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Thelma’s Tea Cookies (Mexican Wedding Cake) Recipe

I’ve tried four times now to find the proper opening to this entry. Call it a tribute to my feelings for these cookies. Of any sweet in the world, these are the particular combination of flour, sugar, and love that not only make me quiver in anticipation but make me want to dash into the kitchen to sneak one while they’re still too hot to eat. (Not something I recommend. While hot, these little delights are culinary napalm!)

When I was little these cookies were usually reserved for holidays. More than likely, that’s because a single batch would have been demolished by the rest of the household before my mother had a chance to pull the last tray from the oven, and unlike other confections, they’re rather intensive on the baker’s fingers, so were only made when the effort required would achieve the full “Ooooh and Ahhhh” benefits that they deserved.

I’ve mentioned my Aunt Thelma before. She was always a joy to be around, and one of the true matriarchs of my family. For me, these are her legacy. Far more than just a snack, they’re full of memories of family gatherings and laughter, or afternoons sitting across the lunch counter in Thelma’s Kitchen on the Sonoma Plaza listening to my Aunt recant tales of her childhood in Oklahoma.


(Taken in 2000… Thelma is at the far right, next to my Grandfather Grady, Grandma Rosemary and Uncle Butch on the far left.)

I hope that my little version did her proud. Anything less just wouldn’t be right.

Without further ado, I give you Thelma’s Tea Cookies,

Also called Mexican Wedding Cakes or Russian Tea Cakes, this recipe varies from the norm because of a lack of butter in the mixture. The result is the lightest and airiest of all the variations of this treat I have ever had, and one that I’m asked to make quite often.

Really Thelma, you ruined me for any version made with butter, ever!

Thelma's Tea Cookies (Mexican Wedding Cake) Recipe
Yield: 48 Cookies

Thelma's Tea Cookies (Mexican Wedding Cake) Recipe

Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Additional Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 50 minutes


  • 1 cup shortening
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 teaspoon of Salt
  • 1 cup nuts, chopped finely (optional for my sister, a must for me. I prefer walnuts or pecans for this cookie)


  1. Preheat oven to 375°F.
  2. Cream Together sugar and shortening. Add remaining ingredients and mix until a very firm dough forms. (A stand mixer is a good tool to have here, otherwise use your fingers to mix the ingredients together.)
  3. Roll dough into balls the size of a small walnut. Bake 12 to 15 minutes at 375°.
  4. Remove from oven and roll in powdered sugar while still HOT. (Caution, remember, this is culinary napalm, make sure you’re wearing gloves, or that you’ve coated your fingers in powdered sugar before grabbing hold of the first cookie!)
  5. Allow to cool at least 15 minutes before serving.

Nutrition Information:



Serving Size:


Amount Per Serving: Calories: 81Total Fat: 6gSaturated Fat: 2gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 4gCholesterol: 2mgSodium: 30mgCarbohydrates: 6gFiber: 0gSugar: 1gProtein: 1g


What I would have done differently had I thought of it at the time:

Nothing. I would sooner change my family name than change this recipe. It’s one of the definitive recipes of my family, and I intend to teach my kids how to make them as well.

That way I won’t be the only Russell boy that ever got in trouble for mumbling “I didn’t take one!” around a mouthful of crumbling cookie goodness with a face covered in powdered sugar.

Here’s to you, Thelma.

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