New England Snowballs

New England SnowballsI was looking for a cookie that would ship well, to pack with the gifts I mailed out to my brother’s family. I wanted to do gingerbread cutouts, but I wasn’t sure they would arrive intact. I was flipping through a book called “Homemade Christmas” by Mary Harvey Gurley, when I saw the recipe for Mexican Wedding Cookies. I decided these would work for a couple of reasons. They are small and a bit firm, so they’re unlikely to arrive in pieces. Also, they look like little snowballs. My brother lives in a much warmer part of the country than I do, so they don’t get too much snow. I thought snowballs would be fun.

I did a quick search on Wikipedia to see why they were called Mexican Wedding Cookies but are so commonly served at Christmas. I didn’t learn much, but they are also known as Russian Tea Cakes. Since the name doesn’t seem fixed, I took the liberty of giving them a third name: New England Snowballs. I made enough changes to the original recipe that I felt justified. (“Homemade Christmas” is a great idea book, but the recipes are somewhat lacking.)

If you’ve never had this kind of cookie before, you’re in for a treat! They’re rich and buttery with just enough crunch, sweet enough for coffee and light enough for tea. A word of caution – it does tend to “snow” when you take a bite, so make sure to eat them over a plate or napkin.

New England Snowballs

Prep Time: 20 minutes

Cook Time: 12 minutes

Total Time: 32 minutes

Yield: About 54 cookies

New England Snowballs


  • 1 1/2 cups pecans
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 cups confectioner’s sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • About 1 cup confectioner’s sugar, for rolling


  1. Preheat oven to 350ºF. Toast pecans on a baking sheet for 7 minutes, or until fragrant. Let cool, then chop fine. Set aside.
  2. Cream together the butter and confectioner’s sugar. Add the egg and vanilla and beat until fluffy.
  3. Beat in flour, baking powder, salt and pecans.
  4. Cover the dough in plastic wrap and chill for at least 2 hours or up to one week.
  5. Before taking the dough out of the refrigerator, preheat oven to 350ºF.
  6. Form the dough into approximately 1-inch balls (I used an #70 cookie scoop) and place on a parchment lined baking sheet. Bake for 12 minutes, or until the bottom of the cookies just begins to brown.
  7. Immediately roll cookies in confectioner’s sugar and place on rack to cool. (The heat of the cookies will melt the sugar a bit, making the cookies very sticky.)
  8. When cooled, roll in sugar again and store in an airtight container.


You can make the dough several days ahead of time and keep it in the refrigerator.


New England Snowballs — 4 Comments

  1. I’ve also seen them called ‘surprise cookies’. I grew up in New England and they were a staple for our holidays. We’d put chocolate chips in some, cherries in others, and sometimes random other candies and such (like M&Ms and the like). Some folks use nuts too, though we avoided those since half the family hated nuts. The original recipe we had also said you could use gumdrops, but the one time we tried it they were just ‘eh’.

    My recipe is a teeny bit different from yours, but essentially the same. Almond extract works for the vanilla really well in these too.

  2. I blogged these just a few days ago – we always called them snowballs, growing up. I loved hearing about the memories they brought up for everyone. I am sure your family will enjoy receiving them!

  3. Dawn…These cookies were DELISH!!! Your husband brought them into work and I was instantly addicted to them! Thank you so much for sharing!I will be making them this weekend.