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Classic, old-fashioned Christmas cookies! Also called “Snowball Cookies,” these little round Russian Tea Cakes are delicate and tender, nutty, buttery balls of shortbread dough rolled in a festive blizzard of powdered sugar. A holiday dessert tray just wouldn’t be the same without them!

A platter full of stacked Russian tea cakes - small round cookies covered in powdered sugar.
Table of Contents
  1. Russian Tea Cake Recipe FAQs
  2. Tea Cake Ingredients
  3. How to Make Russian Tea Cakes​​​​​​​
  4. Prep and Storage Tips for Russian Tea Cakes
  5. Recipe Variations
  6. Tips for the Best Russian Tea Cakes Ever
  7. Russian Tea Cakes Recipe

Russian Tea Cake Recipe FAQs

One of our family’s absolute favorite homemade cookie recipes, these festive Russian Tea Cakes couldn’t be easier to make. There’s no need to wait until the holidays, either — the simple shortbread cookies are delicious at any time of year! You’ll love the taste of the buttery dough that’s studded with tiny bits of walnuts, giving the classic cookies a slightly nutty, toasted, simple flavor. The cookies themselves aren’t very sweet, so they are a perfect contrast to the powdered sugar exterior.

Why are they called Russian Tea Cakes?

Old-fashioned Russian Tea Cakes are a form of “jumble” (a pastry common in England during the Middle Ages). While the tea cakes have become a popular Christmas cookie in the United States (thanks to their festive snowball-like appearance), similar varieties are also known as Mexican wedding cookies (or cakes)Italian wedding cookiesKourabiedes, or Greek wedding cookiesbutterballs, and snowball cookies.

The origin of the name “Russian Tea Cake” is unknown, and there’s certainly no direct connection to Russia itself. Some suggest that the cookie recipe either derived from other Eastern European shortbread cookies (or “biscuits”), may have migrated to Mexico with European nuns, or may have originally been served in Russian tea ceremonies as early as the 18th century. By the 20th century, these little treats had become a fixture at weddings, Christmas, and Easter celebrations in America, known by their popular names — Russian Tea Cakes or Mexican Wedding Cakes.

What kind of nuts are in Russian Tea Cakes?

Traditional recipes call for either walnuts or pecans, but you can make Russian tea cakes with almost any kind of nuts that you like. Hazelnuts, almonds, or pistachios would all work, too. The key is to finely chop or grind the nuts into very tiny pieces. You can do this by hand with a good knife, but it’s much easier with a food processor. I use my mini food processor since the recipe only requires ¾ cup of nuts. The ground nuts blend into the shortbread cookie dough so that their texture is almost undetectable — while giving the cookies a rich, nutty flavor.

Are Russian Tea Cakes supposed to be dry?

Yes, these cookies are supposed to have a dry, somewhat crumbly texture. There are no eggs in the classic shortbread dough, and they don’t become soft, fluffy, or puffy in the oven. While the cookies should be fairly dry, they should not be as hard as a rock! When you bite into the Russian Tea Cakes, they will have a crumbly, tender, buttery crunch to them…and will practically melt in your mouth!​​​​​​​

Three small powdered sugar-covered shortbread cookies served on a plate with a pine tree branch garnish.

Tea Cake Ingredients

This is just a quick overview of the ingredients that you’ll need for the best tea cake recipe. As always, specific measurements and complete cooking instructions are included in the printable recipe box at the bottom of the post.

  • Butter: use salted butter to balance the sweetness of the cookies. Make sure that it’s softened at room temperature so that it combines easily with the other ingredients.
  • Vanilla extract and almond flavor: give the tea cakes great flavor.
  • Sugar: for just the right amount of sweetness.
  • All-purpose flour: the base of the tea cake dough.
  • Baking soda: a leavening agent that gives the cookies a little bit of “lift” and a lighter texture.
  • Salt: to balance the sweetness and enhance the other flavors.
  • Walnuts (or pecans): for a warm, nutty flavor.
  • Powdered sugar: to coat the tea cakes.

How to Make Russian Tea Cakes​​​​​​​

These easy cookies come together so quickly — you don’t even need to chill the dough! You’ll be sipping a mug of earl grey tea and enjoying a sweet tea cake in no time.

