Pecan Snowball Cookies melt in your mouth with a rich buttery flavor and a delicate crumbly texture. Whether you know them as Mexican Wedding Cookies (Polvorones), Viennese Crescents, or Russian Tea Cakes, you'll want to make these easy pecan shortbread cookies again and again!
[November, 2021: I've reworked the recipe and updated this post with all new pictures. Enjoy!]
Why this recipe works
- A variation on a shortbread recipe, Pecan Snowballs only need 5 ingredients
- They have a rich buttery flavor and a delicate crumbly texture
- The dough can be made ahead and frozen to be baked when you're ready. Perfect for portion control!
I think most everyone can relate to a recipe that reminds them of a cherished relative.
For my husband, his late grandmother’s Mandelbrot (a Jewish version of almond biscotti) was a cherished favorite. For me, it’s my late Sapta’s Russian Tea Cakes that bring me back to her home and her hugs. Funnily enough, I only knew them to be called pecan cookies with powdered sugar back then. Ah, memories...
Yes, I view cookies as pre-portioned bits of food hugs.
These cookies have many names, like Mexican Wedding Cookies, Viennese Crescents, or Pecan Snowball Cookies. I use them all interchangably.
Whatever you call them, these cookies are easy to make and yummy to eat!
What you need
Essentially, Mexican Wedding Cookies are a variation of shortbread...just butter, sugar, and flour.
The difference here is the addition of toasted pecans and vanilla, and the use of powdered sugar instead of granulated sugar in the batter. It's the powdered sugar that give these cookies their distinctive crumbly texture.
Oh, and let’s not forget the double coating of powdered sugar these babies get after baking!
You can substitute other nuts (walnuts, hazelnuts, or almonds) if you want, or even leave them out altogether (although then you really just have powdered sugar-dusted shortbread).
How to make pecan snowball cookies
Recipes for Russian Tea Cakes, Mexican Wedding Cookies, and Pecan Snowball Cookies abound. There's even an Easy Christmas Snowballs video YouTube (it’s a short watch and very cute).
Making this modified shortbread cookie recipe is really easy.
Step 1: Cream the butter and powdered sugar
Beat room temperature butter until it's creamy, then add the powdered sugar and beat well (photo 1).
Step 2: Add the vanilla
Mix the vanilla into the creamed butter and sugar until it's fully incorporated (photo 2).
Step 3: Add the flour
Add in the flour in small batches (photo 3). The dough will become stiff and grainy, but will smooth out in the end.
Step 4: Mix in the nuts
Beat in the pecans until they're evenly distributed in the dough (photo 4).
After all that beating, you'll want to chill the dough to let the butter firm up. Just cover it with plastic wrap and pop it in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes (photo 5). This will make it easier to roll the dough into balls, and will keep the cookies from spreading too much during baking.
You can also leave it in the refrigerator for up to 3 days if you want to bake another day. However, if you'll be chilling the dough for more than 3 hours, the cookie dough will be very stiff and hard to roll. Just let the cookie dough sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes before rolling them into balls.
Step 5: Portion the dough
Next, shape the dough into balls. Take one tablespoon of dough and roll it into a ball with your hands. Place the dough on a half sheet baking pan lined with a Silpat silicone mat or parchment paper at least 2-inches apart (photo 6).
I like to use a one-tablespoon small cookie scoop to portion out even sized balls of dough. Usually I'll make the balls, then bake half the dough and freeze the rest. That way I can have fresh cookies anytime.
Step 6: Bake the cookies
Bake the cookies at 350°F for 15 minutes or until they're golden brown on the bottom edges and just barely browned on top (photo 7).
Step 7: Coat the cookies with powdered sugar
Here's where Mexican Wedding Cookies differ from shortbread - the coating. Allow the cookies to cool for five minutes on the baking pan, then roll them in a shallow bowl of powdered sugar to coat completely.
The cookies will be fragile while they're warm, so be gentle. The sugar coating will be thin, but that's fine. This is the base coating which will allow the baked cookies to be slightly sticky. Place the cookies on wire racks to cool completely.
Once cooled, roll the cookies again in powdered sugar so they're completely dusted (photo 8). Now you have that powdery exterior that Pecan Snowballs are known for.
Questions asked and answered
Here are some questions you might have...
