One thing I always associate with Christmas is almond extract. More specifically, almond extract flavoring some old fashioned spritz cookies that my mom would make with her awesomely vintage cookie press. Have you ever seen one of these things? They’re pretty rad. Of course you can buy newer, less sturdy options, but my mom’s was the real deal with all metal parts. It belonged to my grandma when my mom was just a little kid in St. Louis.
Every Christmas season, my mom would grab the cookie press from its ragged cardboard box and she and my sisters and I would make red and green spritz cookies flavored with almond extract. Even if we halved the batch, it’d still make what seemed like a mountain of cookies! We’d be snacking on green Christmas trees and red (well, pink) wreaths well into the new year.
While those spritz cookies hold a nostalgic place in my heart, I think it’s high time I graduated to a more sophisticated sort of Christmas cookie. Enter the pistachio snowball cookie!
Call them Mexican wedding cookies, Russian tea cakes, snowballs, or a myriad of other names; whatever you call them, these cookies are simple, pretty, and delicious. Typically made with almonds or pecans, I went a more festive route with pistachios. I just love their vibrant green color! It added subtle color to the insides of these cookies without resorting to lots of food coloring. Plus, the taste of pistachios is buttery and sweet, which pairs perfectly with the all-butter dough and sweet coating of powdered sugar. What are we waiting for?! Let’s make some snowball cookies!
pistachio snowball cookies
(yields about 27 cookies; recipe modified from King Arthur Flour)
1/2 # (2 sticks / 8 oz) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 c (52 g) powdered sugar, plus more for rolling cookies
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp almond extract
1 tsp kosher salt
3/4 c (125 g) roasted unsalted pistachios
2 1/4 c (268 g) AP flour
granulated sugar, for rolling cookies
First thing’s first, preheat your oven to 325, and grind up those pistachios! The easiest way is just to pulse them in a food processor with 2 tablespoons of your powdered sugar until you have some finely ground pieces and some more coarsely ground pieces. Set ’em aside, and put the softened butter, the rest of your 1/2 cup powdered sugar, vanilla and almond extracts and salt into the bowl of a stand mixer. Using the paddle attachment, cream all of it for 2 minutes on speed 5 (medium), until it’s all fluffy. You may need to scrape down the bowl to make sure it’s all well incorporated about midway through.
Dump in the ground pistachios and the flour, and mix on speed 1-3 until a dough forms. Using a rubber spatula, mix the dough a bit by hand to be sure that any butter/sugar is mixed in to the rest of the dough, as it likes to stick to the bottom of the bowl.
Grab walnut-sized pieces of the cookie dough and roll them into balls. Let them rest on two parchment lined sheet pans while you roll all the cookies. Put some more powdered sugar and some granulated sugar into two separate bowls, and roll the balls first in the granulated sugar and then in the powdered sugar. Place them about an inch or two apart on your parchment lined sheet pans and bake them for 25 minutes at 325. The cookies should have small cracks all over the surface and not feel too squishy when pressed. They will firm up more as they cool, so don’t worry if they’re just a little soft!
Let the cookies cool for a few minutes, and while they’re still warm, roll them in the powdered sugar once again. They should be well coated, as part of the sugar will dissolve a bit since they’re still warm. If you really like them to be fully coated, wait until they’re fully cooled and coat them once more in powdered sugar.
I had never tried these cookies before with pistachios until now, but I won’t make them any other way from this point on! They’re so good, and a little lighter in flavor than pecans, which are more common. They’re crispy and crumbly but still tender, not the slightest bit tough. I imagine they’d go very well with a cup of hot tea. Perfect for Christmas cookie exchanges, they’re slightly more unusual than your standard chocolate chip or iced sugar cookies. These snowball cookies will keep well in an airtight container at room temperature for over a week, if they last that long and don’t get eaten up sooner!