  1. ​​Make Dough​​​​​​​. Use a stand mixer to cream together the butter, vanilla, almond flavor, and sugar. Stir in the sifted dry ingredients until a thick, firm dough comes together. It will look crumbly at first (kind of like pie crust), but just keep mixing until it really looks like cookie dough. Add the nuts and mix just until they’re nicely incorporated.
  2. Shape into Balls. Roll the dough into balls and place on parchment paper or silicone-lined baking sheets. You can space them about 1 inch apart because the dough will not spread much in the oven.
  3. Bake. Bake the cookies in a 400°F preheated oven for about 10-12 minutes — just until set but not browned.
  4. Roll in Powdered Sugar. While the cookies are still warm, roll them in a shallow dish of powdered sugar (or gently shake them around in a Tupperware container).
  5. Cool. Transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.
  6. Roll in Powdered Sugar Again. Once the cookies are cool, roll them in a second coating of powdered sugar and enjoy!
An overhead shot of a stand mixer bowl filled with raw shortbread cookie dough.
An overhead shot of a food processor filled with finely chopped walnuts for the snowball cookies.
Small, round, unbaked Russian tea cake cookies lined up on a silicone-lined baking sheet.
A small Russian tea cake cookie rolled in a bowl of powdered sugar.
Powdered sugar covered Russian tea cakes lined up on a wire cooling rack.
A plate of three snowball cookies overed in powdered sugar, with a small pine tree branch garnish sitting on the plate.

Prep and Storage Tips for Russian Tea Cakes

How to store Russian Tea Cakes

The tea cakes will stay fresh in an airtight container at room temperature for 3-4 days or in the refrigerator for at least 1 week. They do not need to be refrigerated; however, I find that if the house is really humid, the powdered sugar stays dry best when stored in the refrigerator.

Can Russian Tea Cakes be frozen?

Yes! These cookies freeze really well! Just package in airtight containers and store in the freezer for up to 3 months. When thawed, you will probably need to re-roll the balls in powdered sugar.

Can you refrigerate Russian Tea Cake dough?​​​​​​​

Yes, you can. You do not need to refrigerate this cookie dough before baking because the balls will not spread in the oven. That said, if it’s more convenient to prep the dough in advance, you can store it in the refrigerator for up to 12 hours. The dough will become very hard in the fridge, so you will likely need to let it sit on the counter for a little while to soften before you can easily scoop and roll it into balls.

Powdered sugar covered snowball cookies piled on a raised cake platter.

Recipe Variations

  • I use a cookie dough scoop to make about 26 golf ball-sized tea cakes. These are very rich, buttery cookies, so a little bit goes a long way. If you prefer smaller bite-sized tea cakes, use a smaller scoop and decrease the baking time by a minute or two.
  • Mix up the nuts — almonds, pecans, hazelnuts, or pistachios will all work just as well as the walnuts.
  • There’s just a hint of almond flavor in these cookies, which we adore. If you don’t have almond flavor, you can just omit that ingredient and use the vanilla extract alone.
  • Add other flavors to the shortbread cookies, such as miniature chocolate chips, toffee bits, rosemary, thyme, lavender, lemon zest, cinnamon, cardamom, or nutmeg. Get creative with the basic recipe!
  • The small amount of baking soda in this recipe helps tenderize and lift the dough for a slightly more puffy, lighter cookie. Many Russian Tea Cake recipes do not include any baking soda or baking powder at all. If you prefer, you can omit the baking soda, and the recipe will still work.

Tips for the Best Russian Tea Cakes Ever

  • Chop or process the nuts into very fine pieces. This will help the dough hold together.
  • Use an electric stand mixer to mix the dough. It’s very thick and stiff, so a hand mixer won’t do the job.
  • Do not overbake the cookies. They will not turn a golden brown like other cookies — just bake them until slightly firm and set. This will keep them tender on the inside.
  • Coat in powdered sugar at least twice (maybe three times)! The first coating of powdered sugar goes on while the cookies are warm from the oven. The heat of the cookie practically melts the sugar, coating them in a tender layer of sweetness. Once the cookies are completely cool, roll them in powdered sugar again — this time, it will really “stick” and give the treats that “snowball-like” appearance. If you’re storing the Russian Tea Cakes in the freezer, you may need to roll them in powdered sugar a third time (after they are thawed) just before serving.
  • Don’t worry if the powdered sugar is somewhat clumpy on the outside of the cookies. That’s how it’s supposed to be, and the exterior will firm up and dry as the cookies cool.
A close up shot of the small powdered sugar covered shortbread cookies served on a small plate.

More Cookie Recipes that You’ll Love

Square side shot of a platter of russian tea cakes

Russian Tea Cakes

Prep: 20 minutes
Cook: 10 minutes
Cooling Time 1 hour
Total: 1 hour 30 minutes
Servings 26 large round cookies
Calories 149 kcal
Classic, old-fashioned Christmas cookies! Russian tea cakes – also called snowball cookies – are sweet, buttery shortbread cookies dusted in powdered sugar. They're festive and super easy to make.

