Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Russian Tea Cakes – A Great Holiday Cookie by Any Other Name

As the old joke goes, these Russian tea cakes might not be Russian, but at least they’re not cakes. No one knows exactly how these came to be known as Russian tea cakes, but nevertheless, they are quite delicious, very simple to make, and visually ideal for holiday entertaining.

And when I say “easy,” I mean really easy. You dump everything in a bowl, and mix it with your hands until combined. Professional pastry chefs will lose their minds, since we’re forgoing their precious “cream the butter and sugar” step, but the final product is identical, no matter which technique you use.

The only tricky thing here is the baking time, since there are so many variables. Things like the size of the dough balls, whether you use a silpat or parchment, how light or dark the sheet pan is, etc., can all effect the final time significantly.

I think this cookie tends to get under-cooked, and some recipes call for as little as 12 minutes at 350 F. I like these fairly golden, so I get that nice brown-butter flavor, and that took me about 20 minutes or so, which is why I gave such a wide range. Start checking at 15 minutes, and proceed from there.

Thanks to their snowy appearance, these “cakes” would be perfect for your holiday dessert spread, don’t feel like you have to wait for a wedding, or for some Russians to come over for tea. I really hope you give these a try soon. Enjoy!


Makes about 28 to 32 Russian Tea Cakes:
1 cup (2 sticks) room temperature unsalted butter
1/3 packed cup powdered sugar (plus much more to coat finished cookies)
1 cup finely chopped walnuts (very lightly toast nuts in dry pan first for best results)
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- Roll into just slightly larger than 1-inch balls, bake at 350 F. for 15 to 25 minutes, or until lightly golden

34 comments:

joshua b said...

Can you make these a day ahead of time? I want to make them for my secret Santa budy at school.

Chef John said...

Yes, you can make the day before, but sometimes the nice white sugar fades, so maybe re-sugar before you serve!

Deborah J. said...

Love these! I grew up calling these "snowball cookies". At Christmas time we'd often substitute some chopped candied cherries for 1/3 of the nuts.

Laura Harmon said...

These are also known as Mexican Wedding Cakes, except I make mine with chopped pecans. These actually get better tasting over time. My mom would bake these by rolling them out and sprinkle red and green sugar on top and then bake. They were in time for Santa, but by New Year's, they really took on a better flavor!

Salih Uzun said...

meh would have liked metric measurements :(

watchingthesky said...

I think I've eaten a variation of this cookie before. It's made with ghee instead of butter. It was really good though and I'm going to try this one next.

Judy Uhl said...

I'm going to try your recipe this Christmas. Last Christmas I tried a different recipe and the cookies melted into the cookie sheet! Wish me luck!

MrEXPENDABLE100 said...

Chef John can we also use pecan nuts in this recipe? Or is the taste way better with walnuts 😊

Lino Navara said...

I dont want to be the one but i kindly ask you, can you use real masurements?
I am from europe and this cup spoon stuff does not work for me.

What is a cup of butter? We have 250g Packs.

Chef John said...

You know one thing I've never done? Taken a European recipe that had ingredients in metric, and asked the chef to convert it into U.S. measurements for me. I've already taken their recipe, so I certainly wouldn't expect them to also spend their valuable time doing math, when I could just convert it myself. I feel that would be inappropriate.

Caroline Zavala said...

Hello Chef John! I just wanted to ask if I can use pecans also? Love you channel and everything you cook is AMAZING!

Chef John said...

Of course you can use any nuts you like! Enjoy!

alw said...

Funny you should comment on the texture. I grew up in Texas, where they're made with pecans (of course) and are called... Pecan Sandies.

Justin said...

For Europeans that need conversion....

http://dish.allrecipes.com/cup-to-gram-conversions/

John said...

In the South we called these Mexican Wedding cookies...why Mexican? No clue. One of my favorites. Thanks.
John

Mitch H said...

Instead of nuts (sadly allergic) could I toast coconut and use that?

rodentraiser said...

Lino, just go to Google and type in 'cups to grams'. I got 1 cup of butter = 226.8 grams. As far as being precise, hey, that leaves you 23.2 grams left over. You can have the rest of the butter on toast or be like me: just throw the whole 250 grams of butter into the recipe and enjoy!

Tricia said...

Can I just skip the nuts and not substitute it with anything? Or will it ruin them?

Salih Uzun said...

meh I didn't even ask you to convert them, but at least you got your witty comment out :P

mattjeast said...

How long can this dough stay in the fridge before scooping into balls? I am going to make a batch for my daughter's teacher(s), but I want to save some dough for Christmas. There's about a week difference there.

Laura Harmon said...

My son had this idea when making these cookies; roll the dough into 2 logs and wrap with wax paper, saran wrap, or parchment and twist the ends until closed and freeze to make slice and bake cookies. It works very well to make a big batch and freeze some of it for baking later.

Tom said...

Hi John, I would like to make these for my gluten-free Wife. Have you ever used any of the gluten-free "flours" on the market? Maybe have a brand to recommend? Thanks!

Pridetoons Reviews said...

Hey Food Wishes I love your channel and your blog! I want to ask you can you make mincemeat pie? I've always wanted to try it. I wonder how you would make it?

miguel valencia said...

You lost me with all those nuts. Why do Americans insist on putting nuts in everything?

Salli Gillespie said...

Because nuts are delicioso! And, as Mom says, if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all.

Celeste - Japan said...

Down South we called them Butterballs and made them with pecans of course. Your recipe looks spot on...and now I want Butterballs!

JulieBoolie said...

I grew up with these being a necessary part of Christmas. Over the years I have made them anise flavored, lemon flavored, and bourbon flavored. Various nuts used according to my whim. All are great.

I wonder, Chef John, why a person cannot sign up for emailed updates by using just their email address? I recently discontinued all my reader services (such as Feedburner) as part of my KISS (keep it simple sxxxx). Media overload, I guess. But still...

Ana Zastrow said...

Dear Chef John, could you please teach us how to make amazing oatmeal raisin cookies? Thank you!

Vanja Vasiljevic said...

We have something similar here in Serbia... We just make it with lard mostly, tastes so much better :D and we have metal molds for that so every one look different. Anyway we call them "sapice" ,it means little paws, you can google it to see how they look :D Fun thing is older they are better is the taste, I have no idea why, but after a week or so it almost melts in your mount :D btw I love your recipes, made bunch of food by them and everything turned out good :D thanks :)

Jen said...

Instead of vanilla extract, what do you think about putting almond extract in?

Haas Mah said...

If I only had salted butter could I do it without adding salt?

Paulina Kedzior said...

These cookies are yummy and very easy to make. I didn't coat them in powdered sugar because i dont like a lot of powdered sugar on desserts and they were delicious anyway. Thank you chef John for another great recipe.

Dolly Sundstrom said...

Fabuloso.

Here in Seattle we're all so frugal that we keep our homes at 60F, so had to mix dough a bit longer to be pliable with my sorta hard butter. And our humidity is so high that sifting the powdered sugar sure makes life easier!

Delightful cookies!


Mark said...

Disaster! I let my three year old help mix and she was so enthusiastic that instead of dough texture I ended up more like thick soup. I put the batter in the fridge to firm it back up but upon baking it still cooked like chocolate chip cookies and melted and spread. The cookies are still delicious but they are so delicate they are easily crumbs. It would go great as a crumb topping but I need them for a cookie exchange tomorrow morning, so I actually need cookies. any ideas how I can "glue" them together?