"The only real stumbling block is the fear of failure. In cooking, you have got to have a what-the-hell attitude." ~ Julia Child

Last minute Christmas treats: Rum balls and Russian tea cakes

by Julie on December 24, 2010

in Holiday Hell, Sugar and Spite

Hurry! Like little bunnies!

Why didn’t anyone TELL me Christmas Eve was tonight? You think I pay attention to these things? Not like I celebrate Christmas or anything, but there are people who do. And generally speaking, it’s not hard to goad me into the spirit of things.

Hence my frenzied baking this afternoon.

While the boy killed zombies via XBox and the girl did whatever it is teenage girls do up in their rooms, I cranked up the Kitchen iPod and broke out what passes for traditional holiday recipes in my family. That’s right. Rum Balls and Russian Tea Cakes.

These are the only baked goods I remember my mother making come the holidays.

Yes, thank you, I have turned into my mother. I didn’t mean to, but here I am. Less the TV dinners, but still.

Rum balls are so easy I don’t know why I don’t make them once a week. I suppose it’s not prudent to feed my latent alcoholism, though. Did I mention I was turning into my mother?

Here’s what you need:

1 cup chopped nuts. I just buy chopped walnuts from Trader Joe’s.
2 cups crushed ‘Nilla Wafers (about four dozen cookies)
1 cup powdered sugar
2 tsp melted butter
1/2 cup rum (This is what I had on hand. Bourbon works fine, too.)
2 Tbspn corn syrup (lite Karo)
2 tspns cocoa powder

Smash the 'Nilla wafers

SMASH them!

Put the four dozen ‘Nilla Wafers in a gallon Ziploc bag and smash them with a hammer. I suppose you could put them into a food processor and accomplish the same effect, but this way is so much more cathartic

1/2 cup of rum for the rum balls

1/2 cup rum for the rum balls, one shot for you, for balance

Put all the dry ingredients into a large mixing bowl, then add your, um, liquids.

Karo corn syrup

Don't forget your evil corn syrup

Mix it all together. The dough will be sorta goopy, so put it in the refrigerator for 15 minutes to solidify before rolling into balls, and covering with powdered sugar.

a bowl of powdered sugar

Make it sweet

Roll the chilled dough in powdered sugar, and put back into the refrigerator for an hour or so.


What do you expect? Martha Stewart?

Russian tea cakes, also known as Mexican Wedding Cakes (and since I’m in SoCal, I should be refer to these as the latter), are also easy peasy. Although if you wait until the VERY last minute, as I have, you’ll still be rushing to beat the clock and still get to your holiday party with shoes and mascara on…

here’s the recipe:

1 cup (two sticks) butter, room temperature
2 cups powdered sugar
2 tspns. vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup hazelnuts, pecans, or other nuts (I used chopped walnuts that I took the hammer to again.) Toasted and finely ground. Go ahead and do this in your food processor. I’ll keep my Ziploc bag and hammer method.
1/8 tsp. cinnamon

Using an electric mixer, beat the butter in a large bowl until light and fluffy. Add 1/2 cup powdered sugar and the vanilla. Beat until well-blended. Beat in flour in two parts, then add the crushed nuts. Divide the dough in half and form each half into a ball. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350, whisk remaining 1 and 1/2 cup powdered sugar together with the cinnamon, into a pie dish to blend. Set aside.

Working with the now-chilled dough, pinch two teaspoon-ish bits off and roll them into balls, spacing them 1/2 inch apart. (I didn’t do this, and I put them on parchment paper. Wonder what will happen?) Bake them until golden brown on bottom and pale golden on top, about 18 minutes.

Cool cookies for about 5 minutes on baking sheet, then gently toss them in the sugar/cinnamon mixture. Transfer the thusly-coated cookies onto a rack to completely cool before putting them into some kind of holiday arrangement that is more clever and cuter than what I could ever do. Me? I’m gonna put them on a dish.

Throw whatever remains of the sugar/cinnamon mixture on top of them and let the guests have at them.

Makes about 4 dozen.

(Postscript: OMG these were good. Light and not too sweet. Perfect tea cakes. )

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Heide M. December 29, 2010 at 5:10 pm

I bet these classic treats taste great. Thank you for posting this.


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