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My favorite Christmas cookie: Snowball cookies

December 19, 2015

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Snowball Cookies

Snowball cookies are one of those cookies which various cooks and families know by different names, whether it is Mexican Wedding Cakes, Russian Tea Cakes, or Snowball Cookies (at Natasha’s Kitchen who claims Ukrainian roots.)

I grew up knowing them as Snowball Cookies so that’s what we’ll go with here. And I love that I got this recipe from Mary Ann Krabill Hollinger, who used to bake them for the Russell and Martha Krabill household. Russell was the first pastor I ever knew who was everything you want a good pastor to be: warm, caring, loved children, preached well, had deep passion for needy in our community, and much more. My father was blessed to serve as deacon with him at North Goshen Mennonite Church.

I think I remember the first time I ate them at the Krabill home. Martha was a hostess par excellence, who was truly a biblical “Martha” in the kitchen and dining room, preparing meals with elegance and excellence out of her Lancaster County, Pa. tradition. That is not to say she wasn’t a “Mary” too—as a pastor’s wife, piano teacher, and mother of two children Mary Ann and James (oh and she would have never called them kids) who grew up to follow family footsteps into true servant ministry roles. Earlier I wrote and shared photos about Martha’s special influence which led me into a career in writing, even though she was my piano teacher!

That’s a little of why I not only love the taste of these cookies, but the memories and relationships they bring to mind. Isn’t that what special recipes do for us?

I usually only make these at Christmas and hope to pop a batch in the oven later today. This is my variation in which I doubled the recipe, because the original recipe doesn’t make very many. This one yields about 36-40 or so small cookies that are extremely rich, so you don’t normally eat three or four at a time in spite of their small size. One or two will do quite nicely, at 144 calories each. Still, they are to enjoy!

Snowball Cookies (my adaptation)

1 ½ cup butter (softened)
¾ teaspoon salt
1 ½ cup nuts (pecans or almonds)
½ cup white sugar
2 ¼ teaspoon vanilla
3 cups flour
3 teaspoons water
1 cup or so of powdered sugar

Cream butter and sugar. Add vanilla, flour, salt, water and nuts. Form into balls the size of walnuts. Bake at 325 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes on ungreased cookie sheet. Do not brown.

Remove from cookie sheet. After they have cooled 2-3 minutes, (enough to touch), roll them in a small bowl of the powdered sugar. Place on paper towel to cool some more. When completely cool, roll again in powdered sugar. It almost takes two rolls in the sugar for the powder to stick.


What special recipe brings a friend, family member, or fellow church member to mind? Share your story!


Mennonite Community Cookbook/65th Anniv

I’m pleased to let you know that the Mennonite Community Cookbook 65th Anniversary Edition (2015) is now on sale over at MennoMedia’s store at 30% discount until Christmas. Stock up for gifts for anyone you know who might love this classic and historic longtime bestselling Mennonite cookbook. It has a new 12-page “history” in the back of this edition that I was privileged to write and put together last year.

Check it out!


And now I’ll retire to my kitchen, house, and family for a little blog vacation. I wish you and your families a most joyful Christmas.  If you are going through difficult times which too often don’t seem to take a vacation at Christmas, may the special peace, goodwill, and assistance of family and friends uphold you.

From our family to yours, Merry Christmas. 


  1. Kacey McDonald permalink

    We all enjoy those too! Except they are “Aunt Cleo’s Pecan Balls”. We also do the traditional cutout sugar cookies with frosting and sprinkles (Santa always gets some of those). Other family must-makes are Grandma Anne’s Heath Toffee, Great Grandma Yeater’s Fudge and Bavarian Creme.

  2. Elaine permalink

    We called them pecan balls at our house, and I think they are my favorite Christmas cookie, too. (I later learned that they were called Russian Tea Cakes) Growing up we had Sand Tarts as our cut out cookie, but then my mother started making a softer cut out cookie which I use now. In my teen years I remember making Date balls (rolled in coconut), jam filled rolled cookies, and whoopie pies. A family favorite to munch on was Puffed Rice balls (similar to popcorn balls). Oh, the memories!

    • I thought I responded to this on Saturday but I was on a different device and it must not have saved. I do remember Sand Tarts fondly too–when other people made them. Never made them myself. The whoopie pies were a favorite also for a number of years after my mother started making them–but now my sister–who never enjoyed cooking that much–goes to that great effort just so can eat them once a year, or so! I think sharing cookie stories, traditions, and treats must be a favorite of lots of folks!

  3. Shona Douglas permalink

    Your baking sounds delicious . I live in Manitoba , Canada and think I will buy the book as I have some friends who would like it. Thanks for your blog and encouragements. Merry Christmas.

    • Awesome! I’m glad this connected. There are A LOT of Mennonite folks in Manitoba. Thanks for letting me know you were here!

  4. I remember these snow balls at Christmas, but can’t recall whether I ever made them.

    I did click on the link to Martha Krabill referring back to this special mentor in your life. I see the faith and caring in her eyes once again. Like Martha, my mother would never refer to children as kids. To her it was a demeaning “shorthand” she would never use. “Kids are goats,” Mother would say.

    My blog post on Wednesday has a soup theme, and you are IN it, Melodie!

    • I knew you would appreciate the Lancaster County connection, Marian. My own husband repeated that old line to me recently and I kind of laughed. I think down deep he still believes it, even though we certainly called our children kids. 🙂 Martha died a year ago at Thanksgiving. Same year as your mother, I believe.

      Can’t wait to find what kind of soup I’m in!!

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