As the holiday season approaches, it can sometimes seem like the house is always full, whether it’s visiting relatives, friends and neighbours dropping by with gifts and seasons greetings, or the kids home from school for the holidays. Everyone enjoys being sociable at Christmas, and if you do find yourself with a house full of holiday guests, it’s always nice to have some sort of festive treat to share with them.
But for the ultimate, no-fuss Christmas cookie recipe, one of our favourites has to be snowball cookies. They’re quick and easy to make, using just a few everyday ingredients from your larder, and they keep well in the refrigerator, too, so you can have a batch ready for when people drop by. A generous coating of powdered sugar makes these bite-sized treats look like cute little snowballs, and because they’re baked with powdered sugar too, they have a light, melt-in-the-mouth texture - just like catching snowflakes on your tongue. Kids are sure to enjoy eating these fun little snowballs, and if you really want to commit to the theme, why not offer the adults one of these retro snowball cocktails with a few snowball cookies on the side?
These simple cookies go by many different names. You may know them as snowball cookies, butterballs, Russian teacakes or Mexican wedding cakes. Traditional recipes use pecans or walnuts, but they work well with any type of nut. Almonds are an especially popular alternative, but really you can use whichever nuts you have in the cupboard and they will still taste delicious.
Directions (list of all the steps)
To make your own snowball cookies, you will need:
2 cups of flour
1 cup of unsalted butter
1 cup of nuts
⅔ cup of powdered (icing) sugar
A pinch of salt
Extra powdered sugar, for rolling.
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C or Gas Mark 5)
If you have whole nuts, cut into small pieces using a cutting board and a sharp knife, or give them a quick blitz in a blender.
Place the flour, salt and nuts in a small bowl, and stir briefly to combine.
Beat the butter and sugar together in a mixer, until you have a smooth, creamy mixture, then reduce the speed and add the flour mixture a little bit at a time, until all the ingredients are well mixed.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, then form the mixture into roughly one-inch balls and place them onto the tray, ready for baking. Be sure to leave a gap between each cookie so they don’t stick together during baking.
Bake your cookies for around 10-12 minutes, until the bottom edges start to turn brown.
Leave to cool for a few minutes.
Sprinkle a generous layer of powdered sugar onto a clean work surface or tray, and when the cookies are cool enough to handle, take each one and roll it in the sugar until well-coated.
Place on a cooling rack until completely cooled.
You can store your snowball cookies for up to four days in the pantry, for two weeks in the refrigerator, or for six months in a secure container in the freezer.
The beauty of a simple recipe like snowball cookies is that it couldn't be easier to modify according to taste or dietary requirements. If you’re looking for a vegan alternative, we’ve got you covered with these dainty and delicious vegan snowball cookies, made with margarine instead of butter, and flavoured with almonds and vanilla.
It’s easy to customise your cookies with different flavours, too. A drop of vanilla extract is a classic cookie flavour for those of us with a sweet tooth, or you can try anise extract and chopped almonds for an Italian biscotti flavour that goes perfectly with your afternoon coffee. We love these lemon snowball cookies from Live Well, Bake Often, which are delicately flavoured with lemon juice and zest for a fragrant, melt-in-the-mouth cookie bite.
If you like your cookie with more chocolate, you’ll love these double chocolate snowball cookies from Crazy for Crust. Made with cocoa powder and chocolate chips, they look snowy on the outside, but bite into them and you’re in for a tasty chocolate surprise! A must for any chocoholic.
The history of snowball cookies
The history of the snowball cookie is actually a bit of a mystery. These days, many people in the United States refer to them as Mexican wedding cakes, and in fact they are traditionally served at weddings in Mexico, where they are known as biscochitos. They don’t replace the wedding cake itself, but tend to be served at the buffet, or handed round on individual plates. Mexican biscochitos can be round, like our snowball cookies, or crescent-shaped, like a mini croissant.
Most people think that the biscochito came over to Mexico from Europe, perhaps with Spanish nuns, but no-one is really clear where they came from before that. Versions can be found throughout Europe, from Spain, where they are known as polverones, through Scandinavia and across into Eastern Europe.
You might find that your parents or grandparents call them Russian teacakes, but strangely, there’s no more evidence to suggest they came from Russia than anywhere else, and the Russians don’t have any particular tradition of eating them with tea, either. It seems likely that early European settlers brought their own recipes from several different countries, and in fact they can also be called Italian Wedding Cookies, Swedish teacakes, Danish almond cookies, or Finnish butter strips! Nobody knows why the Russian origin story became more popular than the rest, but its popularity waned during the Cold War, and these days snowball cookies are more likely to be seen as Mexican.
In the end, we’ll probably never know which country made the first snowball cookie, but the fact that they turn up in so many countries is really the ultimate sign of their success. We may never agree on where they came from, but we can all agree that they taste delicious.
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