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The classic nutty, crumbly snowball 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 snowball cookies.
They’re classic cookies that need little in the way of improvement. And no holiday cookie assortment 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.
They 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.
I made a few batches of snowballs 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.
How to freeze snowball cookies
- Cool the cookies.
- Arrange them in one layer on a parchment or waxed paper-lined baking sheet and place in the freezer until frozen.
- Once frozen, transfer the cookies to a covered container that’s freezer proof (such as Pyrex) or stack in zippered freezer bags.
- Storing the cookies: Cookies will keep one month in the freezer. Defrost at room temperature.
Hazelnut and Chocolate Snowball Cookies
Makes about 20 cookies
- ¾ cup (90 g) hazelnuts
- ½ cup (50 g) confectioners’ sugar
- 1 stick (120 g) (8 tablespoons)softened unsalted butter, cubed
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- ¼ teaspoon fine salt
- 1 ¼ cups (170 g) all-purpose flour
For dusting the cookies:
- ½ cup (50 g) confectioners’ sugar, sifted into a small bowl
- ¼ cup (25 g) cocoa powder, sifted into a small bowl
- Preheat the oven to 350 (175 C) 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 (190 C) 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.
Karen’s Notes and Tips
- 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.