Melt-in-your-mouth Italian wedding cookies are bursting with toasted nuts and rich buttery flavor for a classic holiday favorite, and you need just six ingredients! A cookie known by many names, this recipe features a shortcut along the way to simplify the powdered sugar coating and prevent breakage.
Whether you know them as wedding cookies of a different nationality (Mexican or Greek), Russian tea cakes, or snowball cookies, this confectioners'-sugar-dusted, melt-in-your-mouth, nutty, buttery treat is a Christmas cookie staple. Often the only big difference is which nut you choose to use.
In our family we refer to them as walnut crescent cookies as my great aunt always baked these with walnuts (in place of the more commonplace almond version) and shaped them into crescents instead of balls. I carry on her tradition and do the same here, though with a more modified crescent/ball shape.
However! The beauty of these cookies is that you can choose your own adventure. By all means use almonds or pecans if you like, or shape them into balls if you want to keep things simple. They're absolutely delicious no matter which way they come together.
Why We Love This Recipe
- Their classic melt-in-your-mouth texture means that Italian wedding cookies can be delicate right out of the oven. Instead of risking breakage to quickly roll them in powdered sugar for the first time, I instead dust them with sugar for their first coat right on the pan. It's quicker, easier, and works just as well.
- Toasting the walnuts provides depth that plays off of the buttery vanilla flavor we know and love with these cookies.
- This is an easy cookie recipe to shop for as you need just six ingredients.
- Chilling the dough makes it much easier to handle. You will be able to shape them without sticking, and they'll stay tall and won't flatten out once baked.
A big plus of Italian wedding cookies is that they use simple ingredients. Note that this recipe is correct: there are no eggs or any rising agent (such as baking powder/soda).
- Butter: Softened butter is used to best produce a light texture. Butter is softened when you can lightly press the stick and your finger leaves a slight indent.
- Confectioners' Sugar: Also known as powdered sugar or icing sugar, this sweetens both the dough and provides the classic Italian wedding cookie coating. Using this in place of granulated sugar adds to the tender, melt-in-your-mouth feel.
- Nuts: Walnuts, almonds, pecans, hazelnuts, or a mix thereof all work. Toasting the nuts is optional but provides a more well-rounded flavor so I recommend it.
While you can use raw nuts, pre-toasting them deepens their flavor and makes it more pronounced in the baked cookie. I recommend it in a fairly basic recipe like this one, and especially with a milder-flavored nut like walnuts. Pre-toasting the sesame seeds is also beneficial in Italian sesame cookies - yum.
Toast the Nuts (Optional)
- Heat oven to 350°F. Place walnut halves/pieces on an ungreased rimmed sheet pan and toast for 5-10 minutes, or until fragrant and golden-brown in color. Let cool, then add about half to the bowl of a food processor.
- Pulse until the nuts are finely ground. Transfer to a bowl and repeat for the remaining nuts.
Prepare the Dough
- Cream butter and confectioners' sugar together until well combined and fluffy.
- Mix in the vanilla and salt, then the ground walnuts. Add the flour and mix in until just combined. Chill dough for at least one hour.
- Once chilled, scoop one tablespoon of dough and roll into a ball with your hands. Place on ungreased cookie sheet. If you want to make a crescent shape, cup your hand around the dough and press in the opposite side until it resembles a cashew.
Coat with Powdered Sugar
- Bake at 325°F for 15-20 minutes, or until the tops have set up to a very light touch and the bottoms are golden brown.
- Let the cookies sit for 5 minutes, then dust with confectioners' sugar. Let the cookies cool completely.
- Once cooled entirely, lift up each cookie and roll all sides in the confectioners' sugar before serving or storing.
Recipe Tips and Tricks
- Shaping. While I shape my Italian wedding cookies into a quasi-crescent for sentimental reasons, it's easier to just form balls and it makes them sturdier, too.
- Go easy when grinding nuts. Pulse until just broken up into fine pieces. Too much processing can lead to nut butter, which is not what we're after here.
