If I had to choose one cookie I could not get through Christmas without, this would be it. Growing up, we called them “Mom’s Nut Balls,” but that name isn’t as appealing to the rest of the world as it is to me. The Moscow Ballet recently came through town performing their classic, Swan Lake, and it reminded me that these treats go by other names, too — Russian Tea Cakes is one of their aliases.
They’re those buttery shortbread like cookie balls filled with ground nuts. You can customize them by using hazelnuts, almonds (and a drop of almond extract, if you like), pecans, walnuts or a combination. When they come out of the oven, you roll them in powdered sugar, and the butter shimmering on the surface mingles with the sugar, creating a coating of buttery frosting. Easy and divine.
Russian Tea Cakes
Recipe courtesy of the Moscow Ballet (although there are plenty of versions out there that look virtually identical). I upped the nuts to a cup and reduced the flour to 2 cups and they turned out beautifully.
1 cup butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
2 1/4 cups flour, sifted
1 tsp vanilla
3/4 cup walnuts or pecans, finely chopped
confectioners’ sugar, for rolling
Preheat oven to 400˚F. Cream the butter adding sugar gradually until light and fluffy. Stir in flour, vanilla and walnuts or pecans.
Roll into 1-inch balls and place on an ungreased baking sheet. Bake for 12 to 14 minutes. Remove from oven and while still warm, roll in confectioners’ sugar. Makes about 1 1/2 dozen cookies.
About the Moscow Ballet: As one of the most revered ballets in the world, Swan Lake premiered over two centuries ago in Russia and remains a timeless classic, expressing a range of human emotions accented by Tchaikovsky’s luminous score. It is a classic fairytale, filled with princes, princesses, sorcerers, evil, magic spells and true love. The Massachusetts-based Moscow Ballet was created in 1993 by award-winning theatrical producer and Juliard alumni, Akiva Talmi. Artistic Directors, Anatoly Emelianov, Vladimir Troshchenko and Andre Litvinov have grown and diversified the company since its inception, adding famous ballets such as Cinderella, Swan Lake, Carmen and Sleeping Beauty to the original, Great Russian Nutcracker. This year’s Moscow Ballet North American Tour is scheduled to perform in 70 cities in the United States and Canada, with two hundred costumes and folkloric backdrops lovingly designed and handcrafted in St. Petersburg.