Pistachio Snowball Cookies with Rose and Cardamom: A Simple but Exotic Holiday Cookie

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Pistachio Snowball Cookies with Rose and Cardamom — the deliciously unlikely result when Betty Crocker meets the flavors of the Middle East. These cookies are award winning (LA Times Cookie Contest) and yet so easy to bake! (post updated December 2019)

straight down shot of pistachio snowballs with rose petals

“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)

A Pistachio Snowball Cookie By Any Other Name

Like most recipes, these Pistachio Snowball Cookies with Rose and Cardamom have a story to tell. 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 with no recipe as reference, how to recreate this food memory?

She was a simple cook and a product of the 1950s so we checked side-of-the-box recipes. 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.

angle shot of pistachio wedding cookies with rose petals

The Burning Secret or How Long do you Bake a Snowball Cookie?

The first time I baked a snowball cookie, my husband said it didn’t taste like his mother’s. 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. Voila! My husband said it tasted just like his mom’s. 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 and flavorings.

When Betty Crocker Meets Middle Eastern Flavors

Enamored with the exotic flavor that rose water can add to a dish – both savory and sweet – I decided to add some to these buttery snowballs along with a pinch of cardamom. Then I switched to pistachio nuts.

This flavor combination reminds me of a Middle Eastern cookie called ghraybeh. Graybeh combine ghee (clarified butter), powdered sugar, flour, rose water, and orange blossom water topped with a pistachio for an exotic shortbread-like treat.

pistachio snowball cookies with powdered sugar sifter

Sure enough, the combination of rose water, cardamom, and pistachio enhanced the snowballs without changing their crispy, 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. See below for resources.

pistachios in white bowl

How to Make Snowball Cookies

Making pistachio snowball cookies is straightforward. And like most of my recipes, you can break it down into stages if need be.

  1. Prep pistachios – toast and finely chop. I use a mini food processor.
  2. Sift confectioners’ sugar and flour (separately). 
  3. In a stand mixer, combine the butter, sugar, rose and cardamom.
  4. Then add the flour and salt, then the pistachios – mix by hand if necessary.
  5. Chill the dough – from 1/2 hour to overnight or longer. 
  6. Roll, bake, and douse in confectioners’ sugar to finish.
  7. Try not to eat them all before you pack them up for your cookie swap or holiday gathering

uncooked snowball cookies on parchment

How to Store Snowball Cookies

You can store uncooked dough in the refrigerator or freezer. Just have to wait until it is soft enough to roll (you want it a bit chilled when rolling but obviously not hard as a rock). Once the cookies are baked, you can store them in a cool dry place for several days. When serving, dust a bit of fresh powdered sugar on if you like for a fresh, festive display.

What to Serve with Pistachio Snowball Cookies

If you enjoy these flavor combinations, be sure to head over to our Tasting Jerusalem Facebook page and group to learn all about rose water, cardamom and all the wonderfully distinct ingredients found in Middle Eastern cuisines. 

Want to stay regional? Try pairing these cookies with salep (aka sachlav, saloop, sahlab). It’s known as the hot chocolate of the Middle East and always uses milk and rose water and is finished with cinnamon, cocoa, or pistachios. Would be a lovely pairing with these rosy snowballs.

a box of salep mix

Or make regular hot chocolate or a steamy cup of coffee or tea. Pistachio snowballs also are a great addition to a holiday cookie spread.

pistachio snowball cookies on red plate

Free Printable Recipe Card for Gift Giving!

pistachio snowball cookies recipe card picture

LA Times Award Winning Cookie!

In 2016, I entered these cookies into the Los Angeles Times Annual Cookie Contest. They made it into the top 20 and from there, they were tested in the test kitchen by the staff. My cookie made it into the top 5! And I was invited to the test kitchen and the cookie was photographed and featured in their food section. So don’t just take my word for it, ask the LA Times. These cookies are good!

