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I've made and eaten quite a few Christmas cookies in my day, and not a one has ever compared to my mother's nut balls. And no, I'm not just biased because she's my mother. She's been famous for these for decades.​ This recipe was passed down from my great grandmother, Carmella, and the recipe has never needed a change. It's essentially a super crumbly ball of shortbread with walnuts, coated in powdered sugar. I house about 40 of these every year. They're insanely easy, pretty, and so damn delicious. Make these!

Total time: 1 hour and 15 minutes

Active time: 30 minutes

Bake time: 12-15 minutes per tray (2 trays total)
Makes about 30 cookies


1 cup (2 sticks) salted butter, room temperature

1/2 cup powdered sugar, plus about 1/2 cup for dusting

1 tbsp vanilla extract

2+1/4 cups (281 grams) all-purpose flour 

3/4 cup chopped walnuts 



1.) Begin by preheating the oven to 375° F and lining 2 cookie sheets with silicone baking pads or parchment paper. In a large bowl, use a hand mixer to cream together softened butter and 1/2 cup of powdered sugar for 1-2 minutes or until smooth and fluffy. Add vanilla extract and beat in until fully incorporated. Add the flour in thirds, beating on low between each addition, and waiting until almost all the flour is incorporated before adding more.


2.) Once almost all the flour is beat in and the dough has become a bit difficult to beat, turn it out onto a counter or other work surface, and knead a few times to incorporate any remaining flour. Now, press the dough out with your hands until it's roughly a 1/2-inch thick, and sprinkle the chopped walnuts all over the dough. Fold the dough over on itself and knead with your hands repeatedly until the nuts are well distributed.

3.) Now it's time to shape. Pull off small chunks of the dough and roll them in your hands to form balls slightly smaller than a golfball. You can also make them into other fun shapes like I did; I like to do crescent moons and logs. You'll likely end up with about 30-40 cookie balls. Spread them onto the prepared sheets in rows. These won't really spread, so they don't need more than about 1/2 an inch between them. 

4.) One tray at a time, on the top rack of the oven, bake for 12-15 minutes or until lightly golden brown on the sides and set. When you press one lightly, it will still have some give to it, but should not feel doughy.

5.) Transfer cookies to a cooling rack and allow to cool for about 15-20 minutes, during which time they will harden to our final crumbly, shortbread-like texture. Place the remaining 1/2 cup of powdered sugar in a gallon ziploc bag, and gently place cookies in the bag about 10-15 at a time, and use your hands to roll them around in the bag, coating them in powdered sugar. When you take them out, dust off any excess powdered sugar back into the bag. Once all are cooled and dusted, they're ready to enjoy. I eat about a million of these by themselves, but they're also great with coffee and tea. They hold extremely well for easily a week - just store them in a tin lined with paper towel.

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