You can call these little gems Russian Tea Cakes, Mexican Wedding Cookies, or Snowball Cookies. Whatever you call them, they’re a favorite in the United States and elsewhere around Christmastime.
There’s much speculation about where these cookies actually originated. You’d think Mexico, but that’s not the case. And, you might say they’re from Russia, but that doesn’t appear to be true, either. Some suggest the cookies were first made by Arab bakers in medieval times. They commonly baked with spices, nuts, sugar, and butter. As the trade routes expanded, the cookies spread throughout Europe, England and Russia where they were often served with tea. They were probably served with tea in Arab countries, as well. Eventually, the recipe ventured over the ocean in the 16th century with conquistadors and nuns going to Mexico. Wherever they began, they ended up an international treat enjoyed by all, with tea and without.
What Makes This Mexican Wedding Cookie Recipe Special
All dishes change a bit as each person or culture touches them. So, of course, I had to add my own twist to the traditional Mexican Wedding Cookie recipe. The common ingredients in these cookies are butter, sugar, flour, and nuts baked into cookies and then rolled in powdered sugar.
Instead of granulated sugar in the dough. I used powdered sugar for a more tender mouthfeel. Then, I added cherries for a touch of sweet inside the cookie and buttermilk to hold the dough together better and to add just a hint of sour.
For a final touch I used a bit of ginger, cinnamon, and a touch of salt in the dough for even more flavor. To make sure the cookies had a good coating of powdered sugar, I took the cookies out of the oven halfway through the bake. When they were cool enough to touch, I rolled them their first coat of powdered sugar. Then I put them back in the oven to finish baking. Once they were done and cool enough, I rolled them in the powdered sugar again. These additions and modifications made an already delightfully rich and delicate cookie even better.
Tips and Tricks
Mexican Wedding Cookies are very easy to make, but here are a couple tips and tricks to make them even easier. You know I’m always harping on mise en place. So, read the entire recipe before you begin and gather all of your ingredients to make sure you have everything you need to make the cookies. Your butter should be room temperature before you start.
I used whole maraschino cherries in a jar. I found the easiest way to cut them up was to quarter them lengthwise then cut them into thirds horizontally. Use your own judgement based on the size of the cherries. A sharp knife will make this step a whole lot easier. You may also be able to find the cherries already chopped.
To make the cookies a uniform size, use a digital kitchen scale. Set it on grams, place a bowl or plate on it, zero it out using the tare function, then weigh the dough when it comes out of the fridge. Divide the weight by 36 to get the weight each cookie ball should be. Mine were 22 grams each, but I snuck some dough out of the bowl and ate it before I weighed it. Don’t judge me. Anyway, your weight might be a little different. If you don’t have a kitchen scale or don’t care if your cookies are all the exact same size, just roll the dough into about one inch balls and be done with it.
These cookies don’t make much of a mess when they’re baking. Still, I like to prepare the cookie sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat for easy cleanup.
Chop the pecans fairly small, but not so small that they turn to powder. You want your cookies to have some crunch when you bite into them.
Be sure to chill the dough for, at least an hour, before rolling into balls. Chilling sets the butter and makes the dough a lot easier to handle and much more cohesive.
Resist the urge to go past the recommended baking time. It’s hard to tell when Mexican Wedding Cookies are done baking. Their color and size don’t change a whole lot in the oven. Over-baking them will make them overly dry.
Make sure the cookies are cool enough to touch before you roll them in the sugar. You don’t want to burn yourself. Also, handle them gently when they’re warm so you don’t crush them.
Lastly, make sure the sugared cookies are completely cool before storing them. Warm cookies in a closed environment will cause condensation to form on the powdered sugar and make it runny and gooey.
Great for Cookie Exchanges
Cookie exchanges have become quite popular around the holidays and Mexican Wedding Cookies are a great favorite. With this recipe, you can be fairly sure your fellow cookie bakers won’t show up with the same cookie you do. (Unless, of course, this recipe goes viral and I get my own cooking show.) My only advice is to make sure you keep a batch at home for yourself, because the batch you take to the party won’t last long.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays! Let me know if you make this recipe and how it turned out. If you have any questions, put them in the comments below and I will do my best to help you out.
Want more cookies to bake for the holidays or any day? Try my Ultimate Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies recipe.
Nutritional information an estimate based on online calculators.