Pennsylvania Dutch Sand Tarts, an Amish Christmas Cookie
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Pennsylvania Dutch Sand tarts are a cookie I grew up eating and taking for granted. I thought everyone’s family made them and little did I know that it was a very regional cookie, introduced by the Pennsylvania Dutch, Amish and Mennonites.
The beauty of this cookie is how thin and crisp it is, which makes it so addicting. I haven’t yet met a person who eats just one and can stop.
My Aunt Rita was the only one in the family who made made them and I still have her handwritten recipe. I combined it with a recipe I found in an Amish cookbook, Cooking from Quilt Country by Marcia Adams.
It’s the only recipe I’ve seen that separates the eggs and beats the egg whites stiff. You must use real butter, no substitutes, which is funny because my Aunt Rita hated butter, and the only time of year you could find butter at her house was when she was making sand tarts.
The sentimentality goes deep for me. Her son, Sam, my closest cousin was like a big brother to me. He passed away at 42 and left me everything including this book. I can actually remember the day he bought the book and showed it to me. He was very influential in how I view food.
It was years before I delved into the book, but it’s quite marvelous, highlighting all the regional dishes I grew up eating, and the type of cooking that has enjoyed a renaissance. I can’t bake these cookies without thinking about both of them, and I will pass this down to the children in my life, which is why I made a video.
Pennsylvania Dutch Sand Tarts Must be Rolled Very Thin
A very simple cookie, but one not so easy to get exactly right, as they must be rolled quite thin. The cookies are challenging only in getting them thin enough; otherwise it’s an easy cookie dough to make, but they must be made the night before and refrigerated.
It’s very tricky to send cookies out of town and keep them from going stale. I used cylinder tins and made a cookie that the recipe says will keep indefinitely.
You will want a lot of different cookie cutters.
I made these for Thanksgiving, and used a maple leaf cookie cutter and placed a pecan in the center. For Christmas, you might see them just like this, or you might see them with colored sugar.
I Grew up Eating Pennsylvania Dutch Sand Tarts Every Christmas
When I mention sand tarts to people who know and understand the regional component, they get excited and plead with me to make them a batch. I hope you and your family will enjoy this long time Pennsylvania Dutch Christmas tradition.
You will have to hide the cookies though, because they are so thin and crisp, it’s easy to eat a dozen at a time. This was the first time I’ve made Pennsylvania Dutch sand tarts and now I’ll be making them every year.
Tell me about your food traditions at the Holidays. Do you have a recipe that’s been passed down and have you ever heard of Pennsylvania Dutch Sand Tarts? I put a lot of baking and cooking posts on Instagram and Pinterest.
Family Italian Christmas Cookies from Spinach Tiger
More Pennsylvania Dutch Recipes from Spinach Tiger
Pennsylvania Dutch Corn Pudding
Pennsylvania Dutch Onion Pie with Bacon
Pennsylvania Dutch Pork and Sauerkraut
Pennsylvania Dutch Apple Pancake
Pennsylvania Apple Pandowdy Gluten Free
Pennsylvania Dutch Sand Tarts
- 1/2 pound butter softened (no substitutes)
- 2 cups sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 3 eggs separated
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup sugar mixed with 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 egg beaten
- 4 cups whole pecans although I didn't use that many
- If using a kitchen aid, beat the egg whites stiff first and transfer to another bowl.
- In the mixing bowl, beat butter until very softened. Add sugar and beat until fluffy. Add salt, and vanilla. Beat egg yolks and add.
- Fold in the egg whites, but not totally. You should still be able to see some of the white patches.
- Add in flour 1 1/2 cups at a time.
- Chill overnight.
- Bake the next day at 350 degrees.
- Roll out a quarter at a time, keeping dough in refrigerator.
- Roll very thin and use a 2 inch scalloped cookie cutter to form or use any Christmas cutter you desire.
- Brush with beaten egg, top, sprinkle with cinnamon sugar and top with pecan.
- Bake 9-10 minutes, not allowing cookie to get too brown.
- Cool thoroughly on wire racks.
- Pack in tins.
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Many Amish families enjoy baking cookies during the festive season. Many of these cookies are called “Christmas Cookies. I also love this cookie. Thanks
I haven’t made sand tarts for at least 10 years, maybe longer. I grew up in Lancaster County, PA. They are my favorite cookies at Christmastime and evoke wonderful memories.
I compared your recipe to my mom’s and there are lots of differences. Perhaps I’ll make both recipes and see which one I keep in my repertoire. Mom’s doesn’t include vanilla or salt and doesn’t call for separating the eggs. I would add salt, because I know it is needed. Does the egg separation yield a crisper cookie??? I guess I’ll find out.
This is my aunt’s recipe from Harrisburg, PA. I think the egg whites do makes a crispier cookie. Let me know what you think.
My recipe calls for 3 1/2 cups Confectioners sugar. Same egg meringue folded in, and rolled thin. We topped with egg wash on first and then cinnamon sugar and then sprinkles.
thanks for sharing this. my little sis loves these but is not a great cookie maker, so I’m housing/pet sitting for her this weekend so there will be a surprise for her when she returns!
