5 Ingredients or Fewer

Butter Pecan Cookies

November 19, 2018
4 Stars
Photo by Rocky Luten
Author Notes

This type of cookie goes by many names: Mexican wedding cookies, Danish wedding cookies, Russian tea cakes, snowballs, butter balls. But the idea stays the same: a buttery, nutty, crumbly cookie, tossed in more confectioners’ sugar than seems appropriate. Here, I brown the butter to amplify its flavor, toast the nuts, and up the usual amount of them. They’re just as welcome on a holiday table as they are on the couch. —Emma Laperruque

Test Kitchen Notes

This is one of our Big Little Recipes. Read more here: The Butteriest Butter Pecan Cookies Just Happen to Be 4 Ingredients. —The Editors

  • Prep time 1 hour
  • Cook time 40 minutes
  • Makes 32 cookies
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (2 1/4 sticks, 256 grams) unsalted butter
  • 2/3 cup (84 grams) confectioners’ sugar, plus more for dredging
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 cups (232 grams) chopped pecans
  • 2 cups (256 grams) all-purpose flour
In This Recipe
  1. Brown the butter: Add the butter to a large skillet and set on the stove over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until it turns a chestnutty brown. It will sputter a lot at first, then foam, then you’ll start seeing these bits on the bottom going from golden to brown to mahogany. Just before it burns, turn off the heat, and pour the brown butter into a heatproof bowl (preferably one that’s large enough to mix the rest of the cookie dough). Immediately add 2 tablespoons water to the emptied, off-the-heat pan (be careful, it may spatter a bit). Use a wooden spoon to scrape up any remaining buttery bits, then add that liquid to the brown butter in the bowl.
  2. Refrigerate or freeze the brown butter until solid but softish, like you would normally use for chocolate chip cookies.
  3. Meanwhile, toast the pecans. Heat the oven to 350°F. Line a sheet pan with parchment or a silicone mat. Add the pecans and bake for about 8 to 10 minutes, or until fragrant and deeply browned. Cool completely.
  4. When the pecans are totally cool, add them to a food processor. Pulse until they’re very finely ground, scraping down the food processor as needed. Watch these closely! Because pecans are so rich and fatty, they go from finely ground to pecan butter in the blink of an eye. They skip that floury stage that you’d get with almonds.
  5. If the chilled butter isn’t already in a large bowl, transfer it to one. Add the confectioners’ sugar (preferably through a fine-mesh sieve to remove any lumps, but no big deal if you don’t have one). Use a spoon or rubber spatula to combine until totally smooth. Add the salt and stir. Add the ground pecans and stir. Add the flour and stir until a cohesive dough forms.
  6. If the dough is wet and/or soft, refrigerate for a bit until it’s firm enough for you to scoop and roll into balls. If the oven isn’t still at 350°F, bring it back. Line 2 sheet pans with parchment paper or silicone mats.
  7. Scoop the dough into heaping tablespoons and roll each into a ball. You should get about 32. Add these to the lined sheet pans, evenly spaced out with a couple of inches between each—they won’t spread too much. Bake for about 16 minutes, until deeply golden brown. Repeat in batches if needed.
  8. Let the cookies cool for at least 10 minutes on the tray, until they’re sturdy enough to transfer to a cooling rack. There, cool completely.
  9. When the cookies are cool, dredge them in powdered sugar: Dump about 2 cups of powdered sugar on a rimmed plate or in a bowl. Roll around each cookie until completely coated.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Eve Lunt
    Eve Lunt
  • Jenny A
    Jenny A
  • Donna Kubesh
    Donna Kubesh
  • Dina Lee
    Dina Lee
  • Laura Olivia Sepulveda-Arias
    Laura Olivia Sepulveda-Arias

