Cherished family recipes are an important part of the holiday baking celebration. 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 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 way in December, 2012, 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 and/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 before originally publishing the recipe, and she wasn’t able to shed any light on its origins. 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.
Working with Old Recipes
I’ve found that working with older recipes requires some tweaks to bring the recipe to current standards of dietary knowledge, or at least my preferences. So, I’ve taken one liberty with the recipe, and it seems an essential one to me. Mom’s recipe calls for margarine, which may have been her own adaptation or what was used in her source recipe. Certainly I grew up in a time when margarine was widely perceived to be superior to butter, as puzzling as I find that now. 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, many of her cards provided only the scarcest of direction. And I’m a culprit in this too … I often would skip a lot of these details to save time and also because my recipes are the small 3×5-inch size. I also laboured under a misplaced confidence in the power of my memory. It took a couple of tries before my Butter Horns turned out like the ones I loved so much as a child.
Pastry as Time Travel
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.
- 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, finely chopped walnuts
- 3/4 cup white sugar
- 1 tsp cinnamon
Place 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 at least 3 hours or overnight. (See Note.)
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 out the dough balls. Mom's recipe calls for rolling out each of the three dough balls, then cutting them into 16 triangles and sprinkling with the filling. I cut each of the balls into four, then rolled those out and cut each into four triangles. (Next time, I'll try Mom's method.)
Either way, roll the dough out into a round 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 from the wide end 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.
Note that this simple dough needs to rest at least 3 – 4 hours. You can leave it in the fridge overnight or even up to a few days too. It can also be frozen for later use (within 2 – 3 months).
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.