Butter Cookies Recipe With Sprinkles

Grains

Secret Cookies

by:
December 28, 2020
16 Ratings
Photo by Rocky Luten. Food stylist. Samantha Seneviratne. Prop stylist: Brooke Deonarine.
Author Notes

This recipe has truly been kept a "Secret" for 30 years but now is the time to release it. It was given to me by an elderly lady who had been given it by an even more elderly Swedish lady. The proviso: "After I'm 'gone,' you may give out the recipe." The same proviso was given to me...so, here it is.

Be sure to use salted butter! —Veronica

Test Kitchen Notes

When my mother posted this cookie recipe on Food52 ten years ago, she wrote: "This recipe has truly been kept a 'secret' for 30 years...It was given to me by an elderly lady who had been given it by an even more elderly Swedish lady. The proviso: 'After I'm "gone," you may give out the recipe. The same proviso was given to me...so, here it is.' "

Cookies are the first thing that comes to mind when I think of holiday tradition. When my sister and I were in elementary school we were only allowed to give our teachers handmade gifts, which for us meant food—aside from the occasional pomander in the form of an orange studded with cloves. Every December, we spent several hours in the kitchen with my mother, measuring and mixing, shaping and decorating dozens of cookies of all types: crunchy oatmeal, chewy molasses, crisp meringue, sandy pecan, and always a batch or two of Secret Cookies.

With their rich, sweet crunch and enough salt that you just noticed it, they were the family favorite. Any that we didn't tuck between sheets of wax paper and layer into colorful tins for our teachers went into the gray stoneware cookie jar my mother kept on the kitchen counter, along with the rest of the leftovers from our baking session. Those Secret Cookies were always the first to disappear.

To make them, we pinched lumps of soft, buttery dough and rolled them into balls, which we lined up on baking sheets in neat rows like soldiers. We filled shallow bowls with green, red, and multicolored sanding sugar, then dipped the bottom of a juice glass (ours had sunburst indentations cut into them) into the sanding sugar and gently pressed each ball into a flat(tish) disc. The pattern on the underside of the glass was transferred to the cookies, so that they resembled colorful, sparkling ornaments.

I remember peering into the oven impatiently as we waited for the first sheets to bake, watching intently for the first blush of gold to begin creeping up the sides of the cookies—the sign that they were done. Once they had cooled for a few minutes, my sister and I carefully selected one cookie each to taste. I preferred the ones with slightly browner bottoms, while my sister made her choice based on the neatness of the sunburst pattern and whatever color spoke to her most that day. That first bite, crumbly and still slightly warm, was pure joy.

As soon as my kids were capable of wielding a juice glass, I instituted our own holiday cookie baking tradition. For all the same reasons as we did, they look forward to making Secret Cookies more than any of the others. And the leftovers are still the first to disappear from the cookie jar. —Merrill Stubbs

Featured in: Food52's Holiday Cookie Chronicles —The Editors

Watch This Recipe
Secret Cookies
  • Prep time 15 minutes
  • Cook time 10 minutes
  • Makes about 80 cookies
Ingredients
  • 3/4 pound salted butter (1 1/2 cups, 3 sticks, or 340g), softened
  • 1 3/4 cups (350g) granulated sugar
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3 1/2 cups (450g) flour
  • Red, green or multi-colored sugar
In This Recipe
Directions
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C). In a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar. Add the yolks and vanilla, mixing well. Add the flour and combine thoroughly.
  2. Use mounded teaspoonfuls and make balls of dough with your hands. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet, then flatten the dough with the bottom of a patterned glass dipped in colored sugar (don't mix the colors!).
  3. Bake for about 10 minutes (watch carefully as they burn easily), until the cookies are lightly golden just around the edges. Let the cookies rest on the baking sheets for a minute or two and then gently transfer to baking racks to cool—they're fragile.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

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    51 Reviews

    Amy December 28, 2020
    This dough went together quickly and was so easy to work with; not too sticky or tough. These cookies are a mildly flavored plain cookie that is just right. Keeping this one, for sure.
     
    amorrison December 27, 2020
    I thought these were great! I made them Christmas Eve with my 6 year old daughter as cookies to leave for Santa. They were easy, quick and my daughter loved the sprinkle part; we used the bottom of a crystal cut vase that had a sunburst pattern. Our cookies didn't get as "sprinkled" as the ones in the photo, but it wasn't a big deal. I cooked them in a convection oven but they still took 10 minutes (I think we made ours a bit thicker and bigger than intended). They are indeed very rich but also very delicious and make for a beautiful gift. I guess I should add: I loved the simplicity in flavor (like shortbread) and still thought they were super flavorful. I plan to make these again next year!
     
    M. Y. December 23, 2020
    I’ve baked these twice. I find them blah....lacking flavor. The last time I saved them by drizzling with a tart lemon glaze. If I’m investing that much buttter, I want a better flavor return. Shortbread has fewer ingredients and more flavor.
     
    Margaret B. December 23, 2020
    This is why I do not make cookies. They sound wonderful, everyone raves about them, yet when I do the recipe they turn out flavorless, and ugly.
     
    Jennifer December 22, 2020
    I made these cookies because I needed an easy, sparkly specimen to complete some Christmas cookie gift boxes. These looked like they would do the job, and they did--easy and sparkly. The dough is a bit crumbly but it holds together fine. I experimented with how to get the sugar to stick on the bottom of my champagne flute, and I found that lightly buttering the glass yielded consistent results. Cookie texture was terrific, as others have said. Flavor? Bland. With my last tray, I went with some good quality sugar, not colored, and quick gratings of nutmeg. The colored sugar cookies went into the gift boxes, and I kept the less-showy nutmeg cookies for us to eat--otherwise, I'm not sure I would have wasted Christmas calories on them.
     
