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Marie’s Butterball Cookies

Marie's Butterball Cookies

Recipes passed down through generations become an important part of our family story. They enhance and sometimes create our definition of a what a holiday, birthday or special occasion should be. Moreover, we depend on that signature dish to appear at the table; as reliable as the season we celebrate. What heirlooms are in your recipe box?  Mine contains Marie’s Butterball Cookies.

Food Defines A Family

This recipe is straight from Marie’s cookie tin. Marie, (also referred to as “Nan” by her grandchildren), was my mother-in-law and the beloved glue that holds our family together.  Any holiday or special occasion found us gathered around her; and when we “gather,” it is an event unto itself. To say we are ample in number is an understatement. Marie raised six children; add in respective spouses and grandchildren, and we’re a force to be reckoned with. Immediate family alone requires a banquet table. In addition, there are always extra place settings for traveling friends and loved ones. 

Recipes and Tradition

I grew up as the only child of an only child, and still marvel at how the brother and sisterhood I married into can settle themselves so comfortably into any size space offered them and how the preparation and serving of food elevates every gathering into a celebration.  Marie was central to this custom.  What’s more, her children carry the tradition forward with a familiar ease and grace.  I’m in awe of the culinary fortitude required to serve and satisfy this adopted tribe of mine. 

Equally important, there is a simplicity and sweetness at the core of large family logistics that is not lost on me. For example, signature dishes are still prepared in Marie’s handed-down cookware. A particular rectangular baking pan comes to mind; its service lends unique authenticity to every gathering.  Her spice blends, seasonings, and menu choices feel at home in us.  She is in the details.  Marie’s Butterball Cookies appear at every holiday gathering.  We laugh and feast and remember Marie (Nan) whenever we come together; and no one leaves the table hungry.  Ever.

Family Stories Around Recipes

One of my husband’s favorite memories is of his mom’s cookie tin.  It bore a bronze patina finish, inlaid in black with the twelve signs of the zodiac. (Yes, insert your favorite ’70’s playlist here as a background audio track). Marie deployed this tin each and every holiday to tactically maneuver cookies to the table.

It goes without saying, with six children in the house, baked goods had the annoyingly mischievous habit of disappearing well before their intended unveiling.  Butterballs were not an exception. They are irresistibly decadent, flaky and buttery; coated in silky, powdered sugar.  These tiny orb confections hold their own against even the strongest willpower. 

The Allure of Marie’s Butterball Cookies

Understanding their allure, Marie nestled freshly baked butterballs into the bronze zodiac ark and secured them away in a secret location.  Secret to everyone but my husband, that is. Being the middle child, he developed well-honed tactical maneuvers of his own and became keenly adept at staying under Marie’s radar.

Annual reconnaissance missions taught him two things: 1. The tin laid “innocently undercover” (meaning over/under/behind/above something so ridiculously inconspicuous, it would not be easily discovered). 2. The contents required storage in a cool location to keep the confectioner’s sugar as powdery as fresh-fallen snow.  The payoff of this surveillance effort was the surreptitious enjoyment of about a half dozen butterballs without facing the firing squad.  My husband admits to engaging in this covert behavior well into adulthood.  As for the tin, it one day just disappeared (well played, Marie, well played) and is now part of the lore and legend that defines our family. 

In our house, I haven’t attempted covert ops in baking – but these storage containers are airtight, BPA-free and work great.

(Disclosure: Late Bloomer in Bakerville is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a way for websites to earn advertising revenues by advertising and linking to )

Sharing Heirloom Recipes

I am lucky I had the good sense to copy down Marie’s Butterball Cookie recipe many years ago, before I had even attained daughter-in-law status.  She dictated and I wrote.  Often, she did not keep exact measurements, but rather, judged amounts by feel or “to taste.”  Despite her protests, I pushed her to be more exact and managed to capture the magic.  Pulling the recipe card and recording it again for you here feels like a love letter to Marie.

I hope when you make them, you store the butterballs in a tin.  It feels only right.  Don’t bother to hide it; it’s an effort in futility.

Related Links:

Here is a link to another heirloom in my recipe box:

Marie's Butterball Cookies

Marie's Cookie Tin Butterball Cookies

Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 12 minutes
Dough chill time 3 hours
Course Dessert


  • 1 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 tsp water
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 2 1/4 cups flour
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts


  • Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
  • In mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar until smooth.
  • Add egg yolks, water and vanilla. Mix well.
  • Add flour and walnuts to the mixture. With wooden spoon, stir until a smooth dough forms.
  • Shape the dough into a block or wheel and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 3-4 hours.
  • Break off pieces of chilled dough and roll into 1" balls. Bake for 10-12 minutes on ungreased cookie sheet. Bottoms will have browned somewhat and may crack a little.
  • Let cool slightly until you can handle them. Roll in confectioners sugar. Let cool completely.

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