Whatever you call them, snowballs, Russian tea cakes, Italian wedding cookies, or even Italian Wedding Christmas cookies, these powdery nutty cookies are a mainstay on most Christmas cookie platters. Despite their popularity, I had never made them before. My mom didn’t make these at Christmas, and I only had them a few times when we received cookies from other holiday bakers.
Given my novice understanding, I did some research to try to figure out just what the difference is between all of these white powdered ball cookies.
Well, the difference is slight. The difference is in the nut you use and sometimes in the extract you add. I found several recipes that used walnuts or almonds, some added vanilla extract, while others used almond or even anise extract.
I decided to go with a more traditional Italian version, to celebrate my own heritage but did add some extra almond extract for a ramped-up almond flavor.
I can see why these cookies are a classic. Even though I usually don’t love drier cookies, I still really enjoyed the crunch of these. The butter and almonds kept the inside moist while the outside gave a little snap when I bit into one. The powdered sugar gives the right sweetness while the butter and nuts give a rich savory balance.
Traditional Italian Wedding Christmas cookies are made in a crescent shape. I made half in a crescent shape and a half into balls. I preferred the ball shape just slightly because I felt like they were slightly more moist than the crescent shape. Also, the crescent shape didn’t cook quite as evenly as the ball shape. Both shapes still tasted great and the shape didn’t affect the flavor. If you do go for a crescent shape, just make sure to keep a close eye on your oven, as they tended to cook a bit faster than the ball shape.
Another tip—I coated these in powdered sugar right out of the oven, but found that rolling them a second time, after placing them on the rack for a few minutes in between, really gave me the coating I was looking for.
Do you make Italian wedding cookies (you might call them Russian tea cakes, or Snowballs) at Christmas? Which nut and extract do you use?
Italian Christmas Cookies Recipe
Adapted from Rocco DiSpirito
1 ½ cups unsalted butter, room temperature
¾ cups confectioners’ sugar, plus 1 cup for rolling
¾ teaspoon salt
1 ½ cups finely ground blanched almonds
5 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
3 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
- 1 ½ cups unsalted butter, room temperature
- ¾ cups confectioners’ sugar, plus 1 cup for rolling
- ¾ teaspoon salt
- 1 ½ cups finely ground blanched almonds
- 5 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon almond extract
- 3 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Cream butter in a bowl. Gradually add confectioners’ sugar and salt. Beat until light and fluffy. Add almonds, vanilla, and almond extract. Blend in flour gradually and mix well. Shape into balls or crescents using 1 teaspoon for each cookie. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet (I used parchment paper for easy clean-up), and bake for 15 minutes. Do not brown. Cool slightly and then roll in the extra confectioners’ sugar.