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- 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- ½ cup confectioners' sugar, plus 1 cup sifted, for rolling
- ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 2¼ cups all-purpose flour
- 1 cup ground walnuts, preferably toasted*
*Note: To toast the walnuts, bake them at 350 degrees until they are aromatic and lightly golden, about 8–10 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Have ready ungreased cookie sheets.
In a large bowl, with an electric mixer, beat together the butter, the ½ cup confectioners' sugar, the cinnamon, and salt on medium speed until smooth and creamy, about 2 minutes. On low speed, gradually beat in the flour and then the nuts just until mixed. The dough will be stiff and somewhat crumbly.
Pinch off pieces of the dough and roll between your palms into 1-inch balls. Place on the cookie sheets, spacing them about 1½ inches apart.
Bake in the center of the oven until the tops are set to the touch and the bottoms are lightly golden, about 10 minutes. Let the cookies cool on the cookie sheets until they are still warm but are firm enough to handle without crumbling.
Spread 1 cup sifted confectioners' sugar on a plate. Roll the warm cookie in the sugar, coating them evenly. Set on wire racks to cool completely. When the cookies have cooled, roll them again lightly in the sugar.
Russian Tea Cakes
The history of Russian Tea Cakes is somewhat mysterious. They are also known as “Mexican Wedding Cakes”, “Italian Wedding Cookies“, “Snowball Cookies” or “Butter Balls”. It seems they first appeared in Eastern Europe, but it is known that they were served in 18th century Russia during tea ceremonies. European nuns brought the recipe with them to Mexico where they worked as missionaries. Mexicans added a pinch of cinnamon or anise to the recipe and started serving them at wedding parties.
This recipe reminds me of my mothers’ Vanilla Crescent Cookie recipe, which has been in our family for a long time. Ingredients are pretty similar, the only difference being that there is an egg in the mixture. Christmas in our house was inconceivable without those cookies.
I started with a Betty Crocker’s recipe for Russian Tea Cakes. I wanted to make them even more delicate and melt-in-your mouth, so I used less flour. I also doubled the amount of vanilla and lowered the amount of salt. Instead of walnuts I used ground hazelnuts (filbert nuts) since I like their flavor better and they are not bitter like walnuts. Although you can make walnuts less bitter by toasting them slightly. Almonds or pecans can also be used instead of walnuts/hazelnuts.
Most recipes for Russian Tea Cakes call for chopped nuts. I prefer ground nuts, so I put my (toasted and peeled) hazelnuts in a food processor and processed until about 2/3 hazelnuts were finely ground, while the rest were still chopped.
You will have to roll cookies in powdered sugar twice, if you want them to look pretty, because after first rolling, when cookies are still warm, the sugar will melt into the surface of cookies. After that, you need to let cookies cool completely and then roll them in powdered sugar once again.
Melt-in-your-mouth Russian Tea Cakes will certainly sweeten your every holiday celebration party!
Russian Tea Cakes Are A Classic Holiday Cookie!
I can’t believe I have never posted a recipe for a proper Snowball Cookie aka Russian Tea Cake here on the site! I’m doing my best to cover as many classics as I can here, so today we’re doing it.
These tea cakes are always around during the holidays and look so pretty on your Christmas Cookie platter. And they’re a great cookie to make because they will stay fresh for about a week, so you can space out your baking!
What is a Russian Tea Cake?
Despite the name, Russian Tea Cakes are actually a type of cookie. They’re often called pecan snowballs because they are round and dusted with powdered sugar, like snow.
Taste-wise, they are similar to a shortbread cookie, and are rich, buttery, and crumbly. In addition to a bit of crunch from the chopped pecans, Granny add a healthy dose of chocolate, which takes them to the next level!
Note from Sara: These cookies crumble and sugar tends to fall off. I always need a napkin in hand with these cookies. The taste is totally worth a few crumbs and powdered sugar.
For your convenience in re-creating this recipe at home, we’ve included shop-able ad links to some of the products and supplies used. Read our disclosure policy here.
Old-Fashioned Buttermilk Tea Cakes
Old-fashioned tea cakes are a Southern classic. Despite their name, tea cakes are not a cake, but, rather, a soft, sweet cookie with a cake-like texture. As their name implies, tea cakes were meant to be enjoyed with a cup of tea.
The list of ingredients to make tea cakes is short and simple, which reflects a time when food had to be stretched to feed a family, and people made do with their limited resources. The result is a refreshingly simple, comforting, and nostalgic treat that remains popular to this day.