Both the unbaked cookie dough and baked cookies can be kept frozen in an airtight bag for up to three months. Thaw the unbaked dough overnight in the refrigerator, then allow to come to room temperature before baking. This is especially helpful when you want to bake a small batch of cookies at the time (perfect for portion control!).
Snowball cookies are some of the best Christmas cookies around, and you might be tempted to send them to far-away family and friends. To ship these delicate cookies, wrap 2 in plastic wrap, flat sides together. Pack the cookies, well cushioned with some tissue paper, in a rigid container. I like to use those plastic take-out containers you get from restaurants. You can also put the cookies in a ziplock bag before sealing the container (still wrapped, back-to-back). Finally cushion the container in your shipping box.
Pro Tip: toast the pecans
What sets Pecan Snowballs apart is toasting the pecans before you chop them up. Doing so enhances their flavor, adding extra...uhmm...oomph to the cookie. This is true whenever you bake with pecans.
To toast whole or coarsely chopped pecans, bake them at 350°F for 8 to 10 minutes, then let them cool a bit. You can also use unsalted dry-roasted chopped pecans and skip the baking step entirely.
Use a food processor to pulse the pecans a few times to really chop them up. You want the pecans to be finely chopped so that they'll incorporate well into the cookie dough.
A buttery and crumbly delight
Pecan Snowball Cookies melt in your mouth with a wonderfully soft and crumbly texture from the powdered sugar (inside and out). Meanwhile, the pecans add a pleasant contrast and crunch to the rich buttery flavor. These are so much more than just pecan cookies with powdered sugar.
Just know that if you're wearing dark colors when eating them, you might look like you've been caught in a snowstorm!
Biting into Pecan Snowballs transport me to simpler times when my grandmother would pinch my cheeks, and I didn’t worry about calories. These cookies also showed that the fuss my grandmother made over her grandkids didn’t extend to fussing in the kitchen (with her Russian Tea Cake recipe, at least).
I’m glad that Pecan Snowballs are easy to make, so I can bake a batch and conjure up a food hug whenever I want.
Slainté! L’chaim! Cheers!
Love this recipe? Please leave a 5-star ⭐️ rating in the recipe card below ⬇️ and/or a comment further down the page.
I'd love to hear from you! Stay in touch on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and please tag me using the hashtag #scotchandsconesblog. You can also sign up for my mailing list. I can't wait to see your creations!
Pecan Snowball Cookies (Mexican Wedding Cookies)
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment bowl (or hand mixer), beat the butter on medium speed until it's completely smooth and creamy, about a minute.
- Beat in ¾ cup (85 grams) of powdered sugar on medium high speed until the mixer looks creamy, scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed.
- Add in the vanilla extract at beat on medium-high speed until it's fully incorporated.
- Add in the flour in four batches, mixing on low speed (the dough will be stiff). Once all of the flour has been mixed in, turn the mixer up to high speed and beat until the dough fully comes together. Finally, beat in the pecans until they're evenly distributed in the dough.
- Cover the cookie dough tightly and chill in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes and up to 3 days (see Recipe Notes).
- Preheat the oven to 350 °F. Line two half sheet baking pans with a Silpat silicone mat or parchment paper and set aside. Pour about half of the remaining powdered sugar into a shallow bowl (you can add more as needed).
- Using a small cookie scoop, take one tablespoon of dough and roll it into a ball with your hands. Place the dough on the baking pan at least 2-inches apart.
- Bake the cookies for 15 minutes or until they're golden brown on the bottom edges and just barely browned on top.
- Allow the cookies to cool for five minutes on the baking pan, then roll them in the powdered sugar to coat completely. The cookies will be fragile while they're warm, so be gentle. The sugar coating will be thin, but that's fine. This is the base coating which will allow the baked cookies to be slightly sticky. Place the cookies on wire racks to cool completely.
- Once the cookies have completely cooled, roll them again in the powdered sugar and dust off the excess. You should get a much thicker coating of sugar this time.
- Pecan Snowball cookies will stay fresh in an airtight container at room temperature for up to a week.
- Both the unbaked cookie dough and baked cookies can be kept frozen in an airtight bag for up to three months. Thaw the unbaked dough overnight in the refrigerator, then allow to come to room temperature before baking.