Why Are They Called Russian Tea Cakes?






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Russian tea cakes, also known as Mexican wedding cookies or butterballs, are a delicious and beloved treat that have become a staple during the holiday season and special events. Their distinctive flavor and texture have made them a crowd favorite in many households, but have you ever wondered why they are called Russian tea cakes? Despite their name, these little cookies do not actually originate from Russia, but rather have an interesting backstory behind their name. In this essay, we will explore the history and origin of these delectable treats, uncovering the reason why they have come to be called Russian tea cakes. We will delve into their cultural significance and examine why they have become a must-have delicacy for so many people around the world. From their humble beginnings to their modern-day popularity, Russian tea cakes are a true testament to the enduring nature of traditional recipes and the power that food has to bring people together. Join us as we embark on a tasty journey of discovery and explore the fascinating story behind these delightful cookies.

The Origin and History of Russian Tea Cakes

A Traditional Sweet Treat

Russian tea cakes, also known as Mexican wedding cookies or snowballs, are a popular dessert that have been enjoyed by people all over the world for many years. These small, round cookies are made from simple ingredients such as butter, flour, and powdered sugar and are often flavored with nuts. They are typically served during the holidays or at special occasions such as weddings.

Russian Roots?

Despite their name, it is unclear whether Russian tea cakes actually originated in Russia. Some people believe that they were first made in Europe during the Middle Ages and were brought to Russia by traders. Others suggest that they may have originated in Mexico or other parts of Latin America.

The Evolution of Names

Russian tea cakes have gone by many different names throughout history. In addition to being called Mexican wedding cookies or snowballs, they have also been referred to as butterballs, pecan balls, and Swedish teacakes. This variety of names suggests that these treats have been enjoyed by people from many different cultures over time.

A Significance for Special Occasions

In some cultures such as Mexico’s traditional celebration called Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), these sweet treats hold significant meaning where it is believed to represent bones on an altar for loved ones who passed away. On Christmas Day in Greece a similar cookie named Kourabiedes is served which has almonds instead of pecans.

Popularization Through Literature

The popularity of Russian tea cakes grew significantly after they were mentioned in several books written during the 20th century. One notable example is Truman Capote’s “A Christmas Memory,” which features a recipe for these sweet treats along with heartwarming stories about his childhood memories associated with them.

The Ingredients and Preparation Process of Russian Tea Cakes

Simple Ingredients

Russian tea cakes are made using simple ingredients that can be found in most kitchens. The traditional recipe calls for the following:

  • Flour
  • Butter
  • Powdered Sugar
  • Vanilla Extract
  • Pecans (or other nuts)

Mixing It Up

The preparation process for Russian tea cakes is straightforward and easy to follow. Here’s how to make them:

  1. Preheat the oven to 325°F.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter and powdered sugar until light and fluffy.
  3. Add in the vanilla extract and mix until well combined.
  4. Gradually add in the flour, mixing until a soft dough forms.
  5. Stir in chopped pecans or other nuts until evenly distributed throughout the dough.
  6. Roll small balls of dough (about 1 inch in diameter) between your palms, then place them on an ungreased baking sheet about 2 inches apart.
  7. Bake for approximately 15 minutes or until lightly browned on top.

Optional Variations

While traditional Russian tea cakes are made with pecans, there are many variations that can be made using different types of nuts or flavors such as:

  • Almonds
  • Walnuts
  • Hazelnuts
  • Lemon zest

These variations may alter the taste but still maintain its traditional shape.

Storage Tips

Once baked, it is important to store Russian tea cakes properly so they stay fresh longer:

  1. Allow cookies to cool completely before storing them in an airtight container at room temperature.

2.Store cookies away from direct sunlight and moisture which can cause them to become stale faster.

3.Russian tea cakes can be stored up to two weeks at room temperature.

The Symbolic Meaning and Significance of Russian Tea Cakes

A Symbol of Friendship and Love

Russian tea cakes are more than just a delicious treat – they also hold significant symbolic meaning. In many cultures, these cookies are associated with friendship, love, and family.

A Token of Affection

In some cultures such as Mexico, Russian tea cakes are served during weddings as a way to symbolize the love between the bride and groom. They are also often given as gifts during the holidays or on special occasions like birthdays or anniversaries.

A Tradition of Sharing

In some families, baking Russian tea cakes is a tradition that has been passed down through generations. It is common for family members to gather together in the kitchen to bake these treats while sharing stories and memories.

