Russian Tea Cakes

Russian Tea Cakes

A Favorite Christmas Cookie

Russian Tea Cake dough

“It’s not Christmas. No, said Cal, it’s better than Christmas.”

East of Eden, John Steinbeck


This Christmas cookie has been splashed across the internet and a version of the recipe can be found in every cookbook that has cookies as its theme. Of all the Christmas cookies I make this is the most requested. Russian Tea Cakes are the first holiday cookie of the season. A nutty shortbread cookie rolled in powdered sugar, simple to make and even easier to devour. There are many names and variations for this cookie, Mexican Wedding Cakes, Polvorones, made with cinnamon, pecans, walnuts or hazelnuts. I use the recipe my mom used. Changing a family favorite can be treacherous, especially at the holidays. I wouldn’t dream of adding cinnamon, although I imagine it would be fabulous. Over the years I have made a few tweaks. We grew up with cookies made with margarine and walnuts as butter and pecans were too expensive. I migrated to butter, added another handful of walnuts and toasted them before adding to the dough. With my changes the Russian Tea Cakes must taste better. But childhood memories can’t be argued with. Even though I know butter tastes better than margarine the best cookies I’ve ever had at Christmas were the ones my mom and I made together. That’s an ingredient you can’t buy at the store or include in a recipe, even though that’s what we’re all looking for at Christmas.

Tea Cakes and Powered Sugar

We race faster than ever during the holidays. Speeding into another year we toss the old aside. We move on. And yet there is a deep longing, an ache that we bury with our busyness. We yearn for connection, a reason that makes some sense of our lives. Christmas is not in the glamour or the gifts. (Yes they are nice, very nice.) Pause amid the holiday commotion. Take a few deep breaths, find time to make those memories and savor them. They will last longer than a zillion cookies or the most extravagant gift. That’s where the sparkle and shine can be found. Amid the chaos and frenzy look into your heart and feel the cookie magic. Make it happen this year. Then it will be Christmas.

Russian Tea Cakes


This is the quintessential Christmas cookie, warm and soothing, evoking the comfort of a blazing fire on a cold day. Decadent, indulgent just as a holiday treat should be from lots of butter framed by a backdrop of walnuts and all wrapped up in a snowy coating of powdered sugar. Use the best butter you can for this recipe. If you’re going to make shortbread for Christmas there is no reason to skimp. Take the time to toast the nuts, the tasty rewards will be in every cookie. A sweet reminder to store powdered sugar in the freezer and it will remain lump free. No sifting required.

1C walnuts or pecans
1C unsalted butter, softened
2-3C powdered sugar, sifted if not kept in the freezer
1t vanilla
1/2t fine grain sea salt
2-1/4C all-purpose flour
  1. Heat the oven to 350°. Spread the walnuts across the surface of a sheet pan and toast for 8-10 minutes until they are fragrant and turn toasty brown. Cool and then finely chop.
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment add the butter and 1/2 cup of the powdered sugar and begin mixing on low speed. Increase the speed and mix just until the powdered sugar is throughly combined with butter. Add the vanilla and mix again. Stop and scrape down the sides and bottom of the mixer bowl. When the vanilla is throughly incorporated add the flour and salt. Mix just until the dough comes together and then mix in the nuts. Chill the dough until it is stiff before baking.
  3. Heat the oven to 375°. Line a sheet pan with parchment. Scoop the cookies in uniform amounts by using an ice cream scoop or measuring spoon. I prefer the cookies on the small side, about two teaspoons in size. Roll the cookie dough into round balls and space 2 inches apart on the sheet pan. Bake for 8-10 minutes, just until the bottom edges of the cookies begin to brown. Cool for five minutes and then roll in powdered sugar. Let the cookies cool completely and then roll in powdered sugar again.

Jingle Bells

Russian Tea Cakes

Gift of Russian Tea Cakes

39 Replies to “Russian Tea Cakes”

  1. This has caused me to stop and think about whether I made Christmas cookies with my mother and I’m surprised to realize we never did. There were salt dough ornaments cut from cookie cutters and painted, but no cookies. Good memories regardless. I love these little powdered cookies it’s not a small challenge to enjoy just one or two! Lovely light in your photos — really wonderful!

