This delicious Italian recipe for butterball cookies is easy and quick to make. These pecan-filled cookies are slightly crumbly and loaded with delicious flavor, making it one of my favorite holiday cookies.
In fact, I grew up on this particular recipe I’m sharing with you today thanks to my mom who made them every Christmas. There are various ways to modify the recipe too, which I’ll explain further below.
I previously thought these butterball cookies were a cookie of Italian origin, however, they are very popular in other cultures such as Russian and even Mexican, not just Italian. Let’s face it, everyone loves these cookies.
This is also probably why you may have noticed that these cookies go by a number of different names, which can lead to someone getting a bit confused, but most are referring to the same or similar recipe.
Similar cookie names
- snowball cookies
- pecan balls
- pecan drops
- Italian butter balls
- butter balls
- melt away cookies
- Italian wedding cookies
- Italian snowball cookies
They all follow the basic instructions of: melt some butter in a pan, add in the flour, sugar, extract, salt, and chopped nuts. Mix and mold them into balls, place on a cookie sheet and bake. Let cool and roll each ball in confectioners sugar.
These Italian butterball cookies can also be used for Italian weddings, not just at Christmas time.
Italian Butterball Cookies with Pecans
The secret I have found when asking friends who make their own butterball cookies that don’t taste as good as mine, is the quantity of the nuts and the lack of vanilla extract.
I personally prefer the flavor of the pecans in these cookies, but you can substitute almonds or walnuts for the pecans. You can omit them all together for a nut-free butterball, however the consistency will be very different.
But honestly, I see so many other recipes that use a scant amount of chopped nuts. In this recipe, we use a 1:1 ratio of the nuts and flour. So that gives you an idea of how much the flavor of the pecans is in this version of the butterball.
Plus, when you chop the nuts finely with something like a food processor, and then incorporate them into the dough, the flavor increases much more.
Pecans are a common ingredient used around the holidays. If you’re a fan of pecans, check out my list of over 20 pecan Christmas recipes!
To get started making your Italian butterball cookies, you’ll need the following ingredients. Exact measurements are included in the recipe card at the end of this post.
- white flour
- vanilla extract
- finely chopped pecans (1 cup of whole pecans will still produce approximately 1 cup of chopped pecans). You can use a blender or food processor.
- pinch of salt
- confectioners sugar for rolling at the end
Butterball Cookie Recipe
This recipe will make approximately 16 1-inch balls.
You first melt the butter in a medium sauce pan over low heat. When melted, remove from heat.
Then in the same pan, add in everything else at once (except the confectioners sugar). Use a spoon or spatula to incorporate the ingredients into the butter mixture. It will be dense due to the pecans. This is normal.
There is no need to remove the butterball dough from the pan. Place an ungreased cookie sheet on the counter next to the pan, using parchment paper if you want to line it for easier clean up.
Simply grab a small amount of cookie dough and mold into a 1 inch size ball using your hands. You can also use a cookie scoop if you want.
PRO TIP: If you use food grade gloves it helps a lot as your hands are spared from being covered in a buttery mess!
Moving on, continue to shape the dough into small balls placing each on the cookie sheet. The butterballs will not expand in size when baking, so don’t worry about spacing.
Next, place the cookie sheet in a preheated oven at 325F regular bake. I use my favorite smart oven to cook these in, my Breville. You can read my Breville Smart Oven Review post where I go over all it’s useful features. I use it for most of my baking needs.
Even if using my regular large oven, I do not use my convection setting on my oven for these. Bake for 20 minutes and just check and make sure they are not starting to burn.
Remove from the oven and let the cookies cool completely before handling. Otherwise they may crumble. You’ll see in my image below they will crack slightly, especially if you over bake them.
Next, roll the baked cookies in the confectioners sugar and place back on the racks to remove any excess sugar. For a heavier coating, roll the cookies twice in the sugar.
Store in an air tight container or zip lock bag in the refrigerator. See my storage notes below.
Butterball cookies will mold if left out for too many days on the counter.
However, they won’t last long. I always have to make at least 2 batches because my husband and I eat the first batch within a few hours of baking!
Storing and Freezing Butterball Pecan Cookies
Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days.
You can also freeze your butterball cookies for longer storage. They will last 3-6 months in the freezer using an airtight container or freezer bags. This is one way to really help with making Christmas cookies ahead of time, or for preparing for special occasions such as weddings.
You can freeze pecan butterballs with or without the coating of confectioners sugar. If you freeze without the powdered sugar, then just make sure they are fully thawed before adding the coating.
Variations of Italian Butterball Cookies
As mentioned earlier, not all butterball cookies are the same. Here are some creative ideas for different ways to make them.
- Use different nuts instead of pecans, such as almonds, walnuts, or pistachios.
- Omit the pecans all together.
- Add in mini-chocolate chips.
- Use roasted pecans instead of raw.
How to Serve Butterball Cookies
Very simple, serve your butterball cookies with plates and lots of napkins. Butterball cookies do melt in your fingers and leave a sticky coating due to the sugar, so it’s kind of annoying.
But you can also serve with forks, and people can use the fork or spoon on a plate to break apart the cookie and then just eat it that way.
You can also serve them inside small cupcake wrappers which help minimize mess and can create a great setting!
Either way your butterball cookies will be delicious!
Questions You May Have
No. You do not use eggs in this recipe. The ingredients with the butter will hold the ball of dough together perfectly!
Yes, the flavor will be different but you can still follow the same recipe.
Yes, you can freeze pecan butterballs 3 to 6 months ahead of time. Be sure to store them between sheets of wax paper in an air tight container.
Other Christmas Cookies You May Enjoy
If you enjoy this butterball cookie recipe, also check out the ones below.
Italian toto cookies are chocolate cookies covered with light icing containing a touch of whiskey!
Impress your Italian friends with this classic Italian almond biscotti recipe. Serve with coffee.
Delicious anginetti cookies with a hint of lemon are an Italian favorite for weddings, Christmas and other special occasions.
I hope you enjoyed our Italian family recipe for easy and delicious butterball cookies. I’d love hear your feedback in the comments below and if you made any changes to make them your own!
- 6 tbsp butter
- 2 tbsp sugar
- 1 cup flour
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 cup finely chopped pecans chop in food processor if you can so it is even and finely chopped.
- pinch of salt
- 3/4 cup confectioners sugar for coating the cookies
- Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium low heat.
- Add in the sugar, flour, vanilla, salt and finely chopped pecans.
- Mix all together to incorporate evenly and remove from heat.
- Form small balls out of the dough and place on ungreased baking sheet.
- Bake at 325F for 20 minutes, making sure they don't burn.
- Gently remove from sheet and let cool. Using a spoon will help not accidentally crush them.
- Once fully cooled, roll in confectioners sugar until well coated.
- You can substitute pecans with other nuts such as almonds or walnuts.
- You can substitute the vanilla extract with almond extract, even orange extract.
- 1 cup of whole pecans equal approx. 1 cup of chopped pecans.
- Chopping pecans in a food processor gives a great consistency that goes great with these cookies. Make sure they are very fine, not big chunks.
- If you want the cookies covered in more powdered sugar, then roll them twice in the powdered sugar and tap of any excess.
- You can store long term in the freezer in an airtight container to prevent them being crushed. Otherwise, store in fridge for up to 5 days.