Wayne Schmidt's Butterhorn Cookie Page How to make the most elegant and delicious cookie in the world.
It may seem odd to have the making of a single cookie under the Hobbies section of my website, much less devoting a separate page to it. The reason is that for more years than I care to count I've slowly developed a recipe and cooking techniques to create what I believe is the greatest cookie in the world. With so much time and effort invested I felt this noble treat deserved its own page.
Butterhorns have a perfect balance of sweetness and richness combined with beautiful appearance and a unique, delicate texture. They are three-inch long crescents filled with delicately crisp meringue, covered in French vanilla frosting and walnuts and are more like fine pastry than a cookie.
If they have one fault it is that they are extremely involved to make... hence this page. It details all the techniques developed over several decades to perfect these gastronomic delights. It takes time and attention to detail to make a great butterhorn but the reward of creating one of the most refined cookies in the world is well worth the effort. Let's get started.
1 tablespoon yeast
2 cups (320 grams) cake flour
1 tsp salt
1 cup (210 grams) butter flavored Crisco
2 eggs (separated)
8 ounces chopped walnuts
cinnamon in a bowl or fine shaker
1/4 cup warm water
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup of cake flour in a bowl for sprinkling on dough.
Because making butterhorns is so involved, I usually break it down into two steps: preparation and construction. In preparation, I get everything set up and all the ingredients measured. Then I take a break for an hour before proceeding to make the cookies. If they have to be ready in the morning I'll set everything up, including mixing the flour, salt and Crisco, the night before. Setting up takes an hour, making and baking the cookies takes two hours.
The tricky part of making butterhorns is handling the dough, which is soft and sticky. Much of this page is dedicated to the tricks of dealing with it.
Start off by using a knife or scissors to separate the two sides of four, 2-gallon reclosable plastic bags. These are used to roll the dough out. While a single pair of sides could be used, the hassle of cleaning them off between each use is time consuming. Set these aside. Cover a heavy aluminum cookie sheet with two layers of paper towel topped with a sheet of non-stick aluminum foil. Repeat with a second cookie sheet. The paper slows the baking of the bottom of the cookies so they don't burn before the tops are done. If your cookie sheets are very clean and shiny, one sheet of paper may be enough. If they are old and stained, three may be needed. (This foil-over-paper technique is something that's useful for baking all sorts of cookies. It works much better than the air-bake type of cookie sheet and the number of layers of paper can be adjusted to suite particular cookies.)
Sort through the walnut pieces and discard any that look dark.
These dark pieces have a harsh, burnt flavor.
I've tested many different vanilla frosting recipes and ready-made brands and found that the best is made by using Duncan Hines Classic Vanilla frosting and mixing a 16-ounce tub of it with 1 and 1/2 teaspoons butter flavor, 1 teaspoon of real vanilla and 1 drop of yellow food color. The very best vanilla frosting I ever tasted was Pillsbury's French Vanilla Frosting, but unfortunately this excellent produce was discontinued in 2008.
Pre-measure all the ingredients and lay them out in the order they will be used along with the required equipment on the kitchen counter.
Ready? Okay. Here we go!
1. Make a crumble out of flour, salt. shortening.
2. Mix the yeast, warm water, and 1 tablespoon of sugar and set aside.
3. Make a stiff meringue out of the egg whites and 1/2 cup of sugar.
4. By this time the yeast will have doubled in volume. Mix the egg yolks to it and add the mixture to the flour crumble. Form this into a ball and divide it into four pieces. The dough is very soft but shouldn't stick to your hands. Place three of the dough segments in a plastic bag to keep them from drying out. Pat the fourth piece into a pancake and place it between two layers of plastic bag. Roll it out into a nine-inch diameter circle.
The dough is
so soft the rolling pin can simply be
dragged across the plastic to smooth the dough.
5. Once the dough is rolled out, peel the top layer of plastic off.
Keep the top layer of plastic as low as possible as you peel it back to reduce the amount of dough that sticks to it. If you lift it straight up larger chunks of dough may by pulled up with it. Use a paper towel to wide off any dough sticking to the plastic.
6. Sprinkle three pinches of cake flour over the dough and the side of the plastic sheet you just cleaned.
Spread it around both the top of the dough and the plastic.
7. Cover the dough with the plastic and turn it over. Peel off and discard the new top layer of plastic. The dough now lays on a thin layer of flour that prevents it from sticking to the plastic. In a few steps you'll be cutting this dough into eight triangles and pulling them out of the circle. Without the flouring step the dough sticks to the plastic so tightly that it stretches and tears when you try to move it. I've tried rolling the dough out on a floured board. To keep it from sticking so much flour has to be used that the dough picks up too much and its baked texture suffers.
8. Spread 1/4 of the meringue over the dough.
9. Sprinkle three pinches of cinnamon evenly over the meringue. You want just enough to give the cookie a hint of something mysterious going on in the flavor. If you can taste cinnamon in the final cookie, too much was used.