Ingredients
  

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  • In a large bowl, use an electric mixer to cream together butter, vanilla, almond flavoring, and sugar.
  • In a separate bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, and salt. Add flour mixture to the butter mixture and mix to combine. It will look crumbly at first, but keep mixing until it comes together in a thick dough. Mix in walnuts.
  • Shape dough into balls (about the size of golf balls). Place about 1 inch apart on parchment or silicone-lined baking sheets.
  • Bake for 10-12 minutes or just until set and firm to the touch (but not browned). Allow the cookies to cool for a few minutes, then roll the warm cookies in powdered sugar. Transfer to wire racks to cool completely. Once cool, roll the cookies in powdered sugar again.

Notes

The cookies will stay fresh in an airtight container at room temperature for 3-4 days or in the refrigerator for at least 1 week. They do not need to be refrigerated; however, I find that if the house is really humid, the powdered sugar stays dry best when stored in the refrigerator.
These cookies freeze really well, too! Just package in airtight containers and store in the freezer for up to 3 months. When thawed, you will probably need to re-roll the balls in powdered sugar.

Nutrition

Serving: 1cookieCalories: 149kcalCarbohydrates: 15gProtein: 2gFat: 9gSaturated Fat: 5gCholesterol: 19mgSodium: 96mgPotassium: 29mgFiber: 1gSugar: 6gVitamin A: 218IUVitamin C: 1mgCalcium: 7mgIron: 1mg
Keyword: Russian Tea Cakes, snowball cookies
Course: Cookies
Cuisine: American
Author: Blair Lonergan
blair

Hey, I’m Blair!

Welcome to my farmhouse kitchen in the foothills of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. Inspired by local traditions and seasonal fare, you’ll find plenty of easy, comforting recipes that bring your family together around the table. It’s down-home, country-style cooking!

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Comments

  1. Sue Kent says:

    My mother always called these Russian Tea Cakes, but my favorite name for them is Liar’s Cookies. You can’t eat one and lie about it because of all of the powdered sugar on your shirt!

    1. Blair says:

      hah! Love that, because it’s so true. 🙂

  2. Laura Hull says:

    I’ve never seen a Russian Tea Cake recipe have any baking soda or powder in the recipe. I was wondering what the use was sinc?

    1. Blair says:

      Hey, Laura! Here’s my explanation from the post: “The small amount of baking soda in this recipe helps tenderize and lift the dough for a slightly more puffy, lighter cookie. Many Russian Tea Cake recipes do not include any baking soda or baking powder at all. If you prefer, you can omit the baking soda and the recipe will still work.”

      Hope that helps, and happy holidays!

  3. Caroline says:

    Cookies look good

    1. Blair says:

      Thanks, Caroline!

  4. Judy Zamora says:

    T

  5. Linda Waldrep says:

    Re: Russian Tea Cakes
    (Snowball Cookies)
    In list of INGREDIENTS, the recipe calls for “1/2 teaspoon almond flour;” however, in Item 2 of INSTRUCTIONS, it references “almond flavoring.”

    I think it was meant to be almond flavoring in both. Please clarify. Thanks.

    1. Blair Lonergan says:

      Hi, Linda! I’ve looked in those spots and I don’t see “almond flour” anywhere. I list all-purpose flour and almond flavor separately, but I’m not sure where the confusion lies. There’s no almond flour in this recipe — just the almond flavor (also called almond flavoring). Hope that helps to clarify. 🙂

    2. Janice says:

      My dough is so dry and crumbly what should I do

      1. Blair Lonergan says:

        It sounds like you might just need to keep mixing. It’s similar to shortbread dough, so it looks crumbly at first, but as you keep mixing it should come together into a thick dough.

  6. antoinette says:

    when i viewed the recipe (doubled 2x) it says 2 cups of butter …2 sticks…for the single (1x) recipe it say 1 cup of butter …2 sticks…???? 2 c of butter measures out to be 2 sticks…so what is the correct butter measurement for 2x recipe

    1. The Seasoned Mom says:

      Thanks for catching this, Antoinette! To double the recipe, you want 2 cups of butter. Typically, a stick of butter is 1/2 cup (meaning you need 4 total to double the recipe), but if you have sticks that equal 1 cup, you will only need 2. Hope that helps!

  7. Dolores says:

    love these cookies but am allergic to almond extract, have you ever used 1/2 tsp of butter replacing almond? I love butter and wondered if anyone has ever used it.

    1. Dolores says:

      I meant butter extract.

    2. The Seasoned Mom says:

      Hi Dolores! We haven’t and would probably recommend using vanilla extract instead. Please let us know how it goes if you do try out the butter extract!