In each issue of Paleo Magazine, I team up with Steph Gaudreau to share the history of a traditional recipe and adapt it to fit into a healthier paleo...Read More
You know how some people in dual-language households speak Spanglish (English + Spanish) – and at this time of year, lots of families celebrate both Hanukkah and Christmas because they’re lucky enough to have both under one roof?
In our house, our holidays are Traleo: half treats, half Paleo.
Particularly on Christmas, I take advantage of my year-long deposits in the good health bank, and make the original versions of my favorite family treats. It’s true to my philosophy that if I’m going to eat something that’s not paleo-compliant, it’s going to be the very best version of that thing on the planet.
With that in mind, here’s the story of Russian Teacakes, my favorite cookie of all time – and the one treat that I make every year to celebrate the magic of Christmas (in the form of butter and sugar rolled into little balls. [Heh, balls.])
Betty Crocker’s Cooky Book
Did any of you also have this book in your house when you were growing up? I can’t remember a time when this book wasn’t part of my life. It was originally published in 1963, and although I remember my mom and I also baked cookies from other sources – recipes torn from magazines or written on index cards in my mom’s perfectly-looped, precise cursive handwriting – our cookie baking list always started with the Cooky Book. And we always always always made Russian Teacakes because those are my dad’s favorite.
You can buy a new reproduction of this classic on Amazon. I found an original copy in a vintage store somewhere along the way, and its pages are now marked with hot pink, star-shaped post-it notes, pointers to recipes I’ve yet to try. Who knows if I’ll ever get to them? I bake cookies just once a year, and Russian Teacakes are a must. But I love the delight of considering the options: Lemon Snowdrops, Christmas Jewels, Dream Bars. (Who could resist something named “Dream Bar”?!) Almost every cookie has its own glamour shot, and the colors are a marvel of technicolor.
Over the years, we’ve added notes in the margins of well-loved (so, stained and torn) pages. My Russian Teacake recipe says, in my familiar scrawl (though I barely remember writing it), *make these smaller than you think you should. Yesterday, I asked Dave to add a note about baking time. He wrote, start checking at 8 m, followed by also: keep being awesome.
That’s the thing I love most about a beat-up, stained cookbook – telegrams from the past, love notes to the future, a light-up strand of memories that connects us to every version of ourselves and the people we love. We change, and we may be miles apart, but a little butter and sugar, mixed with love, brings us together in an instant. My family baked their Russian Teacakes yesterday, too, and I can imagine the powdered sugar cloud wafting in the air and the sweet smiles all around after that first bite.
From Betty Crocker’s Cooky Book, with improved instructions from me because the original directions assume you make cookies all the time and know, inherently, how to do it. Makes about 4 dozen 1-inch cookies
2 1/4 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter, room temperature
1/2 cup sifted confectioner’s sugar + a few cups for rolling
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup pecans, finely chopped
In a medium bowl, mix the flour and salt with a fork; set aside.
With a standing mixer or hand mixer, cream the butter, sugar, and vanilla. Add the flour and blend until just combined. Add the nuts and blend until just combined. With your hands, pat the dough into a rectangular shape, about 6 inches long and 4 inches wide. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate until chilled, at least an hour.
When you’re ready to bake, preheat the oven to 400F. Cover a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Remove the dough from the fridge, and using a sharp knife, cut the block into 48 equal-sized pieces. Roll the dough cubes between your palms to make 1-inch balls (balls!) and place on the baking sheet. These cookies don’t spread, so they can be placed fairly close together. Bake 8-11 minutes, but pay attention! You do not want them to brown; these cookies should be set but still pale when taken from the oven.
Remove from the oven and allow to cool a little, about 5-10 minutes. Pour the extra confectioner’s sugar in a large bowl, and when the cookies are firm enough to touch, but still warm, gently roll them a few at a time in the sugar, then set aside on a wire rack to cool completely. When the cookies are 100% cool – cooler than the members of Duran Duran, sipping vodka with supermodels in an ice hotel in Sweden – roll them in the confectioner’s sugar again. Store in a covered container and eat with abandon (once a year).
My mom read this post, then added more to the story in the comments below. I liked what she wrote so much, I’ve added it here so you don’t miss it. Enjoy!
I was delighted and a wee bit emotional to read your tale of Russian Teacakes today. My memories took me back to Christmases past. Here is my Russian Teacake tale for you and your readers.
