Rose, Cardamom, and Pistachio Snowballs: A Simple but Exotic Holiday Cookie

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”

Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2)

Rose, Cardamom & Pistachio Snowballs

A Snowball By Any Other Name

Snowballs, also called Russian Tea Cakes and Mexican Wedding Cookies, are the one cookie I recall my mother-in-law baking when she was alive. But she left us no recipes, or at least none we found in her scattered belongings. So through a bit of deduction, my husband and I have pieced together what we think was her method. She was a simple cook and a product of the 1950s so we thought it logical that she would use a side-of-the-box kind of recipe. We turned to our cookie-baking group for guidance and the snowball expert emailed us the Betty Crocker recipe, saying her grandmother swears by it. Seemed like a good start.

The Burning Secret

The first time I baked them, it wasn’t quite right. But what was the variable? The type of nuts? The size of the nuts? I switched from pecans to macadamias – thinking my MIL would have used those in homage to her Hawaiian birthplace. Still not quite right. Then I “burned” a batch. Not really burned, just overcooked according to the recipe. But we smothered them in powdered sugar to cover up the color and gave them a try. Wala! That was it – she overcooked her cookies – the crispier, crunchier, nearly burnt flavor was the childhood memory my husband was yearning for. With that mystery solved, I felt comfortable experimenting with different nuts and this year, a new flavoring.

Rose, Cardamom & Pistachio SnowballsWhen Betty Crocker Meets Middle Eastern Flavors

Enamored with the exotic flavor that rose water can add to a dish – both savory and sweet – (learn more about rose water from my Tasting Jerusalem cooking community post), I decided it would be lovely in these buttery snowballs, especially married with a pinch of cardamom and with pistachios as the nuts. This combination of flavors and the snowball cookie itself remind me of a Middle Eastern cookie called ghraybeh. It uses ghee (clarified butter), powdered sugar, flour, rose water, and orange blossom water, finally topped with a pistachio.

Sure enough, the combination of rose water, cardamom, and pistachio enhanced the snowballs without changing their crispy but melty texture. I used minimal amounts of rose and cardamom, creating a subtle floral aroma. But if you love these Middle Eastern flavors, the amounts can be increased. Just be careful with rose water – at the right amount it’s floral in a lovely way – too much and you’ll think you’re eating dish soap. Rose water can be found at your local international market or ordered online. These days you may also find it at a well-stocked grocer as well.

Rose, Cardamom & Pistachio Snowballs

The Perfect Accompaniment

If you enjoy these flavor combinations, be sure to head over to our Tasting Jerusalem FaceBook page to learn about our Dec 2015 topic – it’s known as the hot chocolate of the Middle East and also has many names – sachlav, salep, saloop, sahlab but it always uses milk and some rose water and is finished with cinnamon, cocoa, or pistachios. Would be a lovely pairing with these rosey snowballs.

I wish you all a happy holiday season and a peaceful, healthy, and prosperous 2016. Be sure to follow me on social media (1-click Follow box in the right hand column) and let me know what’s cooking in your kitchen over these busy holiday weeks. I love to know and I’m also happy to answer questions.

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5.0 from 2 reviews
Rose, Cardamom, and Pistachio Snowballs
Author: 
Recipe type: Dessert
 
With the addition of some rose water and cardamom, this Betty Crocker cookie takes on the exotic flavors of the Middle East but is still as easy to prepare as always. Dough can be made ahead and the cookies baked off as you need them. I halved the original recipe because it makes a lot of cookies so this can easily double.
Ingredients
  • 1 stick soft butter
  • ¼ cup sifted confectioners' sugar
  • ½ teaspoon rose water
  • ¼ teaspoon cardamom (I think you can go heavier on the rose water and cardamom.)
  • 1⅛ cups sifted flour
  • ⅛ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cups finely chopped toasted pistachio nuts
Instructions
  1. In a stand mixer, mix together thoroughly the softened butter, sifted confectioners' sugar, rose water,and cardamom
  2. Mix in the flour and salt. Then add in the pistachios. At this point, you can mix by hand if you like.
  3. Once the nuts are thoroughly incorporated, wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill. The dough can remain in the fridge for just a ½ hour or even overnight.
  4. Preheat oven to 400 degrees or 375 convect while the dough chills.
  5. To bake them, roll into 1" balls. Place about 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheet (I used parchment). Bake until set but not brown - about 8 - 12 minutes depending on whether you appreciate the softer lighter original version or my MILs "burnt" version. While still warm, roll in confectioners' sugar. Cool. Roll in sugar again. (I used a small tea strainer as a sifter to put the second coat of sugar on.)