    1. Thank you for stopping by and sharing your thoughts Kelly! I appreciate it! My mom and I also made salt dough ornaments, she was always keeping her hands and mind busy creating.

  2. Oh Deb.

    Memories cannot be bought. So right!

    These are beautiful, the story and the cookies.

    You always astound me, yes astound me with how much atmosphere you create in your photos.

    Beautiful and the very best wishes for the season XXX

  3. Now isn’t that just the way, I ate some of these at a party the other day for the first time and fell in love with them. Now I know where to come for my Christmas Cookie fix. Thank you so much
    And I want to wish you a belated Merry Christmas, I’m sure it was wonderful. and to wish you a super New Year my friend x

    1. Claire thank you so much for stopping by and leaving such a gracious comment! I appreciate your friendship! Happy holidays!

  4. Just wanted to say that I am now making these cookies – so easy and they smell fabulous. I adulterated slightly with a pinch of ground cardamom for extra Christmassy-ness. This is the sweet pressie and the savoury is my preserved lemons, just now posted on my site. Thanks for this!

  5. Like Lynda, I was just starting to look at recipes for these (and Mexican wedding cookies). No need to look any further! We have been doing homemade gifts and charity donations the past fews years and I like to make something sweet and something savoury. Thanks for this, and have a wonderful Christmas

    1. Thank you for the lovely comment Kellie, much appreciated! Have a joyful Christmas with family and friends!

  6. My grandmother used to make these – now I finally know what they were called. Thanks for another lovely post, Deb, and have a Merry Christmas!

  7. I thought these were Mexican wedding cookies! Mexico. Russia. Details Schmeetails! 😀 Just call them DELISH! Happy Holidays from DC! 😀

  8. I love the way these cookies melt in your mouth and create clouds of powdered sugar in the process! Beautiful post – thank you for the gentle reminder to slow down and savor. It’s exactly what I need at the moment!

    1. Thank you for the lovely comment Laura! I found myself all wrapped up in a holiday frenzy yesterday. Sigh, pausing and starting over today!

  9. You brought tears to my eyes Deb. This is exactly the cookie I was planning on making this weekend. It’s the only cookie my husband’s mom used to make and he yearns for it every year. I think she used the original Betty Crocker recipe and this looks very similar. He likes them a certain way (that memory from childhood) so I hope that this one and the Betty Crocker one my friend sent me come close!

    Your photos are lovely as usual and I learned something new about the powdered sugar. Have a wonderful holiday season Deb and my wish for the New Year, among several, is to finally meet you in person!

    1. Thank you for the gracious comment Beth! Your kindness is just the inspiration I crave this busy weekend! The recipe is indeed the Betty Crocker recipe (there is a link in the post). Over the years I’ve made two changes, toasting the walnuts and increasing the amount from 3/4 cup to 1 cup. Most other (similar) recipes use more powdered sugar in the cookie dough. I find those cookies overly sweet after all the rolling about in the powdered sugar. But then I am baking a family favorite and another recipe just wouldn’t be the same!

    1. Thank you for the scrumptious comment Paula. Pistachios would be amazing! Butterballs is a perfect description for these cookies! They are also called snowballs!

    2. Deb, this has always been my favorite cookie. In fact, I did a post on Mexican Wedding Cookies last year and our recipes are quite similar. They are a top selection among my picks for which cookies to make every Holiday Season. Growing up my family made a cookie with basically the same ingredients but they were in the shape of a crescent. The most basic of ingredients, plus a dusting of powdered sugar make a memorable cookie indeed.

    3. Thank you for the lovely comment Mary! There are so many sublime variations of this classic shortbread cookie and they are all scrumptious!

  10. I love the sound of rolling the cookies in sugar – I have never had these before. Your presentation of them is gorgeous! Wonderful photos!

    1. Thank you for the lovely comment Cathy! The Russian Tea Cakes are very buttery and the powdered sugar clings and melts to form a snowy coating for the melt in your mouth cookies.

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