These old-fashioned tea cakes get a modern update with electric mixer instructions and preparation tips, but the formula is close to the original method. Buttermilk adds a pleasant hint of tang, but otherwise the cookies are plain and not overly sweet. If you crave more sweetness, you can add an additional 1/4 to 1/2 cup of sugar to the recipe.
For easy rolling, lightly flour (or dust with confectioners' sugar) a piece of waxed paper or parchment paper, then flour the top of the dough. Put another piece of waxed paper or parchment paper on top of the dough and gently roll it out. This method reduces the amount of flour you would otherwise have to add to keep the dough from sticking.
Walnut Tea Cake
This buttery, light cake is speckled with walnuts and notes of citrus then layered together with a fruit preserve center. It’s a seasonal treat that is perfect for cozy Autumn days and holiday occasions as well.
Today, we’re serving up a slice of Walnut Tea Cake alongside Bigelow Pumpkin Spice Tea. If you’re interested in trying Bigelow, hover over the image below to shop their variety of seasonal and classic blends available at Walmart!
“Of all the wonders of nature, a tree in summer is perhaps the most remarkable: with the possible exception of a moose singing ‘Embraceable You’ in spats,” as Woody Allen remarked.
Now, in light of today’s product, you might be asking “What does any of that have to do with tea or walnut cake?”
There answer is plainly that, for me, ‘Autumn in New York’ is the ‘most remarkable of all the wonders of nature,’ while pumpkin spice is the ‘singing moose’ portion of Mr. Allen’s equation. Cue a thousand pairs of rolled eyes. Yes, I know, the preponderance of “pumpkin spice everything” has entered the realm of meme material poking fun at leftover hipsters past their prime clinging to the ‘once cool lattes of yesteryear,’ but for me pumpkin spice is simply the flavor of the season. It’s warm and vaguely hardy, spicy in that ‘earthy’ way that conjures images of hearth and home, and it just…it tastes like the changing of the leaves.
For me, pumpkin spice is to autumn what tea is to a rainy day spent by the bay window combining those three things, well, now that’s simply bliss. Picture a lazy autumn morning, and a hot cup of natural pumpkin flavor, hints of licorice root, cinnamon, ginger and cloves, set against a backdrop of black tea. Naturally, I’m describing Bigelow Pumpkin Spice Tea.
Bigelow has been, my family’s tea of choice for quite literally my entire life due to its reliable quality and simply delicious flavor. Conveniently available at Walmart, the teas come in a convenient foil packaging which seals in freshness and flavor.
Today, alongside my seasonal favorite Pumpkin Spice, I’m also serving Earl Grey, another fine blend of black tea and bergamont oil from the gardens of Calabria.
Now, being who and what I am, why stop at the tea? Why not have an accompanying slice of ‘something’ that also comes packed with its own assortment of quintessential fall flavors? That, of course, brings us to today’s recipe – Walnut Tea Cake.
Today’s walnut cake is almost precisely what it sounds like – a walnut cake that pairs excellently with tea.
To start things off, we begin by buttering and flour dusting two nine inch baking pans. After that, combine butter and sugar in the amounts listed below, and mix them until they form a cream-like substance. Then add in six egg yolks to the butter and flour, one at time, beating the mixture thoroughly after each yolk.
After that, combine graham cracker crumbs, flour, baking soda, and salt, and mix thoroughly before adding to the sugar and flour mixture. Then stir in orange rind and chopped walnuts, and set it aside.
Now, whip six egg whites until they stiffen, you want to achieve nice sharp peaks. Once that’s done, fold the whites into the batter, and pour the batter into the prepared pans and bake for about forty minutes. Once the cakes have finished baking, let them cool and remove from their pans. Spread the apricot preserves over the flat side of one of the cakes, then assemble and dust with powdered sugar, and you’re done.
Russian tea cakes
I know that two days after Christmas, it’s impossible to be anything but cookie-d out, but I implore you to make room for just two more: one flawless recipe, and one baker’s trick that everyone should have in their repertoires.
The first is Russian Tea Cakes, also known as Mexican Wedding Cakes, also known as polvorones and, no doubt, dozens of other things. I just call them dreamy. Toasted nuts are ground into a fine powder — the Russian-style seems to call more often for hazelnuts, the Mexican ones typically demand pecans, but I’d argue you could use anything from walnuts to almonds (I bet those marcona ones would be dreamy) to Brazil or macadamia nuts — mixed into a fairly un-sweet butter cookie base, baked in little balls and then rolled, still warm in a cloud of powdered sugar, sometimes enhanced with a sprinkle of cinnamon. They melt in your mouth. They keep well for even two weeks, tasting better as they age. I think if I were a nut, and I suspect we know that I am, this is how I’d like to be showcased, even if it would mean a certain demise in many a gaping maw.
