for just a few minutes, until you can handle them. Roll them in powdered sugar and place on a cooling rack. Let the cookies cool completely then re-roll them in powdered sugar one last time. 

Serve and Enjoy!

russian tea cakes on a cooling rack with a red and white towel

Recipe FAQs

What is the difference between Russian Tea Cakes and Mexican wedding cookies?

There really isn’t much difference between a Russian tea cake and a Mexican wedding cookie. In fact, the names are used interchangeably. The only slight difference is the use of nuts. Russian tea cookies can use any of the following: hazelnuts, almonds, pecans, or walnuts. However, Mexican wedding cookies traditionally only use chopped pecans. 

Why are they called Russian tea cakes?

According to Wikipedia, Russian tea cakes go by a variety of different names but were originally derived from European shortbread cookies in the Middle Ages. The basic recipe is now used all over the world. It’s believed the name Russian Tea Cakes stuck because they were traditionally served beside Russian tea urns. By the 20th century, they were a part of wedding, Christmas and Easter traditions in the U.S.

How do you store Russian tea cakes?

You don’t have to do anything special with these tea cakes. Simply place them in an airtight container and they should keep for about a week at room temperature. 

Additionally, you can freeze these cookies. Because of the powdered sugar coating, you will need to freeze them raw, without baking. Place the cookie dough balls on a lined cookie sheet and place them in the freezer for a few hours until firm (flash-freezing them). Once frozen, remove them from the cookie sheet and place the dough balls in an air-tight container in the freezer for up to two months.

When ready to defrost, place the dough balls on a prepared pan at least 1-inch apart and allow them to reach room temperature (this may take a few hours). Then finish by baking the cookies and rolling in powdered sugar according to the recipe.

wedding cookies on a black tray

Pro Tips For Russian Tea Cakes

Use real butter: Do not substitute the butter for margarine. This recipe is best with real butter. Additionally, make sure you allow the butter to come to room temperature before using it. Room temp butter is still cool to the touch, yet your finger should be able to make an indent in the butter without sinking.

Measure the flour properly: You do not want to use the measuring cup to scoop the flour. That method will pack the flour into the cup resulting in too much flour for the recipe. Instead, spoon the flour into the measuring cup and level it off with a butter knife. 

Chop the nuts to fine pieces: This will help hold the dough together

Don’t overbake : Bake Russian Tea Cakes just until firm, you do not want these cookies to brown. This will keep them nice and tender.

Roll in powdered sugar twice. The first time you roll the cookies, the powdered sugar will melt a little because the cookies are warm.  The second time you roll them the powdered sugar will really stick

Refrigerate the cookie dough: Before rolling your dough into balls, you can place it in the refrigerator for about 30-minutes. This will help prevent your cookies from baking flat. Sometimes when the butter is too soft, it melts faster in the oven resulting in flat cookies.  Chilling isn’t required, but it’s a good idea if you have the time or a warm kitchen.

Use other nuts: You don’t have to use pecans. You can use any nut you choose such as hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, walnuts, or almonds for this recipe.

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close up of Russian tea cakes with a bite out

Originally posted in December 2011. UPDATED November 2021. We spiffed up this post with more info and better pictures! No changes to the original recipe.

close up of snowball cookies in a green dish

Russian Tea Cakes

Yield: 36 cookies
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 35 minutes

This is the Russian Teacake recipe my mom always made when I was growing up! This classic recipe is a family favorite, whether you call them pecan sandies, snowballs, Russian teacakes or wedding cookies!

Ingredients

  • 1 cup butter, room temp
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons water
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup finely chopped pecans
  • 1/2-3/4 cup powdered sugar

Instructions

  1. Pre-heat oven to 325° F and line cookie sheets with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, using an electric mixer beat butter for 30 seconds, add granulated sugar and beat until fluffy. Add vanilla and water, beat until thoroughly combined.
  3. Slowly add in the flour and pecans and mix on low speed just until the dough comes together.
  4. Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Place on prepared cookie sheet 1-2 inches apart (they will not spread), and bake for 20 minutes.
  5. Remove the cookies from the oven and allow them to cool on the pan for just a few minutes until you can handle them. Place powdered sugar in a small bowl and roll the cookies in powdered sugar and place on a wire rack.
  6. Let the cookies cool completely on the wire rack then re-roll in powdered sugar one last time. 

Notes

    STORE: Cookies should keep for about a week in an airtight container at room temperature.

    FREEZE: Because of the powdered sugar coating, you will need to freeze them raw, without baking. Place the cookie dough balls on a lined cookie sheet and place them in the freezer for a few hours until firm (flash-freezing them). Once frozen, remove them from the cookie sheet and place the dough balls in an air-tight container in the freezer for up to two months.

    When ready to defrost, place the dough balls on a prepared pan at least 1-inch apart and allow them to reach room temperature (this may take a few hours). Then finish by baking the cookies and rolling in powdered sugar according to the recipe.

    You could also freeze them baked without rolling them in the powdered sugar. Defrost then roll in powdered sugar.

Nutrition Information:
Yield: 36 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 114Total Fat: 7gSaturated Fat: 3gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 3gCholesterol: 14mgSodium: 41mgCarbohydrates: 11gFiber: 0gSugar: 6gProtein: 1g

Nutrition information is estimated based on the ingredients and cooking instructions as described in each recipe and is intended to be used for informational purposes only. Please note that nutrition details may vary based on methods of preparation, origin, and freshness of ingredients used.

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white powdered sugar cookies