Every year, my husband’s Aunt Colleen makes batches of Hungarian Butterhorns. Everyone loves them so much that Colleen actually has to hide them in various spots around the house so no one person can hoard them all!
These cookies take some time to make, but they will reward you with their out-of-this-world, tender, and flaky deliciousness.
What Is a Butterhorn Cookie?
Butterhorn's are crescent-shaped cookies made from an enriched, yeasted dough, with a small amount of walnut-meringue filling rolled up inside and a powdered sugar glaze on top. They are very sweet and perfect with a strong cup of coffee.
There are three components to these cookies:
- yeasted cookie dough
- meringue filling
- powdered sugar glaze.
How to Make Yeasted Cookie Dough
The yeasted dough is actually easier to make than it sounds.
The original recipe contained fresh yeast, a.k.a. baker’s yeast or cake yeast, which can be difficult to track down. I’ve made these cookies many times using instant yeast instead, which is much more widely available (the SAF brand is my favorite).
Colleen says that the fresh yeast makes a difference, but I think both kinds work equally well! Either way, there’s no need to bloom the yeast—it gets beaten right into the dough along with the butter, sour cream, and egg yolks.
How to Make Walnut Meringue Filling
The filling is a French-style meringue of egg whites and granulated sugar whipped until it is satiny and smooth. You’ll know it’s ready when you can rub some of the meringue between your fingers and not feel any gritty grains of sugar.
I like to use superfine granulated sugar, as it incorporates into the egg whites more quickly than granulated sugar. If granulated sugar is what you have on hand, you can either use it as it is or pulse it in a food processor five to eight times to make superfine sugar.
A few spoonfuls of ground walnuts are mixed in once the meringue is fully whipped. If you don’t care for walnuts, swap it with something else. You can use ground:
- Almonds or even almond meal
Don’t skip the filling! It helps hold the cookie together, adds sweetness, and turns puffy and crackly as it bakes, making for a textural contrast that’s hidden inside the flaky dough.
What to Do With Leftover Meringue
You will have about 1/2 cup of the meringue filling leftover. Fold it into a pancake or muffin batter for added sweetness and lift or make meringue cookies. Just drop tablespoonfuls of the filling onto a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake for one hour at 200°F, then turn off the oven and leave them in there for another hour to fully dry.
How to Shape the Cookies
You’ll roll the dough out into circles, then cut it into wedges, spread each one with a bit of the filling, and roll them up like crescent rolls. (You can tuck the corners in to make the cookies u-shaped if you like, but Colleen leaves them straight.)
The dough doesn’t have to be rolled into a perfect circle, and the wedges don’t have to be perfectly even either. Just do your best. The cookies always come out slightly varied in size, which is part of their charm.
The dough is pliable but sticky; follow the tips below to get the best results:
- Buy a big bag of sugar: Use lots and lots of powdered sugar on your work surface as you roll it out. The sugar will keep the dough from sticking, and some will absorb into the cookies giving them an extra touch of sweetness.
- A wooden cutting board is best: A large wooden cutting board is the most non-stick surface for rolling out this dough.
- Use the proper tool: To cut the circle of dough into wedges, use either a bench scraper, a chef’s knife, or a pizza cutter.
Once they’re baked, you’ll spread a generous amount of the powdered sugar glaze on top of each cookie, so they’re fully coated in a sweet, smooth topping.
How to Store Butterhorn Cookies
These cookies are best enjoyed in the first couple of days (and they never last beyond Christmas Day in the Morante house, anyway).
To freeze: If you must make them more than a day or two ahead, wait until the glaze is completely set, then freeze them in a tightly lidded container for up to three months.
To thaw: Place them in a single layer on a platter and leave them out for an hour or two.
More Christmas Cookie Recipes
- Gingerbread Cookies
- Holiday Pinwheel Cookies
- Best Sugar Cookies
- Walnut Snowball Cookies
- Almond Crescent Cookies
- Thumbprint Cookies
Hungarian Butterhorn Cookies
- For the filling:
- 2 egg whites
- 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar (optional)
- 2/3 cup (135 grams) superfine granulated sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 3 tablespoons (21 grams) very finely chopped/ground walnuts (use a mini chopper) or walnut flour
- For the dough:
- 1 cup (2 sticks, 8 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
- 1 teaspoon instant yeast
- 1/3 cup (80 grams) sour cream
- 2 egg yolks
- 2 2/3 cups (333 grams) all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 cup powdered sugar for dusting the work surface and rolling out the dough
- For the glaze:
- 5 cups (500 grams) powdered sugar
- 3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 6 to 8 tablespoons milk
Preheat the oven and prepare the baking sheets
Preheat the oven to 400oF and line two baking sheets with silicone baking mats or parchment paper.