I made the cookies this time with hazelnuts, but confess that I liked them better when I made them last year with pecans — perhaps it’s their higher oily content? Next I’d like to try them with my favorite, walnuts. Epicurious has two recipes for these cookies, one labeled “Russian” one labeled “Mexican” and they are exactly the same except for two things: the Russian ones have a quarter-cup of additional nuts replacing a quarter-cup of flour, and the Mexican ones suggest you add an eighth of a teaspoon of cinnamon to the powdered sugar. As I’ve loved both (not realizing they were nearly identical until later), I am torn over which to share so below, I am combining the two. Evidently, today is Walk on the Wild Side Day here at Smitten Kitchen.
Finally, the baker’s trick: A couple weeks ago, I made those wee chocolate tartlets with a pate sucree so good, I couldn’t part with it. To keep myself from eating it raw — though we all know I still did — I rolled it out, cut it with cookie cutters, brushed the tops with cream and sprinkled coarse sugar on them. I didn’t have enough to do this, but they would have made perfect sandwich cookies, filled with some ganache or seedless raspberry jam. The moral of the story: waste not those scraps! I don’t mean to seem superficial, but pretty much anyone who brings me a tin filled with a pile of sparkly homemade cookies is guaranteed to be asked over again. Isn’t it the same for everyone?
Russian Tea Cakes [a.k.a. Mexican Wedding Cakes or Polvorones]
Adapted from Epicurious
1 cup (8 ounces or 225 grams) butter, room temperature
2 cups (240 grams) powdered sugar
2 teaspoons (10 ml) vanilla extract
2 cups (250 grams) all purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt (updated!)
1 cup (about 110 grams) pecans, hazelnuts or other nuts, toasted and finely ground (if using hazelnuts, wrap in a dishtowel while still warm and roll about until most of the brown skins come off)
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional)
Using electric mixer, beat butter in large bowl until light and fluffy. Add 1/2 cup powdered sugar and vanilla beat until well blended. Beat in flour, salt, and then nuts. Divide dough in half form each half into ball. Wrap separately in plastic chill until cold, about 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350°F. Whisk remaining 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar and cinnamon, if using, in pie dish to blend. Set cinnamon sugar aside.
Working with half of chilled dough, roll dough by 2 teaspoonfuls between palms into balls. Arrange balls on heavy large baking sheet, spacing 1/2 inch apart. Bake cookies until golden brown on bottom and just pale golden on top, about 18 minutes. Cool cookies 5 minutes on baking sheet. Gently toss warm cookies in cinnamon sugar to coat completely. Transfer coated cookies to rack and cool completely. Repeat procedure with remaining half of dough. (Cookies can be prepared 2 days ahead. Store airtight at room temperature reserve remaining cinnamon sugar.)
Can you freeze Russian Tea Cake cookies?
Yes, you can free them. They last about two months in the freezer. Always freeze them raw after you have rolled into balls but before you roll them in powdered sugar. I layer my cookie balls out on a piece of parchment paper then place them on a cookie sheet. Then I place them in the freezer for two hours or until firm. Once frozen remove from cookie sheet and add cookies to a gallon ziplock bag or tuber wear container.
When defrosting place each cookie on parchment paper spaced 1 inch away from the other cookies. This keeps the cookies from sweating and sticking together. Allow the cookies to reach room temperature. This process can take a few hours depending on your house tempter. If you choose to cook these cookies frozen you will want to add 1-3 more minutes to your bake time.
Coffee and Walnut Cake
slightly adapted from a BBC Food recipe serves 8 to 12
- 225g (2 sticks) butter, at room temperature (if using unsalted, add 1/4 tsp salt)
- 225g (1 cup) caster sugar
- 4 eggs, preferably organic, free range
- 30ml (2 Tbsp) strong espresso coffee
- 1/2 tsp espresso powder (I used a little mortar and pestle to make it super fine)
- 225g (2 cups) self-raising flour
- 50g (1/3 cup) finely chopped walnuts
- 145g (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
- pinch of salt
- 500g (4 1/2 cups) confectioner’s/powdered sugar
- about 75ml (about 4 Tbsp) strong espresso coffee
- 8 to 12 walnut halves for the top of the cake (pick the best ones)
Grease or spray 2, 8″ cake pans. Line the bottom with parchment paper, grease, and dust the entire pans with flour.
