Food Memories – Russian Tea Cakes

I discovered Ali and her blog 3 Baking Sheet to the Wind earlier this year on one of my rabbit hole trips on the interwebs. At first, I could not quite believe there was another person out there who devoted massive amounts of mental storage capacity to pop culture phenomenons such as Teen Witch, Heathers, The Breakfast Club, Willy Wonka (the original), and Summer Rental. It’s like she’s the voice inside my head telling me to click over to these time sucks when I see them in my Tivo Channel Guide. Not only does Ali know and lurv these movies, she finds ways to tie them to a recipe in her ‘Sugared Cinema’ selection each and every Friday. The other days of the week, she’s rocking out fabulous decorated cakes, cookies, and throwing down some serious beer.  The tag line of her blog isn’t “I like baking and drinking craft beer…sometimes simultaneously” for nothing. So it wasn’t too long before I started pestering Ali for a Food Memory. She kindly obliged with the following memory for one of the easiest, tastiest cookies I’ve ever made.

Russian Tea Cakes

During the Christmas season, my mom and her best friend would pick a day to get together in our kitchen and spend the entire day baking.  They started the tradition when I was around 5 or 6 years old and carried out the tradition for a good 10 years or so.  My mom would get experimental and try out a new recipe every now and then but for the most part, they would stick to the old faithfuls:  red and green sprinkled sugar cookies, chocolate chip cookies, oatmeal cookies, fudge, date bars and Russian tea cookies.

As a kid, I had pretty typical tastes when it came to sweets.  The sugar cookies were my favorite (she could have thrown sprinkles on a stapler and I would’ve eaten it.)  I never could understand why she insisted on making those powdery Russian tea ball things, though.

As I got older, I found myself sneaking cookies from the Russian tea container.  They were so wonderfully buttery (even more so than the sugar cookies) and I was addicted to them, right down to the powdery residue it left on my fingers.  After a long hiatus, we decided to bring back the Baking Day tradition last Christmas.  There were a lot of new additions, some from me and some from my sister, but we knew the day wouldn’t be the same without my Mom making those Russian tea cookies.

Russian Tea Cookies

Adapted from

BAH Note:  Ali didn’t have her mom’s exact recipe but she poked around online until she found one that was close to what she remembered.  I tweeted to Ali that I was kicking myself for scaling the recipe down and only making a half batch.  I could not stop eating these morsels.  At 12 minutes, they are perfectly undercooked so that the center is still slightly moist while the outside is crisp.  The decision to omit the walnuts completely and  substitute almond for vanilla was mine and mine alone.  And I stick by it.  I can’t eat nuts, period. And I’m not usually big on almond flavor but in these cookies it was the perfect counter to the buttery, sugary goodness.  I can see why these would have become a favorite in Ali’s house growing up.

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 6 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup confectioners’ sugar

Heat the oven to 350 degrees and line two sheet pans with parchment paper.

Combine the flour and 6 tablespoons of powdered sugar in a medium bowl and whisk until combined.

In the work bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and almond extract until it is smooth.  Slowly add the flour mixture and mix until fully combined.

Roll the dough in to 1 inch balls and place them about 1 inch apart on the prepared sheets.  Bake for 12 minutes.  Allow the cookies to cool completely before rolling them in the 1/3 cup powdered sugar.

{printable recipe}

34 thoughts on “Food Memories – Russian Tea Cakes

    1. Beth, I couldn’t stop eating them. They are so light and lovely that I kept going back for more. And best of all, they are silly easy to make.

  1. the best sweets are the ones attached to a memory, unless a cavity had to be filled because of it and back in the day it was those fugly metal caps.

    these would make such loverly holiday treats.

    1. Isn’t Ali freaking fantastic? Am trying to meet her in real life soon since Northern Virginia/DC and Baltimore are a hop, skip, and jump away from each other.

      You got a stand mixer? Let me tell you a secret, my KitchenAid is the best money I’ve ever spent on a kitchen tool. The Sunbeam that came before it? Not so much.

      Does your mixer have a name?

      Now go make cookies. You can be pulling these out of the oven tonight. They are that easy.

