Secret Cookies Recipe on Food52 (2024)


by: Veronica



20 Ratings

  • Prep time 15 minutes
  • Cook time 10 minutes
  • Makes About 80 cookies

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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, 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, 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

  • Test Kitchen-Approved

What You'll Need

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  • 3/4 poundsalted butter (1 1/2 cups, 3 sticks, or 340g), softened
  • 1 3/4 cups(350g) granulated sugar
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 2 teaspoonsvanilla extract
  • 3 1/2 cups(450g) flour
  • Red, green or multi-colored sugar
  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.


  • Cookie
  • American
  • Swedish
  • Grains
  • Vegetarian
  • Dessert

Popular on Food52

54 Reviews

Kira December 17, 2022

This is my new favorite cookie recipe to make with littles! My 4 yo did a great job rolling the balls between his palms, and both he and my 2 yo loved pressing the cup into the sugar and then the cookie. So rare to find a cookie they can shape without it being ruinous. And the recipe is so fast and easy they didn't lose steam.
I did 2/3 scale and weighed all ingredients - that's exactly one block of Kerrygold so it was easier for me. Only change was I kept the 2 egg yolks instead of scaling them down. This made the dough come together more easily without sacrificing texture. These were delicious and we all loved 'em.

GAYMAN69420 November 4, 2022


yourmom125 November 4, 2022

very very secret yumm yumm i love cookies and beans very good goose

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.

Secret Cookies Recipe on Food52 (2024)
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