    DebRedman108 November 23, 2020
    I was wondering if salted butter was going to turn out to be some sort of miracle throwback ingredient that would elevate these cookies, but after making them over the weekend, I think I'll stick to my old Kris Kringle cutouts that use cream of tartar. That tang was missing from the well-textured and easy-to-make, but ultimately bland, Secret Cookies.
     
    Carina December 24, 2019
    Made a batch. Used small cookie dough scoop. Lots of cookies and extremely easy to make. The texture is just right!
     
    Ilovecookiestoo December 18, 2019
    They were so easy to make and tasted great I will be adding them to my Christmas cookie rotation.
     
    Megan December 12, 2019
    Made these today per recipe. Turned out wonderfully thin, slight crumble and crisp around the edges. A wonderful middle ground between a sugar cookie and shortbread. I had room temperature ingredients and weighed them and had no problem with the dough coming together.
     
    Natalie December 10, 2019
    The Holy Grail of Christmas cookies is a cookie that is delicious, easy to make, and yet looks special. This cookie is all of that! One bowl. No rolling and cutting out. Decorating takes seconds and is done when they get out of the oven. And- they taste amazing!
    Tips: 1. Weigh the flour. Too much or too little flour could mean your cookies are too crumbly to roll or “run.” Also- be sure your dough is very well mixed. You may have to do a little by hand if your stand mixer tends to leave crumbs in the bottom like mine. (See issues with too crumbly or running above.)
    2. A little lemon zest added the tiny pinch of acid these needed. I used the zest of 1 small lemon. The cookies didn’t taste lemony but had that extra “something.”
     
    Melissa R. December 10, 2019
    I have made a version of this cookie for decades (passed down from my Grandma through the years) and they are absolutely my favorite. I will note that there is one big difference, our recipe uses both oil and butter (1 cup of each), which I wonder will help the folks who are having issues with dry and/or crumbly dough. We also add a generous bit of nutmeg. A couple other tricks learned through the years - rolling the balls in the sugar gives a gorgeous deep color (if you are in the mood) and rubbing the bottom of the cup on the dough every few cookies keeps it nice and greased when pressing down on them. Bon Appetit!
     
    M. Y. December 8, 2019
    The intro story mention salt but there is none in the ingredient list except for “salted butter”. I made these adding a half teaspoon salt. It made about 60 very sweet, rather bland cookies. The dough was very easy and fast to prepare. I used coarse sugar and a meat tenderizer to mark the cookie balls. They’re just OK In my opinion.....nice with a cup of tea. I’d rather use the butter to make shortbread, just as easy and no fussy marking for a much better result.
     
    penmoon December 8, 2019
    I really wanted these to work for me, but they just didn't. I tried making them twice, using salted butter and the spooning method to measure out the flour. But the dough was like sand and was very hard to bring together, not to mention press flat. The finished cookies really needed salt. I'm glad they worked for others. Maybe our Seattle climate had something to do with it?
     
    Sharon A. December 6, 2019
    These cookies received such rave reviews, I cannot wait to try them! Has anyone thought of coloring the dough pink or green?
     
    Cheryll December 6, 2019
    No, but an old Betty Crocker recipe added lemon zest. I’d bet orange zest would be good too.
     
    judy October 10, 2019
    I am a definite fan of salted butter. I have gone back to using it as my butter of choice in baking, reducing the added salt by about a 1/4 tsp per stick of butter used when I add salt to the rest of the recipe. That being said, this looks easy and delicious. I will make a batch and make into logs. I like to cut off a few and bake a few at a time. I always have a few logs of a vaieiyt of flavors in the freezer for when a cooking craving hits. Just the two of us now, but that does not diminish our love of cookies. thanks.
     
    Kestrel September 23, 2019
    I do not get how sugar will stick to the bottom of a patterned glass (which I don't have). How might one create this recipe using a cookie stamp and the sugar? Probably just stamp and sprinkle?
     
    Bella95 September 27, 2019
    Once you have pressed the first one a small amount of butter will remain on the bottom of the glass. That will stick enough sugar to it. I've never used a cookie stamp so can't comment on that but imagine it would work better if you can find some way of pressing the sugar slightly into the cookies as a glass would do.
     
    Bella95 February 23, 2019
    Can't wait to try these. Thanks for the idea of using a glass with a patterened base. Mine have plain bottoms so will be off to the second hand shops especially to find a cool one.
     
    Howard L. December 10, 2017
    I used home made vanilla sugar (1 bean/2 cups sugar), shaped into log, refrigerated and cut 1/4 inch slices. Baked them plain. They were described as "astounding". Great crunch and the vanilla lingers on the tongue.
     
    Willi G. December 2, 2017
    I added the zest of a Meyer lemon and massaged it into the sugar and subbed in 1 tsp lemon extract (and took out 1tsp vanilla) and the result was delicious. Also my dough was not dry at all!
     
    Sarah K. October 12, 2017
    I was very happy with these cookies! I think they would be an excellent choice to make with small children because the dough comes together quickly and easily and kids would probably love the stamping and sprinkling process. I can't wait to try them with my three-year-old niece. Are used a small ice cream scoop to form the Dow into balls and found that I didn't even need to roll them. The cookies are a bit sweet for my taste, so I may try a little less sugar next time.