Make the Cakes
Preheat the oven to 350F (180C)
Using a stand mixer, hand mixer or by hand, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add an egg to the butter and sugar mixture and blend thoroughly.
Add about a quarter of the flour and mix until cleared. Repeat with the remaining eggs and flour until the eggs and flour are used.
The cake mixture will be light and creamy.
Add the chopped nuts. Stir the espresso powder into the liquid espresso, then add to the mixture.
Blend well, then divide the cake mixture into the prepared 8″ cake tins.
Bake for about 30 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean. Cake will be a lovely golden brown color.
Allow the cakes to cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then carefully remove and place on cooling racks (remove the paper.)
Make the Buttercream
Blend all the ingredients for the buttercream together until you have a smooth and creamy frosting.
Decorate the Cake
If the cakes aren’t flat on top, cut them so that they are level (I like to use this super inexpensive tool.) Then either spread or pipe just under half of the frosting on one layer of the cake (the cut side.)
Place the second layer on top. Be sure to put the cut side down (so both cut sides are facing each other in the middle.) Spread the frosting on the top. This is a very rustic cake, so don’t worry if you don’t get it to look perfect.
Next, pipe rosettes on top of the cake (or you can place dollops of frosting) for 8, 10 or 12 walnut halves to sit on, depending on how many slices you want to have.
Lastly, add a walnut half to each rosette.
That’s it! You’ve just made a classic British coffee and walnut cake!
You can dig in, or put it in the fridge for a while which will set the buttercream and make slicing and serving a bit less messy.
How many of you like the Walnut tea cakes from McRennet.
Well, this is as good as that.
My Grandmom is staying with us for a couple of days, and she absolutely loves this cake. So I went ahead and whipped this up last week for her. She was delighted. And she’s a picky person who just wouldn’t eat anything that does not taste good.
Walnut Cake Makes 6 slices
– 100gms plain flour
– 1/2 tsp baking powder and a pinch of baking soda. A pinch of salt perhaps?
– 100gms butter
– 100gms sugar. Powder it coarsely, helps it to combine easily. Saves a lot of time spent beating it to dissolve it.
– A generous splash of vanilla extract. What would I do without vanilla?
– 1 large egg
– A handful of walnuts chopped up coarsely.
– Hot water, about 1/2 cup. Use as needed. Not the whole thing.
– Preheat the oven to 180°C. Butter and line the baking tin.
– In a large mixing bowl, add the butter, sugar, egg and vanilla extract. If the butter is cold, leave the bowl covered to let the butter soften up a bit.
– When the butter has softened, beat with an electric mixer till everything is frothy and combined. Sugar must not be grainy any more, and the whole thing would go on to become a pale yellow colour.
– Sieve the flour, baking powder and baking salt directly into the above mixture. If you are adding a pinch of salt, add it to the mixture directly.
– Stir gently just to combine. Once combined, stop! Do not beat, use a spatula preferably.
– Add the chopped walnuts.
– If the batter is too thick, add some hot water to thin up the batter to pouring consistency. Not too runny. And don’t beat!
– Bake at 180°C / 350°F for 25-30 minutes. A skewer inserted into the center should come clean. Let cool completely before removing from the tin.
– First, sieve the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Keep it aside. The sieving makes the flour lighter and less dense. Sieving helps. It also helps distribute the baking powder over the flour. So sieve them all at least twice or thrice.
– Beat the egg till pale and frothy. I beat it with a few drops of lemon juice as the acid in lime helps stabilize the eggs. Packs the air in the air bubbles for a longer time. Then add the softened butter and sugar, and beat till very pale and creamy.
– Add the vanilla extract, and stir.
– Mix the sieved flour and fold. Don’t beat. Fold. Fold only till the flour is dampened with the egg mixture. Sometimes the mixture will turn out a little too stiff and dry. So if you feel that the wet ingredients aren’t wet enough for the flour, just add a little cold milk. Now add the chopped walnuts, halfway through the folding process, and fold till the entire mixture is combined.
– Pour into a baking tin, lined with parchment paper and buttered on all sides.
– Off it goes into a pre-heated oven at 180°C / 350°F for around 25-30 minutes. Start checking on it from 15 minutes. You’ll know it’s done when a metal skewer inserted into the center comes out clean, and not sticky.
That’s it! Enjoy your rich, and yet subtle walnut cake. There’s no need to ice this cake, and is perfect for tea time! The same recipe can be divided to make cupcakes.