LA Times Award Winning newspaper clips

Supplies for Making Pistachio Snowball Cookies

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straight down shot of pistachio snowballs with rose petals
4.78 from 9 votes

Pistachio Snowballs with Rose and Cardamom

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. The 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.
Course Dessert
Cuisine American, Middle Eastern
Keyword Pistachios, Rose Water, snowball cookie,
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 12 minutes
Total Time 42 minutes
Servings 24 servings
Calories 74 kcal
Author Beth Lee


  • 1 stick soft butter
  • 1/4 cup sifted confectioners' sugar
  • ½ teaspoon rose water
  • ¼ teaspoon cardamom I think you can go heavier on the rose water and cardamom.
  • 1 1/8 cups sifted flour
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped toasted pistachio nuts


  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 1/2 hour or even overnight.
  4. Preheat oven to 400 degrees or 375 convection while the dough chills.
  5. To bake them, roll into 1" balls. Place about 2 inches apart on an 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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31 Responses to Pistachio Snowball Cookies with Rose and Cardamom: A Simple but Exotic Holiday Cookie

  1. Rita Held December 14, 2019 at 11:50 am #

    uhhh… so powdered sugar gets all over the place when eating these, right? I’m joking of course.

    • Beth Lee December 14, 2019 at 2:35 pm #

      Haha – not nearly as bad as glitter art projects :-).

  2. Christine Lemieux December 14, 2019 at 9:58 am #

    I make my mother’s recipe for “Mexican Wedding Cakes” every Christmas. They are rolled into a cilinder, chilled, sliced and then baked and rolled in very fine sugar. They are made with finely chopped pecans. I am definitely going to make these pistachio snowball cookies this year! Thank you for the recipe and the wonderful post!

    • Beth Lee December 14, 2019 at 2:37 pm #

      Oh I just love to hear all the stories – thanks for sharing. Love the cylinder approach and I know making them with pecans is delish. Let me know what you think of this version. It’s our family go-to now.

      • Christine Lemieux January 26, 2020 at 9:20 am #

        Loved these cookies! Next time I will use a bit more cardamom. I think mine was a bit old, so I will have to figure it out. Great cookies, thanks!

        • Beth Lee January 26, 2020 at 1:11 pm #

          You can definitely adjust the cardamom or rose water up or down. Especially the cardamom. And I get the “old” spice thing – I just cleared out 4 drawers – oh my goodness! So hard to toss but old is often tasteless so got to do it!

  3. Laura December 13, 2019 at 3:40 pm #

    5 stars
    Rosewater, pistachios and cardamom?! Be still my heart! I’ve got to make these because they sound incredible and I just love all your recipes!

  4. Sandi December 11, 2019 at 10:19 am #

    5 stars
    I am intrigued by the rosewater…It sounds like it really adds something special to the flavor profile of these cookies.

    • Beth Lee December 11, 2019 at 3:26 pm #

      It does Sandi – grab a bottle next time you are near the Int’l market. It lasts forever and you will enjoy playing around with the flavor. In the right quantity, it is beguiling. Too much is not so good but it’s easy to figure out the limits 🙂

  5. Rachel December 17, 2017 at 3:48 pm #

    4 stars
    I love the flavor of these cookies but mine didn’t keep their shape even after chilling in the freezer. They sort of looked like half melted snowballs. Are you sure there’s enough flour in this? Some other recipes I looked at had twice to three times as much dry ingredients like flour and sugar when they had one cup of butter.

    • Beth Lee December 17, 2017 at 3:56 pm #

      Hi Rachel – the recipe calls for 1 stick of butter, not one cup. So yes they would melt w that much butter! You can double the recipe easily – I do it all the time and then it would be two sticks of butter which is equivalent to one cup. Hope that helps.

      • Rachel December 17, 2017 at 4:03 pm #

        5 stars
        Ooh that’s where I went wrong! I just could not figure out what happened. I can’t eat dairy so I used one “stick” of Crisco, which is one full cup, not one half like a stick of butter would be. I will see if I can edit my stars in my review…sorry!

        • Beth Lee December 18, 2017 at 7:55 am #

          Thanks Rachel — let me know how they work with the equivalent crisco – always good to know substitutions. Happy Holidays and thanks for visiting my blog!

          • Tisha April 3, 2019 at 7:24 am #

            1 stick of butter would mean how many grams of butter ? 50 or 100 grams ?

          • Beth Lee April 3, 2019 at 8:09 am #

            1 stick of butter is 113 grams. Let me know if you have any other questions. One of these days, the US will catch up to the rest of the world and go metric!

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

    These sound great!

  7. 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.

  8. 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!

  9. 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!

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

    5 stars
    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

    • 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 #

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

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

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

  11. 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!

  12. 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 🙂

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