Crumbly and buttery Russian Tea Cakes, with a heavy dusting of confectioner’s sugar, are the perfect addition to your Christmas cookie tray.
It’s hard to believe it’s already December. Nebraska got its first taste of winter over Thanksgiving when an icy storm dumped sleet and ice over the state. I bundled up and spent most of the holiday baking Christmas cookies, which you’ll see on the blog in the next few weeks. Today I’m sharing one of my favorite Christmas recipes: Grandma Betty’s Pistachio Russian Tea Cakes.
Light-as-air Russian Tea Cakes were always the first cookie I reached for from Grandma Betty’s Christmas cookie tray. With a heavy dusting of powdered sugar and crumbly, nutty center, Russian Tea Cakes are utterly addictive.
Also known as Mexican Wedding Cakes, the origins of this simple recipe date back as far as medieval times. Historically known as jumble cookies, Russian Tea Cakes are a mixture of butter, flour, sugar and ground nuts. Immediately after the cookies are baked, they’re rolled in powdered sugar while still hot, and then again after they’ve cooled. European jumble cookies are usually made with walnuts, hazelnuts or almonds, while Mexican and American versions often use pecans.
I’ve been making Grandma Betty’s cookies for as long as I remember. When I went away to college in Canada, I often baked these cookies when I knew I wouldn’t make it home for Christmas. This recipe comes from a cookbook compiled by our family friend, Susan. In the notes, Susan remembers her own mother making a similar recipe, which she called Snowballs or nut balls, for Christmas. I wanted to put my own spin on Betty’s beloved cookies, so I swapped in pistachios for the traditional pecans.
Pistachio Russian Tea Cakes are easy to make in the food processor—no bowl required. After lightly toasting the pistachios, I ground them to the consistency of coarse sand in the food processor. I set them aside in a small bowl, and then added butter, sugar, flour, the ground nuts and a pinch of salt to the food processor. After a few pulses to combine, I had a moist, firm dough.
I like to let the dough chill for an hour or two, and then roll it into balls and bake. Aside from roasting the nuts and shaping and baking the cookies, the prep time on this recipe is about five minutes. As soon as the cookies come out of the oven, and while they’re still hot, I roll them in a heavy coating of confectioner’s sugar and then allow them to cool. Then, right before serving, I roll them in sugar again.
Ground pistachios add a layer of savory intrigue while a touch of lemon zest adds a delicate citrus aroma to these sweet, buttery cookies. I’ve posted a lot of cookie recipes on Lexi Bites over the past year—German Vanilla Crescents, Grandma Betty’s Polish Cream Cheese Kolacky, Orange Blossom Sables and Potato Chip Chocolate Chunk Cookies—but if you’re only going to bake one recipe, I hope it’s Grandma Betty’s Russian Tea Cakes.
- ¾ cup toasted pistachios, finely chopped (or your other favorite nuts)
- 1 cup (2 sticks) butter
- ½ cup confectioner's (powdered) sugar
- 2¼ cup all purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- In a small saucepan, toast nuts until fragrant but not browned. Allow to cool and then place in a food processor. Pulse until finely chopped, about the texture of coarse sand. Remove and reserve in a small bowl.
- Add butter, confectioner's sugar, flour, vanilla extract, salt and reserved nuts to bowl of food processor. Pulse just until dough forms into a call. Place in a small bowl, cover and chill 1-2 hours.
- When ready to bake, heat oven to 400 degrees. Form dough into 1-inch balls.
- Bake on parchment-lined baking tray for 13-15 minutes or until lightly golden.
- While warm, roll in additional confectioner's sugar. When cool and just before serving, roll again in confectioner's sugar.
- Store cookies for up to 3 days or freeze for up to 6 months.