  2. Oh man. I really need to start making these more than just once a year. Your picture has my inner nostalgia fiend craving these hardcore. I’m happy they turned out so well for you! I’ll have to try your nutless, almond rendition.

    Thanks for the bloglovin’, Wendi. Food and pop culture references have a way of bringing people together, on the internet and (hopefully) in person, next month.

    1. Ali, are you seriously telling us that you only make these morsels once a year? Shame, shame, shame.

      I’m thrilled to have been able to share your Food Memory…hmmm, perhaps nutless almond extracty cookies will have to make an appearance when we get together???? This assumes that I won’t dig into them on the Metro and gobble them up before I even get out of New Carrolton.

  3. Oh Wendi, I love your Food Memories & this ones a good one too. Russian Tea Cookies sound awesome.., I’m a bit worried about making them, I’ve been known to eat an entire batch. Me ‘n cookies should come with a “At Your Peril” label lol
    Will get my Food Memories to you soon, its ‘on my list’ – been a bit flat out lately, but its a’coming OK.
    Cheers Anna

  4. wendi, I think my friend kathie’s mom made these every christmas. Kath would bring them in a big box to (high) school. None ever made it out of the cafeteria. some never made it in if we saw her get off the bus with them. some of then had crushed walnuts in them. we called them “Crummy buttons” cause we couldn’t pronunce the eastern european name

    1. Emily, the recipe I worked from did call for walnuts but since I can’t eat them (an have never really liked them), they don’t show up in my cookies. I love how so many people have their own memories of these cookies.

  5. Lovely memory! Baking is one of the best parts of the holidays. I just felt a little flutter of excitement at the thought of the upcoming season!

    I haven’t seen 3 Baking Sheets to the Wind, but I’m going to check it out. I love a good pop culture/food post, especially if it involves Heathers. That was one good movie!

    1. Jen, I think perhaps you could make a batch of these as a pre-holiday baking warm up exercise.

      Please do go check out Ali’s blog. She’s fantabulous and I can’t wait to meet her in person.

  6. Wendy – my sister has made Russian Tea Cakes every Christmas since we were in high school. Since going gluten-free I haven’t been able to eat them. 😦 Just last week, while in San Francisco, I found a gluten-free version at Mariposa in The Ferry Building. I inhaled them! So good. Now I’m on a mission to replicate the recipe. Thanks for posting this!

    1. Nancy, I must be the only person alive who did not have these growing up. I feel so cheated. I hope that you do find a way to make these gluten free because they are such perfect little treats. These didn’t even lasted long enough to make it to the office for the coworkers. We (I) ate them all ourselves (myself).

  7. Pecans work well also. I thik Keebler has or had a version of little pecan sandies that would come close.

    I am not supposed to eat nuts either ( gastro trouble) BUT i WOULD DIE WITHOUT THEM! Something has to kill me it may as well be something I like

  8. I HAVE to make these! They are my all time favorite cookie. A friend of my family used to make them each Christmas and drop off a tin at our house, and I would always wait (not so) patiently until they arrived. Yum 🙂

    1. Jen, I bet you could have a batch of these cookies baked and sugared by lunchtime. These deserve to be made more than just once a year.

  9. My mom still makes these (they were always my favorite) and now she always sends extras when I take a plate to my in-laws at Christmas because my BIL cannot get enough.

    But I have to have the walnuts (though can understand why you can’t, of course). It wouldn’t be the same for me without them.

    1. Elizabeth, I’m seriously starting to feel like the only person on the planet who didn’t know about these cookies until now. I love that your mom knows to send extra for your brother in law.

  10. Prianiki!!! That’s what they called!!! Love them! We have them in every store in Russia. It’s classic.

    1. Svitlana, thank you for putting a name to these delicious little cookies. I can’t imagine having the willpower to resist them if they were in all the stores.

      1. Yes, we always get them especially for a dessert after dinner or lunch with cup of tea. They are little bit bigger and flatter. Sometimes they add cocoa, it ends up tasting something like hard brownie, very delicious.

        1. Oh my, that would be extremely hard to resist. I would love to make these for Christmas but am afraid I would end up eating them all myself…I have zero willpower in the face of delicious treats.

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