When I was browsing through my little yellow recipe box looking for ideas for my Christmas open house in December, I came across a card titled “Butter Horns.” Instantly I was transported back to my mother’s kitchen, where she used to make these rich and, to me at least, exotic treats only for the holidays or other special occasions.
Somehow, based on a long-dormant memory, I knew these were also called rugelach although there was no evidence of that in my recipe box. My mother must have had another version of the recipe that goes by that name, although the one that I copied out some 35 years ago is called butter horns. I turned to Wikipedia to see what I could learn about rugelach, and was able to confirm that our recipe is indeed a variation of this traditional Jewish or Eastern European recipe. In fact, according to the article ours is an older version of the recipe because it does not contain any cream cheese, a newer, possibly American variation.
I talked to Mom about this recently and she wasn’t able to shed any light on the origin of her recipe. I don’t know if she found it in a magazine or if it was passed to her by a friend. What I do know is that making butter horns took me back to my childhood, watching Mom roll these at the kitchen table. My first bite of one of these in more than 20 years was like pastry time travel: flaky, rich dough with a sweet, nutty filling that’s caramelized where it spilled out of the cookies. I remembered in that instant why I ate so many of these as a kid.
Mom’s recipe calls for margarine, which may have been her own adaptation. It seems pretty clear to me that something called “butter horns” should have butter in it; besides, I avoid margarine wherever possible. So, butter it is. My recipe card also is sorely lacking in instructional details. I recall that way back when I was copying out Mom’s recipes I often would skip a lot of these details to save time, confident in the power of my memory. It appears that confidence was somewhat misguided. My first batch of the pastry ended up in the garbage because I had blithely used softened butter and ended up with a sodden mass of dough that would have produced a cardboard-like result. The second time around I put more thought into what I was doing and realized I needed to use cold butter to produce a flaky result.
- 2 cups flour
- 1/2 lb cold butter (1 cup or 2 sticks), cut into 1/2-inch cubes
- 1 egg
- 3/4 cup sour cream
- 3/4 cup raisins
- 1/2 cup crushed walnuts
- 3/4 cup white sugar
- 1 tsp cinnamon
For the pastry, put the flour in a large bowl and, using a pastry cutter, cut in the cold butter until the mixture is crumbly. Mix the egg into the sour cream and add to the flour mixture. Stir with a fork until just combined. Form the dough into three balls, wrap well in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
When you’re ready to finish the butter horns, preheat the oven to 375° F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.
Stir the raisins, walnuts, sugar and cinnamon together in a small bowl and set aside.
There are different ways to roll these out. Mom’s recipe calls for rolling out each of the three balls, then cutting into triangles (16) and sprinkling with the filling. I cut each of the balls into four, then rolled those out and cut into four triangles. (Next time, I’ll try Mom’s method.) Either way, roll out on a lightly floured board with a sprinkling of flour on the dough and the rolling pin. Cut into the desired number of triangles and then sprinkle evenly with the filling. Roll up and place on the baking sheets. If you like you can bend the butter horns slightly into a crescent shape or just leave them straight.
Bake for about 25 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove from the baking sheet and cool on wire racks.