32 Reviews

judy April 27, 2022
Well, this was great. We love pecan sandies. I used regular caster sugar instead of powdered sugar, as I am not a fan. Threw in 2 tsp vanilla. Also, skipped rolling them in powdered sugar at the end. They are very good. thank you...
Linda K. September 29, 2020
My mom made these for my daughter every Christmas (Russian Tea Cookies). I don't have the recipe handy to compare. But they just melted in your mouth. Will have to give this one a try and let you know.
Eve L. December 30, 2019
These cookies are superdelish and will replace the recipe I used to make for what I call Russian tea cookies. I noticed that they taste way better a couple days old, as I made these for a Chanukah party and hid them from my family. Otherwise, they would have been eaten immediately. Sooo good.
Author Comment
Emma L. January 2, 2020
Thanks, Eve!
Kitchenista January 11, 2019
These have also gone under the name of "Mexican Wedding Cookies" and "Russian Tea Cakes." Whatever they are called, they are delicious.
Jenny A. January 6, 2019
The pecan browning at 8-10 minutes includes turning over the pecans within that time?
Patty January 6, 2019
8-10 should be plenty including giving them a shake about midway thru cooking time. My nose is usually my ‘done’ indicator but I rarely go past 10 minutes.
Donna K. January 6, 2019
Wish I could print the recipes without having to sign up for things every time....
Sherry W. January 6, 2019
Copy and paste into your email and print from there. Hope that helps.
Dina L. January 6, 2019
My mum makes these cookies for the Christmas holiday, she uses cake flour when making hers, she says it makes the cookies more tender than regular A P flour, they’re my favourite, I’ve been away from home for a very long time and this is the only thing I ever want in my Christmas box.
sunnymother December 22, 2018
These are MAGICAL. Such a handsome and well-considered cookie. Casting about for a quick replacement for my mother’s “nutty fingers” cookies, which only come but once a year; these more than fit the bill - and proved to be a new classic. They were super fun to make with my children! Toasting nuts and browning butter = fascinating. The dough (ever-so-edible and affordable since it’s eggless!) tastes like English toffee! You cannot stop eating it long enough to roll the cookies, but the payoff for the simplicity of the extra steps is a very decadent and sophisticated-tasting treat which is so. much. more. than the sum of its parts. Many many thanks for the careful attention to detail. This recipe is a true gift!
Author Comment
Emma L. December 23, 2018
So, so loved reading this and hearing how your family enjoyed the recipe! Thank you—and happy holidays!
Laura O. December 13, 2018
I made these cookies yesterday and they did not hold after baking. They completely crumbled to the touch. As a pastry chef, I’ve made Mexican Wedding cookies many times in the past and recipes for those call for a little sugar. I believe the lack of sugar or some kind of binder causes these cookies to crumble and become dry as others here have experienced. I’m going to try this recipe once more adding at least 1/4 cup of sugar in hopes it may help to keep the cookies intact after they’ve been baked and cooled. The flavor was amazing though despite them falling apart!
Author Comment
Emma L. December 23, 2018
Hi Laura! I'm sorry to hear that about the texture. We didn't encounter that issue during the recipe tests, so I can't say for sure what the cause is. If you do try again with more sugar, curious to hear how they turn out.
Sipa May 13, 2019
It sounds liked you didn't add the sugar at all? I am correct in that assumption? If so that would be why they fell apart.
Trip M. December 23, 2019
I made these, my wife makes Russian Tea Cakes. So I thought for Christmas I would make them because of the roasted pecans, and the browned butter. They turned out great, however, I did see you have to let them completely cool, then they are firmer and work just great. That is the opposite of my wife's Russian Tea Cakes.
strawberrygirl December 8, 2018
Any idea how these would fare if you froze the dough balls before baking? I'm thinking about adding these to my holiday baking lineup this year but my usual strategy is to make doughs that can be frozen (as balls or sliceable logs) so that I can bake some now and replenish the supply of freshly baked cookies as the holiday season goes on.
Patty December 8, 2018
I use your freeze and bake strategy as well. I froze these cookies and baked some off and they were great. I opted not to bake straight from the freezer as I felt these needed a bit of a thaw. Left on the counter for 15 minutes and then ended up adding an extra minute to baking time. They are phenomenal cookies!
Author Comment
Emma L. December 9, 2018
Thanks for sharing this reply, Patty!
strawberrygirl December 23, 2018
Belatedly circling back to say thanks for this response, Patty. I made these and they were delicious. I was worried about the crumbling issues others mentioned as they seemed pretty fragile coming out of the oven, but after cooling they held together just fine. I just baked the half that I froze as dough balls, using your suggestion of a 15 minute thaw, and they turned out just as good as the first half.
Patty December 24, 2018
Thank you for circling back as well! Your comment re: fragility after baking is spot on (Paul Hollywood speak...how often can you use that). Initially quite fragile but by next day, perfect. As another footnote, I ended up freezing some after baking and rolling in sugar and they were still perfect.
Merry Christmas to all.
Emily W. December 6, 2018
I made these cookies last night for the first time and they are delicious!! I followed the recipe as stated but they turned out a bit dry/crumbly. Any thoughts on what I should add next time to moisten them up a bit? More butter? Milk? Just a little water? Thanks!!
Author Comment
Emma L. December 6, 2018
Hi Emily! So glad you enjoyed. Two thoughts: You could bake them a smidgen less, or just add another tablespoon or so of water to the dough.
jayaymeye December 8, 2018
I had the same problem and I think maybe because I overlooked the water de-glazing the brown butter pan part. Perhaps that could be added to the recipe itself? Less likely to overlook...
Patty December 3, 2018
SOS. I’m in the midst of making these cookies and normally love the weighing out the ingredients, but two cups of pecans is double the gram measurement given. Should it be two cups or one? Hoping you can answer soon 🤞🏻.
Author Comment
Emma L. December 3, 2018
Hi Patty! Looking into this right now, more soon.
Author Comment
Emma L. December 3, 2018
Just confirmed with my notes and other sources, and you're totally right! I corrected the recipe to be 2 cups (232 grams) chopped pecans—so sorry about the typo there, and thanks so much for the catch!
Patty December 3, 2018
Thanks for the quick reply! I figured as much but wanted to be sure. Even unbaked, they smell like heaven. I have been making Mexican Wedding Cakes for years, but your version really intrigued me. I portioned and am refrigerating overnight (long Monday).
lsm November 26, 2018
Thank you, thank you, thank you 3 times then some more. Just made this recipe. So easy. Take s the place of my other recipe . One little change. I didn't have pecans, so I used a combo of almonds and walnuts. When I ground the nuts in the food processor, I did them one at a time. Then mixed them together. Started a new batch with shaved chocolate mixed in the dough. Just pulled the cookies out of the oven. Couldn't wait for them to cool down.Just as good as the first batch. Again, thank you. lsm
Author Comment
Emma L. November 26, 2018
Yes please to almonds and walnuts *and* shaved chocolate! So glad you enjoyed the recipe—and thank you for reporting back about these awesome adaptations!
Stacy I. November 24, 2018
These were excellent!! Huge thanks for the weighted measurements!
Author Comment
Emma L. November 25, 2018
Thanks so much, Stacy!