The first time I baked my grandma’s Potato Chip Cookies, I was sixteen, had never successfully baked anything in my life, and was watching Mean Girls for the first time. Needless to say, it was a memorable afternoon.
I found the recipe in a book my dad’s mom had made for him and his sister, comprised of fifty-some rectangular recipe cards—generation-old family recipes—that had been hand-typed, laminated, and bound by two binder rings. Red ink indicated important information (“DOUBLE THE PEANUT BUTTER HERE”) and the margins were filled with miniature cut-outs of butter and mixing bowls from issues of Gourmet and Parade circa 1950.
Of all the well-loved, Crisco-filled recipes in the book, like peanut butter “morsels” and deep-fried Love Knots, the Potato Chip Cookies were the only ones my dad didn’t remember from childhood. But the entire bag of potato chips listed in the ingredients grabbed my attention—and I never looked back. Even after I realized I didn’t have an electric mixer.
The recipe calls for beating the butter until light and fluffy, which my grandma specified in underlined red ink, “A long time—at least ten minutes or more.” In my family, we cooked every night but never baked; we had three food processors, a knife for every imaginable cut of meat, and pans for days, but no electric mixer. So, I planted myself in front of a screen with Rachel McAdams and whipped the soft butter by hand, until it became almost white, with stiff peaks.
I couldn’t feel my arm, but the end result—a blend of butter, crushed Lay’s potato chips, sugar, and flour—was worth it. The cookies, topped with confectioners’ sugar while still warm, melted in my mouth and, in my opinion, mastered the balance of sweet-and-salty. To borrow a word, they were fetch.
When my grandma visited us for Thanksgiving that year, many miles from her home, I made the cookies again. I repeated the same process, but planted myself in front of her while she crushed the potato chips by hand and explained the reason my dad didn’t remember the cookies: This wasn't a recipe passed down through my dad's family through generations. Instead, my grandmother had coaxed the “secret recipe” from a woman at the New York State Fair, and loved them so much that they were the only recipe that didn't predate her children that she decided to include in the book.
While my grandma passed away the year after that Thanksgiving, her Potato Chip Cookies have gained a life of their own. Now every year when I return home for the holidays, I make the cookies for Christmas. I now beat the butter with an electric beater, but I still crush the chips by hand.
- 1 cup butter, softened
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 3/4 cup crushed classic Lay's potato chips
- Confectioners' sugar, to top
Do you have holiday cookies you return to every year? Have you ever tried potato chip cookies? Tell us in the comments below!