Christmas cookie platters on display in stores and on lovely tables all over the world include some variation of this classic cookie with a cake name. When I was growing up, we called them Russian Tea Cakes and they were made with chopped raw walnuts. They are also commonly called Snowballs and Mexican Wedding Cakes. I’ve always thought they are too big, too messy to eat in public, and often undercooked when meant to be a bit of buttery and nutty perfection.
While in college and spending my summers as cook and housekeeper to a wealthy family whose summer “cabin” on Bainbridge Island is about four times the size of the average two-bedroom room, the missus suggested that cookies for an afternoon tea party be made smaller. I agreed then and still agree that many retail cookies, especially the singles, are too big for one serving. Personally, I don’t find a leftover portion of a cookie wrapped in a napkin to be appetizing. However, her point, if she’d been a southern lady, would have been that eating a large cookie in front of others is unladylike.
I adopted her policy thereafter. Single serving cookie. Have two if you want, but no napkin leftovers. No gigantosaurus cookies unless made for a specific purpose, birthday request, etc.
The policy has carried to the extreme in my version of Russian Tea Cakes, along with a slight change in the recipe to suit my palate and scent appreciator and with a different process. Yesterday morning the day started with the aroma of roasted pecans. It ended with the big yellow Tupperware bowl full of mini teacakes which started as little balls of dough 1/4″ in diameter, lots and lots of them. The result is a bitesize cookie that has cake in its name and some people eat them like popcorn. They are a true star.
1 c. butter, softened (not melted)
1/2 c. powdered sugar
1 t. vanilla
2 1/4 c. flour
1/4 t. salt
3/4 c. roasted pecans, chopped
- Mix the butter and powdered sugar until very light and fluffy.
- Add vanilla.
- Add flour and salt.
- Add nuts.
- Let dough rest, covered, while you do other things for a few hours. Don’t refrigerate it (as many recipes suggest.)
- When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Using parchment paper as your rolling area ON A COOKIE SHEET, roll big spoonfuls of the dough with your hands into ropes about 1/4″ thick. Using a regular table knife that does NOT have a serrated edge, cut the ropes into 1/4″ pieces of dough. Spread them out all over the parchment, no need to worry about exact distance between them, just some space so the tiny balls don’t touch each other.
- Bake 8 minutes until barely golden. Let sit on wire rack for a minute or two, then pour them into a big bowl with additional powdered sugar. Roll them in it (I use a big slotted spoon) then sieve off the extra powdered sugar, put the cookies into another temporary bowl.
- Repeat. (It takes me four trips to the oven per batch.) When all are done and cool, transfer to an airtight storage container along with the remaining powdered sugar from the big bowls. This process avoids the normal step of re-coating the cookies by hand. The transfer process does it for the baker.