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!

Mom’s Pecan Butter Balls are ready to serve.
Mom’s Pecan Butter Balls are ready to serve. (Wendy Goodfriend)

Recipe: Mom’s Pecan Butter Balls

Makes about 22 cookies

    Ingredients:

  • 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)
Sift 1 cup powdered sugar.
Sift 1 cup powdered sugar. (Wendy Goodfriend)
    Instructions:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. In the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the butter, the remaining 1/2 cup sugar, and salt.
    In the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the butter, the remaining 1/2 cup sugar, and salt. (Wendy Goodfriend)
    Beat in the vanilla. Add the flour and beat on low just until combined. Add the pecans.
    Beat in the vanilla. Add the flour and beat on low just until combined. Add the pecans. (Wendy Goodfriend)
    Beat on low until evenly incorporated.
    Beat on low until evenly incorporated. (Wendy Goodfriend)
  4. 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.
  5. The dough should have this consistency.
    The dough should have this consistency. (Wendy Goodfriend)
    Scoop up tablespoonfuls of the dough and, using wet hands, roll into balls.
    Scoop up tablespoonfuls of the dough and, using wet hands, roll into balls. (Wendy Goodfriend)
     Place them onto the baking sheet, spacing them evenly and bake at 300F.
    Place them onto the baking sheet, spacing them evenly and bake at 300F. (Wendy Goodfriend)
    Bake until the bottoms are lightly golden brown, about 35 minutes.
    Bake until the bottoms are lightly golden brown, about 35 minutes. (Wendy Goodfriend)
    Let cool on the sheet for 10 minutes.
    Let cool on the sheet for 10 minutes. (Wendy Goodfriend)
  6. 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.
  7. When cool enough to handle, roll the cookies in the reserved powdered sugar.
    When cool enough to handle, roll the cookies in the reserved powdered sugar. (Wendy Goodfriend)
    Transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool completely. If you like, dust the cookies with additional powdered sugar.
    Transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool completely. If you like, dust the cookies with additional powdered sugar. (Wendy Goodfriend)
    Mom’s Pecan Butter Balls
    The cooled and sugar-dusted cookies are ready to serve. (Wendy Goodfriend)
Christmas Cookies: Mom’s Pecan Butter Balls 7 December,2017Kim Laidlaw

Author

Kim Laidlaw

Kim Laidlaw is a cookbook author, editor, food writer, producer, project manager, and baker who has been in the kitchen covered in flour since she was big enough to stir the biscuit dough. She has over 16 years of experience in book and online publishing, and a lifetime of experience in the kitchen.

Her first cookbook, Home Baked Comfort, was published in 2011; her second cookbook, Baby & Toddler On the Go, was published in April 2013; and her third cookbook, Williams-Sonoma Dessert of the Day, was published in October 2013.

She was the first blogger on KQED’s Bay Area Bites blog, which launched in 2005, and previously worked as a professional baker at La Farine French Bakery in Oakland, CA. She lives in Petaluma with her husband and their child, whom she cooks for everyday. Find out more at http://www.kimlaidlaw.com.

Author

Wendy Goodfriend

I am the Senior Interactive Producer for KQED Food. I have designed and produced food-related websites and blogs for KQED including Bay Area Bites; Check, Please! Bay Area;  Taste This; Jacques Pepin’s websites; Weir Cooking in the City and KQED Food. When I am not creating and managing food websites I am taking photos and video of Bay Area Life and designing online navigation systems. My professional education and training includes: clinical psychology, photography, commercial cooking, web design, information architecture and UX. You can find me engaged in social media on Twitter @bayareabites and on Facebook at Bay Area Bites. I can also be found photoblogging at look2remember.

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