Melt-in-your-mouth butter balls, also known by many other names like Mexican wedding cakes, are a must on your holiday cookie platter.
Sandies, butter balls, Mexican wedding cakes, Russian tea cakes, snowballs, or pecan balls…whatever you might call them, these powdery white cookies all have something in common: they are buttery and nutty, with a crumbly texture, coated in powdered sugar, and one of the most-loved holiday cookies.
And every year, for as long as I remember, my mom has baked them. And her mother--my grandmother--baked them before her, and quite possibly her mother—my great-grandmother—baked them for my grandmother, and so on. Sometimes I bake butterballs along with my mom, sometimes I just make my own batch, and often they find their way onto my sister-in-law’s cookie platter. Honestly, it just wouldn’t be Christmas without them. (Of course, because I don’t eat pecans, we almost always leave them out, or I sometimes swap out the pecans for finely chopped toasted almonds. Walnuts will work too for those of you who like them!)
A simple mixture of butter, flour, powdered sugar, and nuts, plus a little salt and vanilla, is all you need to create these memorable little cakes. But the true beauty of these whatever-you-call-them cookies happens when they are still warm from the oven, and are swathed in a coating of powdered sugar which melts in your mouth with each delicate bite.
This recipe, the original being a handwritten recipe card in my mother’s handwriting, has been passed down through a few generations of women in my family. I’ve no idea where it came from, but it’s been slightly updated throughout the years. I hope you enjoy it for generations to come!
Recipe: Mom’s Pecan Butter Balls
Makes about 22 cookies
- 1 cup (8 oz) unsalted butter, at cool room temperature
- 1 cup powdered sugar, sifted
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 2 cups flour
- 1/4 cup (2 oz) chopped toasted pecans (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 300F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Put 1/2 cup of the sugar into a shallow bowl and set aside.
- In the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the butter, the remaining 1/2 cup sugar, and salt. Beat in the vanilla. Add the flour and beat on low just until combined. Add the pecans and beat on low until evenly incorporated.
- Scoop up tablespoonfuls of the dough and, using wet hands, roll into balls. Place them onto the baking sheet, spacing them evenly. Bake until the bottoms are lightly golden brown, about 35 minutes. Let cool on the sheet for 10 minutes.
- When cool enough to handle, roll the cookies in the reserved powdered sugar, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. If you like, dust the cookies with additional powdered sugar. Store in an airtight container for up to 1 week.