Make the filling
In a very clean, large mixing bowl, use a whisk, hand mixer, or stand mixer with whisk attachment to whisk together the egg whites and cream of tartar, just until the cream of tartar is fully incorporated and the egg whites have a lot of bubbles.
Add the sugar to the egg whites, one tablespoon at a time, whisking it in completely after each addition, for a minute or so if you’re doing it by hand, or about 30 seconds if you’re using an electric mixer.
Add the vanilla, then continue to whisk at high speed, until the egg whites are glossy and silky in texture. Stop the mixer and rub a little of the meringue between your fingers. It should feel smooth and you should not be able to feel any gritty sugar between your fingers.
Add the walnuts
Whisk the ground walnuts into the meringue just until well combined, about 30 seconds. Set aside. (If you are using a stand mixer, use a spatula to transfer the meringue to a small bowl, then wash out the mixer bowl and return it to the stand.)
For the dough
In a large mixing bowl, use a hand mixer or a stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment to cream the butter, yeast, sour cream, and egg yolks for about 2 minutes—it’s fine if the mixture looks split or a bit broken.
Add the flour and salt in three batches, mixing slowly until the flour is thoroughly blended into the dough, about 10 seconds each time.
Prepare your work surface and divide the dough
Sprinkle a work surface generously with powdered sugar. Transfer the dough to the work surface. If the dough is still a little shaggy, knead in the dryer bits until you have a cohesive ball of dough. Use a bench scraper or knife to divide the dough into four equal pieces. Shape each of the pieces of dough into a round disk, about 1 inch thick
Roll and cut the dough into wedges
Using a rolling pin, roll one piece of the dough into a circle about 10 inches in diameter and about 1/8-inch thick, a little bit thinner than if you were rolling out pie dough. With a bench scraper, knife, or pizza cutter, cut the dough into 8 triangle wedges.
Fill the cookies
Spoon a small amount of the meringue mixture onto the wide end of a wedge of dough, about a heaped 1/2 teaspoon of filling. You may use a little more or less depending on the wedge of dough, as they won’t likely be all perfectly evenly sized.
Shape the cookies
Roll up the dough from the wide end to the tip, like you would a crescent roll. (The filling may spread along the wedge of dough a bit as you’re rolling it up, but it shouldn’t spill out too much over the sides. Use a light hand and don’t worry if they’re a little messy.)
You can gently bend the ends in to form a crescent shape or just leave them straight. It’s up to you.
Transfer the cookie to the lined baking sheet.
Complete this process with the rest of the dough, rolling out the three remaining balls of dough, cutting them into wedges, and rolling up the cookies with the filling, to make 32 cookies.
You will have a good amount of filling leftover (a half cup or so).
Bake the cookies
Bake the cookies for 10 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through baking to ensure that they bake evenly. They should be light in color when they are done, and just barely lightly browned on the ends. You can check for doneness by touching one of the cookies, if it springs back when gently poked, the cookies are done.
Cool the cookies
Remove the cookies from the oven and transfer them to wire cooling racks. Let the cookies cool completely, for about 30 to 45 minutes. Save the baking sheets. You’ll use them again to glaze the cookies.
Make the glaze
In a bowl, whisk together the powdered sugar, vanilla, and 6 tablespoons of the milk. Once you have incorporated as much of the powdered sugar as will absorb into the milk, add more milk gradually, by the teaspoon, until the glaze is thick but pourable, a little bit thicker than Elmer’s glue.
Glaze the cooled cookies
Place the cooling racks on lined baking sheets to catch any dripping glaze.
Spoon about a tablespoon of glaze over the top of each cookie, using a spoon to gently coax the glaze into dripping down the sides— you want to cover the cookies as much as possible. Let the glaze set for an hour or so, until it is no longer tacky.
The cookies will keep in a tightly lidded container for up to three days at room temperature or up to three months in the freezer.