The cookie itself is lightly sweet and similar to a pecan sandie. A dusting of confectioner’s sugar provides the finishing touch of flavor and looks so pretty, too. (And for those with allergies–no eggs and a gluten-free option!)
In the world of cookies, snowballs are neither cold nor wet, but they do pair well with hot chocolate!
The classic holiday treats are round, bite-sized butter cookies that are studded with finely chopped nuts. Once baked, the cookies are rolled in confectioner’s sugar to give them their signature snowy white appearance.
The absence of eggs and low overall moisture content in these cookies lends to the light, crumbly texture they are known for. Essentially, the drier dough prevents the cookies from spreading.
Texture and flavor-wise, I’d compare the interior of these cookies to a pecan sandie. Of note, the main recipe contains a scarce one-third cup of sugar. So, the final dusting of confectioner’s sugar provides welcome flavor without an overly sweet end result.
For those who enjoy history, the origin of these cookies has been traced back to medieval Arab baking, which made use of ingredients like butter, sugar, spices, and nuts. As trade routes broadened, the confection made its way from the Middle East to various parts of Europe.
Historians believe that European nuns or Spanish conquistadors brought these cookies to Mexico in the 16th century, and they became customary at celebratory events. As such, the cookies became known as Mexican Wedding Cookies.
Many other countries have similar treats, from the Greek Kourabiedes, Swedish Heirloom Cookies, Russian Tea Cookies, Danish Smør Bullar, Turkish Kurabiye, and the Czech Republic’s Vanilla Crescents. I’ve even seen what I know as a snowball referred to as Southern Pecan Butterballs. If you’ve heard of other variations, please mention in the comment section!
Whatever the name, the common denominators are the round shape, the inclusion of butter, the powdered sugar coating, and the absence of eggs and leaveners. Finely chopped nuts are a staple as well. Although depending on the recipe’s origins–or perhaps the preference of the baker–the type of nut does vary from recipe to recipe, from walnuts and pecans to hazelnuts or almonds.
Tips for the best Snowballs:
Make sure the butter is softened to room temperature. There is very little liquid in this recipe, so the batter will not come together easily when the butter is still somewhat firm.
To chop nuts quickly, pulse them in the food processor. You want them very finely chopped but not sand-like. A few bigger pieces are fine, too. I often buy pecans that are already coarsely chopped, but for these cookies, I chop them more finely.
To enhance the nutty flavor, you may toast the pecans or nut of choice for 8-10 minutes at 300°F, watching closely in the last few minutes. (I often skip this step and the cookies still taste delicious.)
Snowball cookies don’t spread, so you can place them close together on the baking sheet.
I roll the cookies in the confectioner’s sugar a single time. Some people, however, prefer a double coating, either for the added sweetness or for the visual appeal of a very evenly coated cookie. I mention those details in the recipe notes.
The cookies will keep at room temperature for up to a week. They also freeze well–both the baked cookies and the batter–for up to 3 months.
For evenly-portioned cookies, I like to use a small ice cream scoop. For those who use a kitchen scale, you’ll get the stated yield if you use 21 grams of dough per cookie.
Roll into smooth balls with your hands.
The cookies will not spread, so they may be situated closely together on the baking sheet. I place the entire batch on one sheet.
After baking: Place the confectioner’s sugar in a paper or zip-top bag and then add the baked cookies, a few at a time. Gently roll the cookies around or lightly shake the bag to evenly coat the cookies.
After baking: Place the confectioner’s sugar in a paper or zip-top bag, and then add the cookies a few at a time. Gently shake and roll the cookies around to evenly coat them. Alternatively, you could place the sugar in a bowl and roll the cookies to coat.
I use my fingers to remove the cookies from the bag, but you could use a fork if preferred.
If you’d like to touch up cookies that have been frozen, you may sift a little extra confectioner’s sugar overtop. My mom recently added some silver shimmer (not pictured, but available in the baking aisle and at craft stores like Michael’s), which really made the cookies sparkle like snow!
Despite what the sugar coating suggests, these cookies are not overly sweet (the main recipe calls for just one-third cup of sugar), but they are light, crisp, nutty, and delicious.
A classic holiday cookie (with no eggs) that mixes up in a single bowl, this foolproof recipe tastes like a sugar-dusted pecan sandie and looks so pretty, too.
2¼ cups (281g) all-purpose flour* (a cup-for-cup GF blend works well, too)
⅓ cup (67g) granulated sugar
1 tablespoon (15ml) water or liqueur, such as Kahlua or Grand Marnier
1 teaspoon (5ml) vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
¾ cup (86g) finely chopped pecans (could use walnuts or almonds)
¾ cup (85g) confectioner’s sugar
Pre-heat the oven to 325℉.
In a large bowl, beat the butter until soft.
Add half of the flour, all of the granulated sugar, water or liqueur, vanilla, and salt. Beat to thoroughly combine.
Beat in the remaining flour, followed by the nuts.
Shape the dough into balls (about 1½ tablespoons each). For consistently sized cookies, I like to use a small ice cream scoop.
Bake on an ungreased cookie sheet for 20 minutes or until the bottoms are lightly browned. Cool on a rack.
Add the confectioner’s sugar to a zip-top or paper bag. Gently shake a few cookies at a time to coat the cookies. Remove to a plate.
*When measuring the flour by volume instead of using a scale, be sure to fluff it up, spoon it into the measuring cup (rather than scooping into the flour with the cup), and then level with the straight edge of a knife. This will ensure the flour isn’t compacted, which can lead to too much flour being used.
For a heavier coating of confectioner’s sugar: I roll the cookies in the sugar once, but some people like a more liberal coating, oftentimes for the extra white appearance. To do this, allow the cookies to cool for 5 minutes on the baking sheet, then gently roll them in the confectioners’ sugar to coat. Place the cookies back on wire racks to cool completely. Once completely cooled, roll them in the confectioners’ sugar again.
Storage: Store cookies in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week. The cookies may also be frozen for up to 3 months. The unbaked dough freezes well for up to 3 months, too; thaw it in the refrigerator overnight and then allow to come to room temperature before baking.
To “freshen” the snow of cookies that have been packaged for freezing or may simply have some bare spots, you may sift additional powdered sugar over the top. I like to use a fine mesh sieve and gently tap it with my hand.