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This recipe is easy and quick and can be easily adapted as I’ll explain below. I grew up on this butterball cookie recipe using pecans that were finely ground, but of all the variations out there that I’ve had, these Italian snowballs rolled in confectioners sugar is by far the best one.
Of course, I’m not biased…
I previously had thought these were an Italian cookie of origin, however, I have to be honest here, I’ve seen them in many other ethnic sites such as Russian and even Mexican. Let’s face it, everyone loves these cookies.
Which is also probably why you may have noticed that there are a number of different names, which can lead to someone getting a bit confused, but most are referring to the same concept.
Some common names:
- snowball cookies
- pecan balls
- pecan drops
- Italian butter balls
- butter balls
- meltaway 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 cookie sheet and bake. Let cool and roll each ball in confectioners sugar.
These Italian snowballs, as they are so cutely called, are often used for Italian weddings or during the Christmas holiday season.
I Make My Italian Butterball Cookies with Pecans
Although I personally prefer the flavor of the pecans in these cookies, you can substitute the pecans for almonds or walnuts. You can omit them all together, however consistency will be different.
The secret I have found when experimenting or asking friends who make them and that don’t taste as good as mine, is the quantity of the nuts and the lack of vanilla extract.
You might think if you’re using almonds for example, you’d want almond extract. This is not necessary. The vanilla extract gives an additional layer of flavor that so many other recipes do not have. Plus, when you chop the nuts finely with something like a food processor, and then incorporate that into the dough, then the flavor incorporates muc;)h more.
But honestly, I see so many other recipes that use a scant amount of chopped nuts. In this recipe, we use a 1:1 of the nuts and flour. So that gives you an idea of how much the flavor of the pecans are in this version of the butterball.
Ingredients Needed for How to Make Italian Pecan Butterballs
To get started making your Italian pecan snowballs or butterballs, you’ll need the following ingredients to make approximately 16 cookies depending on size.
- 6 tbsp butter
- 2 tbsp sugar
- 1 cup white flour
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 cup finely chopped pecans (1 cup of whole pecans will still produce approximately 1 cup of chopped pecans)
- pinch salt
- confectioners sugar for rolling at the end
You first melt the butter in a medium sauce pan and then add in everything else at once (except the confectioners sugar). Use a spoon or spatula to incorporate the ingredients well.
Remove the pan from the heat. There is no need to remove the dough from the pan. Place an ungreased cookie sheet on the counter next to the pan and simply grab a small amount of dough and mold into a ball using your hands.
A quick 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 the butterballs placing each on the cookie sheet. The balls will not expand in size, so don’t worry about spacing.
Next, place in a preheated oven at 325F regular bake. 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 cool completely. Next, roll in confectioners sugar and place in an air tight container or zip lock bag in the refrigerator. These 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!
Can you Freeze Your Butterball Pecan Cookies?
Yes, you certainly can! This is one way to really help with baking your Christmas cookies ahead of time, or for preparing for special occasions such as weddings.
You can freeze with or without the confectioners sugar. If you freeze without the powdered sugar than just make sure they are fully thawed before rolling them.
Make Multi-Colored Pecan Balls for Christmas or for Italian flag colors
This is something that was kind of fun, but took awhile to do. I used food coloring to change the white powder to red and green. I wanted to created a cool green, white and red combo for the Italian flag colors.
Put the powdered sugar in a bag and add food coloring and do your best to mix it thoroughly. I had to use a lot of food coloring in order to bring out a deep color. It took longer than I thought.
However, as cool as this was, you have to really powder these Italian butterballs to give a good show of color. Which also means more of a powdery mess when eating. It is also so unexpected looking that some may just not like the idea of eating green snowball cookies lol.
It could be fun with kids to do a few, but would I do it again? Probably not as purists won’t eat non-white Italian “snowballs”. 🙂 Keep in mind also that these are messy and do melt in your fingers which is why they are sometimes called meltaways.
Do you Need to Add Egg?
No. You do not use eggs in this recipe. The ingredients with the butter will hold the ball of dough together perfectly!
How to Serve Powdery Cookies Like These Pecan balls?
Very simple, serve with plates and lots of napkins. These do melt in your fingers and leave a sticky coating so it’s kind of annoying. But you can also serve with forks that people can use the fork or spoon 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 they are just as delicious!
Pecan Butterball Cookies
This is my favorite Italian cookie during the Christmas holiday or at Italian weddings! Pecan butterballs are so easy and simple to make. I grew up with this recipe and I'm happy to share it with you!
- 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 salt
- confectioners sugar for coating the cookies
Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium low heat
Add in the sugar, flour, vanilla, salt and 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
Remove from sheet and let cool
Once cooled, roll in confectioners sugar until well coated
- You can substitute pecans for other nuts such as almonds or walnuts
- You can substitute the vanilla extract with almond 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
- Store in freezer in airtight container or freezer bags