The classic nutty, crumbly butter ball cookie, updated with toasted hazelnuts and cocoa powder.
Butter ball cookies are universally loved treats, known variously as Russian tea cakes, Mexican wedding cakes, Greek wedding cookies (kourabiedes), and good old snowballs.
They’re classic cookies that need little in the way of improvement. And no holiday cookie tray would be complete without them!
What these little cookies have in common is that they’re all a type of shortbread, starting with a simple, buttery dough held together with ground nuts, sugar and flour.
hey have an irresistible, crumbly, melt-in-your-mouth texture and they happen to be so perfectly bite-sized that they tend to vanish almost immediately.
Butter balls were always my favorite Christmas cookie as a kid (my aunt made the best ones), and even today with my grown-up, not-so-sweet tooth, they continue to charm.
Because I love the sublime combo of hazelnut and cocoa (like in these gooey brownies, this crumb cake, and these meringue kisses), I made a few batches of butter balls with hazelnuts instead of walnuts and gave the sugared cookies a dusting of cocoa powder for a little kiss of chocolate.
The powdered sugar melts onto the surface of the warm cookies, creating a layer of sweetness.
They get a second coating of sugar, and then a final roll in cocoa. The cocoa tempers the sugar so that when you take a bite it’s a little bittersweet — I love that!
The finished cookies resemble nubby chocolate truffles, and they look beautiful piled in a gift bag or box.
This recipe comes together quickly.
The dough is mixed entirely in a food processor, and if you’re impatient to get baking, you can skip the chilling step. The cookies don’t spread during baking and turn out beautifully.
cocoa and hazelnut butter ball cookies
Yield 19 - 20 cookies
I like to use a stainless steel cookie scoop to make evenly-sized balls of dough.
The cookies keep well in a covered container for up to a week.
- 3/4 cup hazelnuts
- 1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
- 1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter at room temperature, cubed
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/4 teaspoon fine salt
- 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
For dusting the cookies:
- 1/2 cup confectioners' sugar, sifted into a small bowl
- 1/4 cup cocoa powder, sifted into a small bowl
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and place racks in the center and upper third of the oven.
- Spread the hazelnuts on a small rimmed baking sheet and toast 8 - 10 minutes. Cool.
- Put the nuts in the bowl of a food processor and process a few seconds to roughly chop. Add the sugar and process again until finely chopped. Add the remaining ingredients and pulse just until a pebbly dough forms (you may need to scrape the bowl to incorporate all the flour).
- Transfer the dough to a bowl, and knead it gently to form a ball. You can form the cookies right away, or cover and refrigerate 30 minutes.
- Increase the oven temperature to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with a piece of parchment paper.
- Roll tablespoons of dough into balls and arrange on the baking sheets. Bake 16 - 18 minutes, rotating the pans from one rack to the other halfway through. The cookies should be firm and lightly golden brown, with slight cracks on their tops. Let them cool 5 minutes on the baking sheet.
- One by one, roll the warm cookies in the sugar, then return to the baking sheet to set. Let stand 5 minutes before giving the cookies a second coating.
- When the cookies are cool, gently toss them with the cocoa to coat.
Courses dessert - cookie