- Sift for best results. Italian wedding cookies are ultra tender thanks to their fine crumb. Sifting the powdered sugar and flour when adding to the dough breaks up any clumps and ensures a smooth texture.
- Prevent spreading. The bigger the cookie, the more they spread. I portion out the dough with a level tablespoon measuring spoon as most cookie scoops are too large (1 ½-2 tablespoons).
- No greasing necessary. The higher proportion of butter (fat) in this recipe does more than enough to prevent these cookies from sticking to the sheet. In fact, greasing the sheet would cause them to spread too much as they bake.
- Use care when rolling. While waiting until totally cooled to coat individual cookies in powdered sugar eliminates much of the risk of them crumbling and breaking, still use care not to be too rough with them. Their tender texture makes them less hardy than other types of cookies.
Once cool, store Italian wedding cookies in an air-tight container at room temperature for 3-4 days. Freeze them in air-tight freezer bags with as much air pressed out as possible for up to 4-5 months for the freshest taste.
Yes, these cookies are fine to mail. If doing so I would shape the dough into balls instead of crescents, as rounded shapes are sturdier and less likely to break.
Commonly made with almonds, you can use many different types of nuts in these cookies. I'm partial to walnuts, but pecans, hazelnuts, or a combination work just as well.
More Italian Cookies
In addition to the below, Italian ricotta cookies are another family favorite recipe that makes an appearance year-round, but especially so around the holidays.
If you’ve enjoyed this recipe, I’d love for you to leave a star rating in the recipe card and/or a comment review below!
Italian Wedding Cookies
- 1 cup (226g) unsalted butter softened
- ½ cup (60g) confectioners' sugar sifted
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 4 ounces (120g) walnut halves/pieces (about 1 cup once ground)
- 2 cups (250g) all-purpose flour sifted
- ¾ cup (90g) confectioners' sugar divided
- Toasting the Nuts: Heat oven to 350°F. Add walnut halves/pieces to a rimmed sheet pan lined with parchment paper and toast for 5-10 minutes, or until becoming fragrant and golden-brown. Immediately transfer to a plate or bowl to cool completely. Turn off the oven for now.
- Once cooled, add about half of the nuts to the bowl of a food processor and pulse until broken up into fine bits. Remove to a bowl or plate and repeat for the remaining nuts. Set aside for now.
- Making the Dough: Add softened butter to a bowl and sift in ½ cup of the confectioners' sugar. Mix on medium speed for 2-3 minutes, or until smooth and creamy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.
- Mix in the vanilla extract and salt until well combined. Add the finely ground walnuts and mix until evenly dispersed.
- Sift in the flour and mix until combined. Cover the bowl with tight-fitting plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least one hour, up to overnight.
- Baking the Cookies: Preheat oven to 325°F (163°C). Scoop one tablespoon of the cookie dough and roll it into a ball, continue on to shape it into a crescent if you like. Place cookies on ungreased baking sheet(s) about two inches apart from one another.
- Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the tops have mostly set up and the bottoms are golden to golden-brown. The tops will not have browned.
- Coating with Sugar: Let the baked cookies cool on the pan for 5 minutes, then sift ¼ cup of the reserved confectioners' sugar over top to coat the tops and sides the best you can.
- Allow the cookies to cool completely before rolling them in the remaining ½ cup confectioners' sugar before serving or storing.
- Don't step away when toasting the nuts as they're quick to burn.
- A large mesh sieve makes sifting ingredients a breeze.
- Use ungreased baking sheets as greasing can cause the cookies to spread too much. The butter content here prevents them from sticking to the pan.
- If baking the cookies in multiple batches, consider leaving half of the dough in the fridge so it doesn't warm up too much.
- Store cookies in an air-tight container at room temperature for 3-4 days, or freeze in a freezer bag with the air pressed out for 4-5 months.
Nutritional information is provided as an estimate. As it can vary due to many factors (brands used, quantities, etc.), we cannot guarantee its accuracy.Food Safety and Nutrition Disclaimer