Butter Horns ❦ From My Mother’s Kitchen

Do you have any recipes that instantly transport you back to a different place and time? For me, these Butter Horns evoke memories of my mother’s kitchen. Mom was an excellent baker, and these were one of her signature treats for the holidays. I originally published this post in 2013, at a time when I could still call Mom to ask her about her recipes. I used to take that for granted; sadly, now all I have to rely on are her written recipes.

Butter Horns ❘ © UrbanCottageLife.com

Butter Horns and the Power of Food as Memory

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’s no evidence of that in my recipe box. Mom 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 titled butter horns. Turning to Wikipedia to see what I could learn about rugelach, I 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 doesn’t 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. I used to watch Mom roll these at the kitchen table, and when I was older I helped her roll them up. Mom strived for excellence in all she did, and her butter horns were always beautifully shaped. Looking back now, I can see that this recipe was perfectly suited to her skills and personality.

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 as a kid.

Butter Horns ❘ © UrbanCottageLife.com

Butter Horns

Butter Horns ❘ © UrbanCottageLife.comMom’s recipe calls for margarine, which may have been her own adaptation or what was used in her source recipe. It seems pretty clear to me that something called “butter horns” should have butter in it. 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. It took a couple of tries before my Butter Horns turned out like the ones I loved so much as a child.

For the pastry:

  • 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

For the filling:

  • 3/4 cup raisins
  • 1/2 cup crushed (finely chopped) 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 dough 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, seam side down. 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.

Looking for Other Special Cookies?

You know a cookie is special when you find yourself making it for all manner of occasions. Some of mine favourites that I think you’ll like too are Cranberry White Chocolate Cookies, Gingersnaps, and Dark Chocolate Sour Cherry Cookies.


  1. Food memories are some of the strongest, aren’t they? I think it’s because they call into play the senses: sight, taste, and most importantly, smell. Though I’ve no childhood memories of butter horns, rugelach were my “treat of choice” at a favorite coffee shop. While others had their carrot cake & flourless chocolate cake slices, I always ordered a rugelach, They didn’t know what they were missing. I’m going to pin this recipe, Mar, an am looking forward to making them. Thanks!

    • I’m glad this post brought back memories of rugelach, John, and inspires you to make them for yourself! They really are a lovely treat. Which makes me think … if I happen to have any Open House leftover goodies lurking in my freezer, I’d better eat them right away, don’t you think? 😊

  2. These look great and there are similarities here to something i found on ‘fromthefamilytable’ – he calls them cannoli and makes them by wrapping them round special steel tubes – same result though.

    • These are similar in shape to cannoli, for sure, but I believe cannoli are deep fried and then filled with a sweet ricotta filling. And another similarity is that both butter horns and cannoli are delicious!

    • Don’t you sometimes wonder how we can forget about recipes like this for so long? These are such a wonderfully cozy old-fashioned cookie. Make them soon so you can enjoy them again!

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