Cultural Significance

In Russia itself, it is common to serve tea with sweet desserts including Russian tea cakes which can be enjoyed both hot or cold. These desserts have become an important part of traditional Russian culture often being served at festive celebrations such as New Year’s Eve celebrations.

Religious Celebrations

Russian Tea Cakes have also become synonymous with Christmas in Christian traditions where they represent snowballs because their round shape resemble them.

Whether given as gifts or shared among loved ones in special occasions these treats hold significant cultural significance around the world bringing people together across different backgrounds – connecting us all through our shared enjoyment for food!

The Cultural Significance of Russian Tea Cakes in Different Regions


In Russia, tea is an important part of the culture and is often served with sweet treats like Russian tea cakes. These cookies are commonly enjoyed during festive occasions such as New Year’s Eve celebrations. They are also traditionally served with zakuski, which are a variety of small appetizers that accompany vodka.


In Mexico, these treats are known as polvorones or biscochitos and are popular during weddings and other special occasions. They have become a cultural staple in Mexican-American communities throughout the United States and Mexico.


In Greece, the traditional Christmas cookie called Kourabiedes is very similar to Russian tea cakes but made with almonds instead of pecans. They are also rolled in powdered sugar after baking just like their Russian counterparts.


Swedish Tea Cakes (or Swedish Heirloom Cookies) share similarities to its russian counterpart but uses almond extract instead of vanilla extract giving it a unique taste profile

Eastern Europe

Varying versions exist among different eastern european countries such as Poland where they’re called ciasteczka maślane meaning butter cookies while Czech Republic calls them linecké cukroví which means Linzer biscuits.

Russian tea cakes may have originated from Europe but over time they have become a global treat that has been adapted by many different cultures around the world – each adding their own unique spin to this simple yet delicious dessert!

Different Variations and Names of Russian Tea Cakes around the World

Mexican Wedding Cookies

In Mexico, Russian tea cakes are known as polvorones or biscochitos. They are a popular treat during weddings and other special occasions. These cookies are made with ground nuts such as pecans or almonds, butter, sugar, and flour.

Snowball Cookies

Snowball cookies is a common name for Russian tea cakes in the United States due to the shape of the cookie being similar to that of a snowball. This name is commonly used in Canada as well.


Butterballs refer to another variation of this classic dessert which is typically made with finely chopped walnuts instead of pecans.

Swedish Heirloom Cookies

Swedish Heirloom Cookies or Swedish Tea Cakes also share similarities with its russian counterpart but uses almond extract instead of vanilla extract giving it a unique taste profile

Greek Kourabiedes

Kourabiedes is an extremely popular Greek Christmas cookie that looks very similar to Russian tea cakes but contains almonds instead of pecans. It’s often sprinkled with powdered sugar after baking.

Czech Linecké cukroví

Linecké cukroví translates to Linzer biscuits which have some similarities to Russian Tea Cakes but have their own unique taste profile thanks in part from the addition of raspberry jam

Russian tea cakes have many different names and variations around the world, each adding its own unique twist on this classic dessert. While they may be called by different names depending on where you are in the world, one thing remains constant – these sweet treats never fail to bring people together through their shared enjoyment!


What are Russian Tea Cakes, and why are they called that?

Russian Tea Cakes are a type of small, round cookie made from ground nuts, flour, sugar, and butter, rolled in powdered sugar after baking. They are also called Snowball Cookies, Butterballs, and Mexican Wedding Cookies. The reason they are called Russian Tea Cakes is unclear. Some suggest that the recipe has Russian origins, while others believe it simply originated in countries where tea is a popular beverage.

Are Russian Tea Cakes only eaten during winter time in Russia?

No, Russian Tea Cakes are enjoyed all year-round, not just in winter. They are a popular cookie worldwide, particularly in the United States and Europe, where they are often served as a holiday treat. While they go by different names, the basic recipe is still essentially the same.

Why do some people call Russian Tea Cakes, “Mexican Wedding Cookies”?

“Mexican Wedding Cookies” is just another name for Russian Tea Cakes. It is said that they were named so because they are served at traditional Mexican weddings. When a couple gets married, the cookies are usually served alongside other traditional Mexican desserts, such as churros and tres leches cake.

What makes Russian Tea Cakes different from other types of cookies?

Russian Tea Cakes are unique in their composition, which includes ground nuts making up a significant portion of the dough. This makes them denser and crumblier than many other types of cookies. Also, since they are rolled in powdered sugar, they have a sweet, powdery taste that sets them apart from other cookies. They are often included in holiday cookie platters and make a delightful addition to any occasion!

Jessica Hartley

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