 

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16 Responses to Rose, Cardamom, and Pistachio Snowballs: A Simple but Exotic Holiday Cookie

  1. Deb|EastofEdenCooking December 23, 2015 at 8:59 am #

    Food memories are so powerful! My mom made these buttery little cookies too. She called them Russian Tea Cakes. Every Christmas a double batch was made and devoured. They are still a family favorite! But our family recipe has them baked just until done, they barely hold together. I am really drawn to your version with rose water, cardamon and pistachios, sublime!

    • Beth Lee December 23, 2015 at 9:57 am #

      Yup! So much power in one little bite right? “Just until done” is definitely the typical approach but my MIL was more of a free spirit in the kitchen 🙂

  2. Laura @MotherWouldKnow December 25, 2015 at 11:43 am #

    What a fabulous twist on a holiday cookie standard! I adore cardamom and pistachios, so this is made for me – and while I’d make enough to share, I’m not sure I will 🙂

    • Beth Lee December 26, 2015 at 7:38 am #

      Thanks for dropping by Laura. I like your spirit of not sharing 🙂 Let me know if you try them or a twist of your own and have a wonderful New Year!

  3. Little Cooking Tips December 27, 2015 at 9:26 am #

    Hi dear Beth!
    We ‘ve seen those on your Twitter feed and just found some time, to sit down and enjoy the post!:)
    It’s been a very busy Christmas for us, baking and cooking traditional dishes for the season!:) Even as we type those lines, we have a saucepan with syrup for melomakarona simmering on the background!
    We hope you’re having a fantastic Holiday season, surrounded by your loved ones!:)
    Loved your cardamom and pistachio snowballs! We have some flower water left (from all the kourabiedes we baked in December) and it’ll be perfect to try it with this recipe. We also just bought some pistachios from Aegina island (have you ever tried those? They’re smaller and tastier than the usual pistachios you can find around), so the timing is perfect!
    Thank you so much for the wonderful memories as well as the amazing recipe!
    Sending you lots of love,
    Panos and Mirella
    xoxoxo

    • Beth Lee December 28, 2015 at 10:14 am #

      I just love hearing from you! Your baked goods sound so delish especially w the local ingredients like those pistachios you describe. Looking forward to continued online conversations in 2016 and a hopeful opportunity to cook together sometime soon.

      It is so interesting looking up your Greek cookies how there is so much similarity in one simple butter cookie yet so much nuance among all the different culture’s recipes.

      Hope you are enjoying the holiday season and I wish you a peaceful prosperous healthy 2016.

      • Little Cooking Tips January 8, 2016 at 1:33 am #

        Just signing in to wish you a healthy, creative, joyful, happy 2016! May all your dreams and wishes come true dear Beth!
        xoxo

        • Beth Lee January 8, 2016 at 7:47 am #

          And same to you! One of them is visiting Greece – I’ll keep you posted 🙂

  4. Hannah January 8, 2016 at 8:21 pm #

    You made me smile, Beth! My mom made Russian tea cookies and over baked them til the edges were quite brown, then showered them in powdered sugar. Whenever I’ve had someone else’s they melt in my mouth (quite yummy) but aren’t what I recall from my childhood. I love your Middle Eastern take on these. They must have been a delicious hit!

    • Beth Lee February 11, 2016 at 5:30 pm #

      Your mom and my MIL probably would have gotten along famously! LOL. We’ll have to bake them together when we finally meet in person!

  5. Jenn February 11, 2016 at 2:50 pm #

    Ohhhh that sounds so good! I love rose and cardamom. I made a sugar infused with rose petals, cardamom and cinnamon and use it baked goods and it is so, well yummy 😉

    • Beth Lee February 11, 2016 at 5:31 pm #

      So great to meet you – I love that we can use the word yummy with wild abandon and not make excuses about it! What a great idea on the sugar infusion – I have to try that!

  6. Ashley @ Big Flavors from a Tiny Kitchen November 28, 2016 at 5:17 am #

    I absolutely love this flavor combo – and what a fun spin on a classic cookie!

    • Beth Lee November 29, 2016 at 10:01 am #

      Thanks Ashley! I’m getting excited to start my holiday baking.

  7. Jackie November 28, 2016 at 10:04 am #

    These sound great!

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