Brief History of Russian Tea Cakes


We all love a great dessert from time to time, especially around Christmas time right? Well, one type of sweet treat that can be enjoyed at any time of the year, especially around Christmas however, is the Russian Tea Cake. If the name ‘Russian Tea Cake’ isn’t ringing any bells with you, then you may know them as ‘butter balls’ ‘Snowball cookies’ or ‘Mexican Wedding Cakes’ instead. The reason for these changes in names is because nobody actually knows for certain who invented them or where they originated, which is where we come in. In this article we’ll be taking a look at a brief history of the Russian Tea Cake, and how it has evolved over the years. The names may be different, but the end result is pretty much exactly the same, a delicious ball of heaven.

What exactly is a Russian Tea Cake?

First off, if you’re picturing a cake then you’d actually be wrong as these are basically butter based round cookie balls, with butter and chopped pecan nuts being held together by flour and sugar, rolled into balls, baked in the oven, and then rolled in powdered sugar whilst still being hot.

Where did they originate?

This is where things get tricky. In the 18th century Russian Tea Cakes began appearing in Russia where they were used as a delicious confection that was used during tea-sharing ceremonies. Tea was introduced during the 1600’s and the Russians used to traditionally consume sweet cakes and cookies with samovar tea. Who actually invented them or their exact place of origin is still unknown and actually causes quite a few headaches and heated debates amongst food and drink aficionados all over the world. Many believe Eastern Europe to be the main location of origin as many shortbread and cookie recipes were a part of Eastern European cuisine often being made by Eastern European nuns.

How have Tea Cakes evolved?

So, the exact place of origin and the exact roots of its creators are still a mystery to this day, but how on earth does a recipe believed to have originated in the cold and snowy lands of Russia, find its way over the warm and dusty climes of Mexico in the form of Mexican Wedding Cakes?

As you may expect, these confectionaries are often consumed during Mexican wedding ceremonies, but how did they make their way over in the first place? Well, they’re believed to have migrated over to Mexico with European nuns.

There were a lot of convents in Mexico and a lot of European nuns made their way over there between the 18th and 20th century. There was often a great deal of baking that went on in Mexican convents so it’s a very strong possibility that they may have been a convent sweet treat brought over by European nuns, that began to make its way out into the public.

By the 20th century, these cookies were a traditional part of Christmas time in the US and wedding traditions in Mexico, and began appearing in US cook books around the 1950’s. In Mexico, a very similar dish entitled Bizcochitos uses exactly the same ingredients and methods of cooking, except they use the addition of mild anise.