I find holding my hand high helps the fine cinnamon spread out better. Beware of trying this in a draft. Cinnamon is such a fine powder that it is easily carried away. This picture above shows the light coating of cinnamon that's all that's needed.
10. Use a pizza cutter to divide the dough into eight triangles.
The first cut can be made by going all the way across the dough. After that, I recommend stopping at the center, lifting the cutter and starting from the edge again for each cut. The dough is so soft that it tends to stick to the cutter, even Teflon ones, roll part way up, then flop down on itself.
11. Sprinkle four or five small pieces of walnuts evenly over each section.
These act as spacers so when the triangles are rolled into crescents the meringue isn't squashed out of the sides.
12. Side a large thin knife under one triangle and gently pull it out.
13. The dough tends to stick to the knife. I found that twisting the knife so that the lower edge pulls away from the dough is the safest way to release it.
14. Use the knife to lift the thick end of the triangle.
15. Roll the dough up and over, using the knife to form a tube.
The tube is needed to give the meringue a space into which it can grow as it expands from the heat of the oven.
16. Gently lift the point of the triangle and lay it over the roll. Be careful not to push down. You don't want the meringue to get pushed out from between the layers.
17. Slide the knife under the finished crescent and transfer it to the cookie sheet. Congratulations! One done! (Only 31 more to go.)
18. Repeat the steps above to fill one cookie sheet with 16 cookies. Then gently turn down the outer tips of each cookie so they don't burn.
19. Place the sheet in the upper half of a preheated 325-degree oven...
... and bake for 20 minutes. It takes 20 minutes to make the second sheet of butterhorns, which is nice since they will be ready to slide into the oven when the first sheet comes out.
20. The cookies are done when the edges of the crescents are very lightly browned...
... and the bottoms are also light brown.
Actually, in this case the bottoms baked slightly faster than the tops, probably because my cookie sheets have gotten a little dark on the bottom and are absorbing heat from the oven faster. This problem can be solved by cleaning and polishing the bottoms of the cookie sheets or adding a third layer of paper under the aluminum foil.
21. The Crisco in the cookies is liquid when the cookies come out of the oven and tends to migrate to the hottest part of the cookies as they cool. This means that if they are left on the cookie sheet to cool the bottoms of the cookies will get greasy. To prevent this, immediately and very gently move the cookies to a cooling rack.
22. By the time the second batch is done the first will have cooled enough to frost.
Apply a thin layer of frosting to a cookie, just enough to hold the nuts on top or the cookie will be too sweet. If that happens all of its rich and subtle flavor will be masked by the overpowering sweetness of the frosting.
23. Roll each freshly frosted cookie in the nuts.
Sometimes there will be empty spaces in the nuts. Fill these with individual pieces as needed. The goal is to have an even but not solid layer of nuts.
24. Arrange the cookies on a plate in a spiral pattern.
Serve and eat. Ahhh... life is good.
These are good to eat for 6 hours. Past that moisture from the frosting starts to soften the delicate crust... though I have to admit eating and enjoying butterhorns than have been standing out over 12 hours.
Pecans can be used but walnuts are lighter in color and look better. I don't notice any significant taste difference. Leaving out the yeast prevents the cookies from browning and weakens the taste. Using butter instead of Crisco doesn't add anything to the flavor or texture and makes the dough much trickier to make and handle. Sprinkling the meringue with cinnamon sugar instead of cinnamon makes the cookies too sweet.
If you're going to freeze the cookies, do so before they are frosted or the moisture from the frosting will slowly eat into the dough and make it soggy. Thaw them before uncovering them or moisture from the air will condense on them and the crust will lose it's delicate texture.
My mother got the oroginal recipe for this cookie from someone named June who lived on 19th street in Milwaukee in 1953. If anyone knows anything about June or where she got this recipe, I'd appreciate an email sent to: firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you.
I wrote several authors of cookie cook books and asked them about the possible source of these butterhorns. The consensus is that they started off as rugala or rugalach cookies. Crisco replaced butter because butter was in short supply during World War II, which answers the question of why they are called butterhorns when there is no butter in them. The meringue and nut filling reminded one chef of the filling for one type of potica bread. Both rugala and potica are middle European and strongly influenced by Jewish cooking. The best guess is that a Jewish German cook got creative with rugala cookies and butterhorns were born.
Butterhorns are challenging to make but worth ever bit of effort. They are so light and richly flavored that no other cookie compares to them. A plate of butterhorns never fails to attract the main focus of attention at cookie buffets and I have yet to meet a single person who didn't love them. I sincerely hope everyone reading this page gives them a try and introduces them to all of their family and friends.
(Click on main site to browse 70 other topics ranging from exotic kaleidoscope designs to the strange world of lucid dreaming. There you will also find several other pages dealing with chocolate.)