The first time I had these melt in your mouth goodies was in the late 50s, pre Betty Crocker’s Cooky Book. My 21-year-old sister – your Aunt Polly – introduced Russian Teacakes to us. She lived in Philadelphia and had gotten the recipe from one of her “big city” friends. In those days, our Mother lovingly filled large tins with chocolate chip, peanut butter, and oatmeal raisin cookies for Christmas. Back then at our house, sweet treats were only enjoyed on special occasions. Christmas cookies were something my family really looked forward to at the holidays. When my older sister came home with her own cookie tin filled with tiny snow balls, they quickly became my favorite. After I married your Dad, Polly shared the recipe with me and they quickly became his favorite, too.
On your second Christmas (when we had a tree so big it didn’t fit in the living room, and your Dad had to take it outside to saw off a section of the lower trunk) Dad bought me my first copy of Betty’s Cooky Book. I was thrilled to see the recipe for Russian Teacakes inside those glossy pages. We had a low shelf in our kitchen on Mifflin Street where the cookie book took its place next to Fannie Farmer. One day Dancer (No, not the Reindeer, but our St. Bernard dog) decided that Cooky Book looked good enough to eat. Needless to say, the book was ruined. That was pre Amazon (Prime) days (Dave!) so it took some time before I found a replacement. Over the years, I have tried a few of the cookie recipes in this book, but none compares to the deliciousness, or the heartwarming special memories, of the Russian Teacakes.
Aunt Polly would be so very proud of you and your own cook book, WELL FED. Merry Christmas, Honey, with Teacake love!
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OMG! This is too funny and such a coincidence. I made my absolutely favorite, must-have cookie last weekend, The Russian Teacake. I have two versions of that exact same cookbook. The first is the original that my mom used back when we were kids (many moons ago), very stained and falling apart. My sister replaced it with a shiny new reprint a few years ago but I still pull out the beat up version for nostalgia sake. I seriously considered not doing the traditional Xmas goodie baking this year as I have gone mostly Paleo (although sometimes Traleo) but my sister and the Russian Teacake changed my mind. Happy Holidays to you (toasting with teacakes :o)!
Karen! Love it! [raises Russian Teacake to plink, then eats it in one bite]
I went back and forth on the idea of cookies this year, too, then decided that I wanted to have the Russian Teacakes, but I’m going to really make sure I savor them — and maybe eat 1 or 2 a day, instead of, like, 10.
I’m trying to abstain today so I really, REALLY want one tomorrow. Maybe. 🙂
Merry Christmas to you!
These are also called Mexican Wedding Cookies and are one of my favorites as well. I cannot do gluten at any time, however, and I have found that replacing regular flour with blanched almond flour works just as well. Actually the almond flour works well with any cookie recipe 🙂
I knew they were similar to Mexican Wedding Cookies, so I compared the recipes. It’s really interesting! The ingredients are the same, but the baking temperature and time are very different — which results in a very different texture and taste. The Mexican Wedding Cookies bake at a lower temperature for longer time, so they get a crisper, sandier texture. The Russian Teacakes bake at 400F (pretty hot!) for only 8-11 minutes, so they set but stay very moist and chewy in the middle. BAKING SCIENCE!
Good to know you can make them with almond flour. I though about experimenting with coconut flour, too. Maybe I’ll make them grain free next year.
great idea! I was wondering what type of GF flour would work best in those type of cookies.
I’ve done 0 gluten free baking since i went GF in Feb of last year. I’ve had a few GF baked goods, but they’ve been store bought
By the way, I just received your new cookbook, Well Fed, and love it! Can’t wait to try the new recipes. Well done!
YAY! I hope you enjoy cooking from the book — wishing you many happy meals.
What a fun story! These happen to be my favorite cookie too and each year for Christmas my mother would bake a batch for me. I am going to bake them today and share the fun with my sweet son, Collin. The pictures of you and Dave are wonderful. Give him my best and ask him to give you a big hug from me. 😀
Merry Christmas to you and Collin! And best wishes for a totally awesome 2012!
I have that cookbook as well and Russian Teacakes are my ABSOLUTE favorite cookie! They are a Christmas tradition in my family.
I purchaseed the Well Fed ebook and am looking forward to lots of cooking in the new year!
So fun! I love that so many of you put Russian Teacakes on your favorite list, too. Do you have to remind yourself not to inhale before you take a bite, too?! Powdered sugar down the throat is the only downside 😉
Hahaha, that’s exactly what I was thinking when I read this – I have choked many a time on the powdered sugar. Love that you and so many fellow readers share the Russian teacake love. They are the only requested cookie at Christmastime in my family, too, and it’s the only time we make them. We don’t have the Cooky Book, but our recipe is from another ancient Betty Crocker book. Kudos to you if you managed to eat only 1 or 2 a day… I’m afraid I might have been closer to 10 on Sunday 😉
I was delighted and a wee bit emotional to read your tale of Russian Teacakes today. My memories took me back to Christmases past. Here is my “Russian Teacake” tale for you and your readers.
