The third type of treat I made during my baking frenzy weekend was Russian Tea Cakes. These are shortbread–like cookies that contain mostly ground nuts and butter and are rolled in powdered sugar once they are baked. They are popular in many cultures during the holidays as well as for other festive occasions.
These cookies also go by many names: Russian Tea Cakes, Mexican Wedding Cakes, Viennese Sugar Balls, Italian Butter Nuts, Italian Nut Cookies, Southern Pecan Butterballs, Snowdrops, and Snowballs.
The secret everyone says to making these cookies taste great is to use high quality butter and pure vanilla extract. I found a very informative description of the types of butter on Joyofbaking.com.
“Butter in the States is graded according to flavor, color, texture, aroma and body and one easy way to tell the quality of the butter is by the letter code or numerical number listed on the butter’s package. The highest grade is AA (93 score), then A (92 score), followed by B (90 score). Buying vanilla extract can also be a challenge as there are so many choices. The first thing to do is to make sure that it is labeled “pure”. The best I have found, although it is quite expensive, is Nielsen-Massey Madagascar Bourbon Pure Vanilla Extract that can be found in specialty food stores and by mail order. If your budget doesn’t allow this expenditure or you cannot find it, don’t worry, there are quality brands to be found in your local grocery store. Just stay away from the ones labeled “imitation” vanilla extracts as they are made with synthetic vanilla (from glycoside found in the sapwood of certain conifers or from coal extracts) and leave a bitter aftertaste.”
My mom always talked about making sure to avoid using imitation vanilla extract. I never knew that it came from sapwood or coal extracts…eeew! I also was not aware that butter came in different grades until I read this.
When making these cookies, Paula of Half Baked also recommends using high quality butter and vanilla extract. She also warns that dropping them into the powdered sugar is the tricky part. Too soon and the sugar melts and you burn your fingertips, too late the cookie cools the sugar doesn’t stick well.
I used macadamia nuts as the nut in this recipe. I also decided to put green food coloring in my recipe to make them more festive, although this is probably a cardinal sin for this cookie. The cookies were very easy to make and were soooo delicious! I will definitely be making these again.
The only time consuming part was rolling them one by one in the powdered sugar (since I made a double batch). I also probably left them in the oven a couple of minutes too long but the powdered sugar covered up any brown spots.
My fancy attempt to photograph these delicious cookies:
Russian Tea Cakes
1 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup finely chopped nuts
1/4 teaspoon salt
1. Heat oven to 400ºF.
2. Mix butter, 1/2 cup powdered sugar and the vanilla in large bowl. Stir in flour, nuts and salt until dough holds together.
3. Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Place about 1 inch apart on ungreased cookie sheet.
4. Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until set but not brown. Remove from cookie sheet. Cool slightly on wire rack.
5. Roll warm cookies in powdered sugar; cool on wire rack. Roll in powdered sugar again