Snowball Cookies are old fashioned festive cookies that seem to be made all over the world. So you’ll find them in the guise of Russian Tea Cakes, Mexican Wedding Cookies or Polvorones, Italian Wedding Cookies, Snowdrop Cookies, Butter Ball Cookies, Melting Moments, German Kipferl (though they’re crescent shaped),etc.
No one seems to know the origin of this cookie but the general thought is that they perhaps were European and then travelled the world taking on local flavours and ingredients. As far as I can see the same goes for the Snowball cookies made in India. I’m not an authority on this but I’ve come across Snowball Cookies being made only by Christian communities in Goa and in Kerala (especially southern Kerala)
They’re usually made at Christmas time and I have no doubt that they were brought into these communities during colonial times. In Goa, it is made more like the Indian shortbread cookie, Nankhatai, with ghee as the choice of fat and no nuts. In Kerala it is made with butter and cashewnuts are the choice of nuts.
Snowball Cookies are very simple shortbread like cookies that are very buttery, not very sweet and covered in powdered sugar giving them an appearance of having been dusted with snow hence the name. They’re usually made with flour, powdered sugar, a lot of butter, flavouring (vanilla or almond) and finely chopped nuts. They may be simple but they’re very rich and and definitely festive fare.
Of course, the Goan Snowball Cookie doesn’t have nuts, and a lot of the time they’re made with Dalda (a hydrogenated vegetable fat). I’ve never used the stuff (and never will), so I’ve made these with ghee.
You could always use butter instead. I’ve seen these Snowball Cookies made in different ways here in Goa, sometimes without the glace cherry decoration but rolled in icing sugar or without the icing sugar coating but with the ruby red cherry bit decorating the top.
I chose to add the chopped glace cherries to add some festive colour and also rolled them in icing sugar.
Goan Snowball Cookies
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup icing sugar
- 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 cup ghee butter or clarified (not warm)
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 6 to 8 cherries glace , chopped
- 1/4 cup icing sugar cookies to roll the in
- Sift the flour, icing sugar and baking powder into a large bowl. Mix in the salt. Add the vanilla extract and the ghee. Rub it in with your fingers until it is well incorporated with the dry ingredients and forms a stiff (almost crumbly) dough that will hold together when pinched together. If required, add a little more ghee, about a teaspoon at a time till your dough comes together. Do not overwork the dough though.
- Take small portions of the dough, press together by forming a fist around it and then roll into marble sized smooth balls. Press one piece of the chopped glace cherries onto each ball without flattening the cookie, if using the cherries.
- Place on ungreased or parchment lined baking sheets and refrigerate for about 15 minutes. Bake them at 180C (350F) for 15 to 20 minutes till the cookies just start changing colour. They should not brown and retain their "unbaked" off-white colour. A good way to check if they're done is to look at the bottom of the cookie. It should be golden brown in colour (lighter rather than darker. It is important not to over bake these cookies or they will burn from underneath.
- Roll them in icing sugar while they're still quite warm so they're well coated. Let them cool completely. Roll them in icing sugar once again to cover the "bald" spots caused by the first coat of icing sugar that would have melted a little.
- Then store them in an airtight container and they will keep for a couple of weeks. This recipe makes 2 dozen Snowball Cookies.