Cranberry Pecan Snowballs

One bite of these buttery snowball cookies will tell you they aren’t your mama’s tea cakes. The dough is subtly flavored with orange zest, and a sweet cranberry filling hides in the center. If you choose to add a fresh cranberry, it will add a burst of tangy flavor.

Whether you call them Russian Tea Cakes, Mexican (or Italian) Wedding Cakes, or Snowballs, they are a holiday tradition worth making. They do tend to be just a little bit dry (like shortbread) so a small dab of filling to soften the center worked well. Of course, if you don’t want all the bells and whistles, you can simply leave out the filling entirely. But oh, not the orange zest! It’s so good.

I am pretty hands-on, and use my thumb to make the hole in each ball of dough (where the filling is added) but if it makes you more comfortable, it can be made with the round handle of a wooden spoon . . . or you can wear disposable gloves. The only tricky part is to make the dough at the top of the hole thinner—and don’t over fill, of course—so the cookie can be neatly pinched closed. If a little filling squeezes out, just wipe it off and patch the spot with a small piece of dough before rolling into a smooth ball.

Easy as 1,2,3! Fill, pinch and roll.

Cranberry Pecan Snowballs
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For best results, once cookies are filled and formed, chill for 1 hour before baking. They can be chilled on the baking sheets, or the balls of dough can be put in a large cake pan and then transferred. You can skip this step, but they will be slightly flatter.
Ingredients
  • FILLING:
  • 4 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 1 tablespoon cranberry sauce (jellied or whole berry)
  • a few drops of red food coloring (optional)
  • ¼ cup white chocolate chips
  • 24 fresh cranberries (optional)
  • DOUGH:
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • ¾ cup powdered sugar
  • 1 cup finely chopped pecans (I toast mine first for the best flavor)
  • Zest of one large orange (about 1 packed tablespoon)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • Powdered sugar to roll cookies in
Instructions
  1. FILLING: In a small bowl, beat together the cream cheese and cranberry sauce. If desired, add a few drops of red food coloring.
  2. Melt the white chocolate in a small pan on lowest heat, or in a microwave-safe bowl in the microwave at fifteen second increments. Don't get it too hot - just until melted. Add to cream cheese mixture and beat until smooth. Place in a pastry bag and set aside. (You can skip the pastry bag and just use a ½ teaspoon measuring spoon to fill the cookies, but it will be messier.)
  3. DOUGH: In a large bowl, beat butter until creamy. Add powdered sugar and beat for 1 minute, scraping sides of the bowl often.
  4. Add chopped pecans, orange zest, and vanilla. Beat well.
  5. Add flour and salt. Beat just until blended.
  6. Make balls of dough, using a generous tablespoon of dough for each. (You should have about 24.) Make a deep hole in each. The easiest way is to cup your hand around the dough with it poking out of the circle made by your thumb and forefinger. Use a finger on your opposite hand (or the rounded handle of a wooden spoon) to make the hole, then widen it so it's a little thinner at the top. Using a pastry bag, fill the hole about half way. Press a raw cranberry (if you're using them) on the filling and gently pinch the dough over the hole. Roll between your hands to form a round ball. Place 1½ inches apart on ungreased (or parchment lined) baking sheet.
  7. Repeat until all cookies are formed. If you have time (and room in your fridge) chill for 1 hour.
  8. Heat oven to 325 F. Bake cookies 15-17 minutes, until just the bottoms are lightly browned.
  9. Let the cookies rest on the baking sheet for a minute or two before sliding onto a cooling rack.
  10. When the cookies are barely warm, dredge them in the powdered sugar. Wait until completely cool and repeat. Store in an airtight container.

Beat butter well (see how fluffy?) Add powdered sugar and beat for 1 minute.

Stir in finely chopped pecans, orange zest, and vanilla

Mix in the flour and salt. It will look crumbly at first, but keep beating; it will come together!

I found that the easiest way for me to fill the cookies was to wrap my hand around the ball of dough and use my other hand to make the hole, fill it, pop in a cranberry, and pinch the top.

But you might prefer working on a flat surface, like this:

Poke a hole in each ball with your thumb and thin the sides out. Add about a half teaspoon of filling

Add a fresh cranberry

Carefully pinch the cookie closed and roll gently between your palms to make a ball

The tops of your cookies shouldn’t brown, but the bottoms will turn a light golden brown.  I think my camera exaggerated the color, but I may have left this batch in the oven a minute too long. Meh . . . that’s what the powdered sugar is for!

Dredge warm cookies in a bowl of sifted powdered sugar. Wait until cool, then repeat. (For the second coat you can put the sugar in a paper bag and shake a few at a time.)

Wishing you peace,

Lorinda

4 thoughts on “Cranberry Pecan Snowballs

  1. If this isn’t just brilliant! Frankly, I always gag a bit when I eat these cookies per the usual recipe; they are so dry and powdery. But this filling sounds like just the thing to make them go down much more smoothly. And that tart cranberry is wonderful to offset the sweetness. I already love these, and I haven’t even made them yet.

    • Thank you, Mary! I agree, they can be dry (though that doesn’t stop me from eating them hand-over-fist) but they sure do scream “Christmas”!

  2. These cookies sound delicious. Love the cranberry filling in the middle. May not have time to make them for Christmas but there is always New Years! Love this recipe!

    • Thanks, Cydnee! Hope you get to give them a try. I’m thinking I might try it with a bit of cherry jam instead of the cranberry and a candied cherry for Valentine’s day.

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