The first time I had these melt in your mouth goodies was in the late 50’s, pre Betty Crocker’s Cooky Book. My 21 years older sister, your Aunt Polly, introduced Russian Teacakes to us. She lived in Philadelphia and had gotten the recipe from one of her “big city” friends. In those days, our Mother lovingly filled large tins with chocolate chip, peanut butter, and oatmeal raisin cookies for Christmas. Back then at our house sweet treats were only enjoyed on special occasions. Christmas cookies were something my family really looked forward to at the holidays. When my older sister came home with her own cookie tin filled with tiny snow balls, they quickly became my favorite. After I married your Dad, Polly shared the recipe with me and they quickly became his favorite too.
On your second Christmas (when we had a tree so big it didn’t fit in the living room and your Dad had to take it outside to saw off a section of the lower trunk) Dad bought me my first copy of Betty’s cooky book. I was thrilled to see the recipe for Russian Teacakes inside those glossy pages. We had a low shelf in our kitchen on Mifflin St. where the cookie book took its place next to Fannie Farmer. One day Dancer ( no not the Reindeer but our St. Bernard dog) decided that cooky book looked good enough to eat. Needless to say, the book was ruined. That was pre amazon (Prime) days (Dave!) so it took some time before I found a replacement. Over the years I have tried a few of the cookie recipes in this book but none compares to the deliciousness, or the heartwarming special memories, of the Russian Teacakes.
Aunt Polly would be so very proud of you and your own cook book, WELL FED. Merry Christmas, Honey, with Teacake love!
Mom! I didn’t know either of those stories. You’ve been holding out on me! I’m going to add your comments as an update to the post so all my readers can see your contribution. Thank you for sharing. I love you!
OMG, yourMom’s post has brought me to tears <3 <3
My mom is pretty spectacular.
What an amazing coincidence! I literally just ate 5 of these. My partner makes them each year. His family calls them Russian Rocks. I think Teacake is a little more appetizing sound, but the are still delicious.
My son Justin made a small cookbook in pre-k that is his photo on the cover and about 10 sheets of recipes printed off the internet. One of those recipes is for ‘Snowball’ cookies, aka: Russian Teacakes. We have made those cookies every year since then (it’s been 8 years-he turned 12 today!) and he absolutely LOVES them! We make them with dark chocolate chips and sprinkle them with powdered sugar when they come out of the oven, you know…just to make sure they’re sweet enough.
I Love your mom’s story and hope to share ‘daddy’s’ favorite cookies with my grandkids someday.
You have the best blog followers and best posters on the web. Merry Christmas to all of Melissa’s faithful readers from her proud Mom
I see where you get your writing talent from! Your mother and you both express yourselves beautifully. I love coming here. It’s as much a pleasure to read your writing as it is to try your delicious recipes!
I hope you and your family have a wonderful Christmas! 🙂
Oh, and your photos….awesome!
Haha, we are such a Traleo family too! Gluten free of course, but I am making my own Russian Teacakes tonight 🙂
Love the post. And the term Traleo!
We used to make cookies similar to yours too, my mom called them Swedish Heirloom Cookies though (I think).
Merry Christmas! I hope you have a wonderful holiday with your loved ones.
Awesome story, I have wonderful memories of that cookbook and baking with my grandmother. Merry Christmas!
BTW, we celebrated Christmas this evening with our family and I gave my mom a copy of Well Fed, she was THRILLED!!! She is doing the Whole 30 program in January so it will be a wonderful tool for her to have!
I love that so many of my online friends also have fond memories of the Cooky Book. Thanks for sharing!
So awesome that your mom is starting a Whole30. Me, too! We’ll all be cooking together from Well Fed. Glad to be part of your holiday!
I felt guilty for eating cookies on Christmas after a 4 month no sugar streak but I feel much better after reading this. The cookies I ate were homemade by mom and there is something special about eating treats associated with certain times of the year. I keep having to remind myself that food is not the enemy and that it is okay to indulge once in a while.
I gave my brother a copy of Well Fed for Christmas and I perused through it after he opened it. It’s beautiful, Mel. Great job. I’m getting myself a copy too.
