A Few of My Favorite Things: Russian Tea Cakes

December 25, 2009


Cakes, Cookies, Dough & Desserts, Fall, Holidays, Recipes, Seasons, Spring, Summer, Winter

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Christmas! And I’m staring at a half a plate of Russian Tea Cakes, lips white with powdered sugar. Like ginger snaps, these were not my first choice as a child, although they have moved high up the list of foods to appreciate. First of all, they are not super sweet—don’t be fooled by their coat of confectioners’ sugar. Second of all, they are on the dry side. They crumble and crunch, filled with a semi-sweet dough and lots of little nuts. Thirdly, they are not dipped in, filled with, or coated in chocolate.

But, they persisted in my house, a Christmas tradition handed down by my Polish Great Grandmother. When I was a kid I imagined that Russian Tea Cakes were the only cookies in Eastern Europe. It seemed fitting: they’re not too decadent, don’t require too many ingredients and seem like little snowballs that could be drifting around the other side of the Iron curtain. Even though I didn’t like them much, I used to brag about these little tea-cakes, proud was I of their ancestral history. As a kid, I described to friends and classmates that we still had my Great Grandmother’s recipe, well worn and sugar-coated on an aging index card.


Then I found out that they’re also called Mexican Wedding Cakes. They are, as it turns out, a rather ubiquitous cookie—not at all unique to Poland. This discovery was made a few years ago and only strengthened my disinterest. Now they had absolutely nothing to offer—except coveted space in my stomach where another cookie might fit instead.

Well time does a funny thing to taste buds. In a scant few years I’ve come to love these little morsels as much as any, comforted by the fact that multiple culture have laid claim just as I have. And although I’ve never had these at a wedding, they really do go great with tea, which is exactly how I’m enjoying them now.


Russian Tea Cakes AKA Mexican Wedding Cakes
Makes about 4 dozen

Preheat oven to 400.

Mix thoroughly together (a Kitchen Aid really helps)

1 c soft butter
½ c sifted confectioner’s sugar
1 t vanilla

Sift together and stir in

2 ¼ c sifted flour
¼ t salt
¾ c finely chopped walnuts (though pecans would do)

Have ready

1 ½ c sifted confectioners’ sugar

Chill dough. Don’t worry: it will look crumbly, but will form smooth balls when pressed between warm palms.

Roll dough into 1” balls. Place 2 ½ inches apart on an un-greased cookie sheet.

Bake approximately 10 minutes, or until just slightly brown.

Remove from heat and let sit just a few minutes—roll in sugar while still warm but not piping hot.

Roll once more in sugar after cookies have cooled completely.

Store in a sealed container for up to 5 days.

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