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!
Another delicious sweet from my Tasting Jerusalem category is my date thumbprint cookies.
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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.
Why you'll love this recipe
You'll love this recipe because these cookies are classic, easy-to-make and yet you can experiment with the ingredients. You can even adjust the bake time to achieve the crispy or melty texture that's just right for you.
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 chopped texture 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 compared to a traditional snowball 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.
Ingredients you'll need
The flavor combination in this snowball - rose water, cardamom and pistachios - 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.
Enamored with the exotic flavor that rose water can add to a dish - both savory and sweet - I decided to add some of this fragrant water to these buttery snowballs along with a pinch of cardamom as well as switching to pistachio nuts.
Sure enough, the combination of rose water, cardamom, and pistachio enhanced the snowballs without changing their crispy, melty texture.
- Unsalted butter: I always use unsalted butter so I can control the level of salt in what I am baking or cooking.
- Powdered (confectioner's) sugar: In addition to coating the outside of these cookies, this type of sugar helps create a soft, almost melty tenderness to these cookies.
- Rose water: Available online or at your local international or Middle Eastern market, this bottle of fragrant water will last almost forever and will quickly become a favorite secret ingredient. We even use it in savory recipes like this rose harissa. 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.
- Cardamom: Available ground in any grocery spice section, it enhances both sweet and savory dishes.
- All-purpose flour: Nothing fancy here - just whatever brand of all-purpose flour you keep in the house.
- Kosher salt: I always use Diamond Crystal kosher salt when I test any recipe.
- Pistachios: Seek out unsalted shelled pistachios. Trader Joe's almost always carries them.
Check out my pistachio snowball web story for a visual guide to making this delicious recipe!
How to make this recipe
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 ½ hour to overnight or longer.
6. Roll into 1-inch balls and place on a parchment-lined sheet tray.
7. Bake for 8 - 12 minutes depending on whether you want my MILs version (more well done) or the traditional less-baked version. Once slightly cooled, roll in confectioners' sugar.
8. Sprinkle on a second coast once you transfer them to your serving tray!
Try not to eat them all before you pack them up for your cookie swap or put them on the buffet at your holiday gathering.
Expert Tips and FAQs
- This recipe is easily doubled if you want to make a lot of cookies.
- Experiment with a different nut or spice or change the rose water to orange blossom water or leave it out completely. Stick to the basic proportions and technique but don't be afraid to experiment with flavor.
- You can prepare this dough and refrigerate for up to a couple of days or pop the dough in the freezer. Breaking the process into steps really helps me fit in some baking when I can.
- I offer a range of baking time depending on whether you want to experiment with what we call "the burning secret" in our house or have the more traditional result. My MIL overcooked these a bit but my husband loves them that way. That's the 12-minute mark. Closer to 8 minutes will yield a more velvety, traditional result.
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.
You should refrigerate the dough for a short time before you roll and bake. But you can absolutely refrigerate longer. If the dough is too cold to roll, just wait a few minutes until it's soft enough to manipulate.
You can also freeze the dough for a month or so and use it at a later time.
Snowballs generally do not take on much color even when fully baked. If you keep them in the oven closer to the 12 minute mark, you will see some brown color develop. And, whether you cook them for 8 minutes or 12, don't handle them right out of the oven. Let them rest and slightly cool before you attempt the first roll in the powdered sugar.
If stored in an airtight container in a cool dry place, I find these cookies to be just as good 5 - 7 days later.
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.
Free Printable Recipe Card for Gift Giving
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!
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!
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Pistachio Snowballs with Rose and Cardamom
- 1 stick unsalted butter softened
- ¼ cup confectioners' (powdered) sugar sifted
- ½ teaspoon rose water
- ¼ teaspoon cardamom
- 1 ⅛ cups all-purpose flour sifted
- ⅛ teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ cup finely chopped toasted pistachio nuts
- In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, mix together thoroughly the softened butter, sifted confectioners' sugar, rose water, and cardamom
- Mix in the flour and salt. Then add in the pistachios. At this point, you can mix by hand if you like.
- 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.
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees or 375 convection while the dough chills.
- To bake them, roll into 1" balls. Place about 2 inches apart on a parchment-lined baking sheet. 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.
- Let cool briefly. If you handle immediately they will tend to crack or crumble. While still warm-ish, 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.)