Hey, Serena! I know how hard it can be to let go of guilt feelings around eating, but if you’ve been sugar free for four months, you can totally let yourself off the hook for holiday indulgence. Just enjoy! No judgment…
Thank you for the lovely compliment on Well Fed. I hope your brother likes it! And I hope you treat yourself to a copy, too, to celebrate an upcoming year of awesome eating in 2012.
This might just be my favorite blog post in the history of blog posts.
Neat! Thanks! It was fun to write… nothing inspires quite like family traditions (and confectioner’s sugar 😉
Russian Tea Cakes are a must for Christmas!! Every year I say I have to at least make Russian Tea Cakes – they are a must! They are also my father’s favorite cookie ( he is half Russian) . His mother made them so I always try to make at least 1 batch ,they are so yummy!!! Maybe I will make another batch for New Year’s ….
Temptress! How dare you remind me there’s one more holiday left in the year?!
I have my mom’s copy of that Cooky Book that she bought when she was in college, and even though I’m celiac now and will never make anything from that cookbook ever again, I swear to you that they will pry that cookbook from MY COLD, DEAD HANDS.
I love the memories that go along with that cookbook, and I can’t tell you how pleased I am to see someone else who knows and loves it, too.
Hey, Lydia… word is that almond flour works really well in cookies. Maybe we need to do some Cooky Book recipe revisions and try swapping the white flour for almond and/or coconut. Maybe next Xmas?!
Just found your blog and saw this post. I don’t think I’ve ever made the Russian Teacakes recipe, but I wound up with the copy of the Cooky Book that my Mom and I used. The front cover isn’t actually attached to the rest of the book anymore. Lots of use, lots of love.
I am slowly experimenting with my favorite recipes in GF form. Definitely appreciate the tip on subbing yummy almond flour for icky bad wheat flour. I think maybe including a little coconut flour would give these cookies a smoother texture than just almond flour (?).
Too bad holiday baking is done. Will try to wait almost a year before trying this experiment. 🙂
Love the story about your Cooky Book. What a treasure that silly little book is to everyone!
I’m definitely going to work on a GF Russian Teacake for next year… just need to get some distance between myself and cookies for a while so I don’t go overboard 😉 I ate them like they were my job on Christmas day.
OMG, Mel, I think I love you. Seriously. I have been reading Well Fed all weekend and with your help, FINALLY got spaghetti squash to come out right. I know also have a fridge packed full of par-cooked veggies and lean meats. And I was marveling at how many similarities I see between us from the things you shared in the cookbook (that I never picked up on your blog).
Then I come on here and you have posted a picture of my favorite book!! I squealed like a small girl when my mom sent me my grandmother’s copy of the Cooky Book after she passed away. I wanted to steal my mom’s copy, but she guarded it so closely! It was such a cherished part of my childhood holiday baking. Now I have my grandmother’s and all her notes and it is like taking a step back in time to read it.
I’ve never actually made the Russian Teacake recipe but we do regularly make the little cookie bonbons pictured below the teacake recipe. I’ve always wanted to try the teacake but hesitated as I feared they pale in comparison to my favorite powdered sugar covered Greek cookie (kourambiedes). You can’t breathe in when eating those, either!
Now I think I’m going to have to try the Teacakes for next Christmas. I should have enough healthy paleo eating in the bank by then to indulge. 😉
Thank you VERY much for letting me know you tried the spaghetti squash. I wasn’t sure I should include it in the book because it’s not really a recipe, but I felt like the technique trick was good to know. YAY! I’m glad it worked for you.
I love that you have your grandmother’s copy of the Cooky Book. It’s so sweet to me that so many people have memories associated with that silly, wonderful book.
I think Russian Teacakes are a little moister and cakier than kourambiedes — but yes, they’re really similiar. Butter + confectioner’s sugar = YUM.
I love this cookbook and at age 8, I made a commitment to make every single recipe, in the deep fried cookies! This year I pulled it out and made two recipes, gluten free, the lace cookies and the chocolate crinkles… both fabulous. I did use a ass lot of butter, but they were soooo good.
This makes me so happy. My next-door neighbor used to make these and give them to my family when I was a kid, and they were ALWAYS my favorite. I haven’t had them in years, but every Christmas I think of my old neighbor and these cookies. This year, I’ll use this recipe with almond flour, and enjoy them with abandon, per your instructions!
This is the BEST Cookie book and only one to own!!
If you can find one, I would encourage all to purchase one.
OMG, that cookbook brings back LOADS of Christmas memories!! We had that book and cooked all our cookies from it every year. It was in pieces the last time I saw it! Love, love Russian Teacakes.