Count me another one who did not realize Sand Tarts were such a PA regional recipe. But both if my parents grew up in PA, so this was a traditional holiday cookie. I was so surprised to learn that my mother-in-law also made these cookies, but she made them all wrong LOL. First off, she rolled them way too thick (think 1/8”), and then did not brush with egg. She always complained what a difficult doughnut was, but then criticized me when I made them like my mother and grandmother did – thin, crispy, and with cinnamon sugar and a pecan. Thank you for sharing the history of this cookie 🙂
This is the same recipe for sand tarts that my grandmother and then mother used to make. Except I don’t remember them separating the eggs.. and then folding in the stiff beaten whites.. but that doesn’t mean my grandmother didn’t. I asked my mom and she said she doesn’t remember doing that when she used to make them. My grandmother was born 1915. That would have been the 50’s & 60’s that I remember the big Sandtart baking days and evenings with the fresh baked sandtarts stacked or lined up in rows on the table with the sand tarts overlapping each other.. like 12 dozen or more of them at a time.
I loved my Grandmother’s sand tarts.. I’d just sit down with a glass of milk and start dipping and eating away.
I just happen also to have a 1st cousin, Angela Roberts. When I first saw your name.. I thought oh this is Angela sharing Nan-Nan’s sand tart recipe. lol.. Then I realized no… this is the Angela in the photo. Not quite the same..
We make them in southeast Texas also. However, instead of flattening the balls,, we roll them into crescents.
Thank you so much for this recipe for Sandtarts! I never realized they were a regional treat/Pennsylvania Dutch! The family who babysat me (all those years ago) made these cookies and I have looked for a recipe for many years without success for the “right” Sandtarts; no one seems to know what I’m talking about! I hope to try these soon!
Yes. I grew up eating these at Christmas as well. Like you I thought everyone ate them. I am 60. My grandma was the one that made them. My mom who was a fabulous baker tried. But never quite like Grandmas. I have her handwritten recipe. I’ll have to get it out and look it over.
I grew up in my dad’s bakery in New York and never heard of these cookies until a couple of days ago. I was making sugar cookies from my mom’s recipe recently and I remember that growing up, I always asked her to roll them very thin – that’s how I always liked them!
Anyway, I was talking with my elderly neighbor after I mixed the dough the other day and said I’d bring her some Christmas cookies and she said “When I was a kid, growing up in Pennsylvania, we had these cookies called “Sand Tarts” that were like sugar cookies but rolled very thin and I never could get that right so I stopped trying to make them.” …I said “that sounds a lot like the way I make my mom’s Christmas cookies”. So when I finished baking them – I brought her some – I thought she was going to cry! She was so thrilled and you could tell it brought back so many memories for her. TOO COOL! Then I came looking for a recipe for her Sand Tarts and found this page. The ingredients are almost identical to my mom’s recipe – but we are Polish and grew up in Long Island LOL :)))
I am going to try and make these the way you have here and give more to my neighbor 🙂 thanks so much for posting!
I’ve been looking for the written recipe and directions to save and cannot find it. Could you please tell me how to get it. Thank you.
I’m from Williamsport. My mother made sand tarts every Christmas and I followed. Our recipe makes 24-26 dozen of the crispy thin delights. The recipe was handed downtrodden from my grandmother:
1 pond butter, 4 cups sugar, 3 eggs and 7 cups of flour.
I made two batches one year because they were gone before Christmas!! So much work, but so worth it.
1 pond of butter might be a bit much lol. Sorry couldn’t resist
Oh my word….I’m totally hooked. Incredible flavor, so crisp & impossible to eat just one! These will be on my Christmas cookie list forever. Maybe thru-out the year also, don’t know if I can just make once a year. Thank you for this delight. I never comment on recipes but I had to respond to this one!
Both of my parents are from Central PA and every Christmas our family tradition was for my mother to make Sand Tarts and for us to decorate them. The decorating would become quite elaborate as we got older. My sisters and I have continued the tradition and still make Sands Tarts every Christmas, now for our kids to decorate.
I am so excited to have found this recipe. My Aunt made these every year, and they were my favorite cookie. Several years ago I searched the internet for “sand tarts” and found recipes, but they were not her recipe. I remember her telling me the exact things you wrote. She said “you have to use real butter, and refrigerate them overnight.” She also said “they have to be rolled very thin.” The only difference in this recipe and hers is she chopped her pecans. I can’t wait to try these. I haven’t had any in years.
Thanks for posting this. My dad grew up in the Pennsylvania Dutch community. My grandmother didn’t have a lot of money, but every year, she’d come down and we’d bake and bake and then bake some more.
These sand tarts were a staple in my house at Christmas time. She passed about 10 years ago and I couldn’t find this recipe anywhere.
Found this after talking to a cousin about them.. My husbands Gram taught his mom and we have all been making them for the next 3 generations. Never separated the eggs and I got lazy and rolled them like the bought dough and slice them to bake, never did well with the cutters but trying this next batch. Thanks
Thank you for sharing your memories, I also have very fond memories of my grandma making the Sand Tart cookies at Christmas and she would make them paper thin (she lived in Pa Dutch country). She has since passed and I have yet to find anyone including myself who can make them as thin as her. Again, thank you for bring memories of my grandma and may you and your family have a blessed Christmas.
My grandma made these every Christmas and passed the tradition down to me. She was from Pittsburgh, though no Amish in the family that I know of. We just use crystal sugar on them. Ours is 2 C sugar, 3/4 lb butter, 2 eggs, and 4 C flour, then roll as thin as possible!
My mother was also from the Pittsburgh area and had this recipe as part of her holiday cookie arsonal. It really is the best cookie ever.
Hi I lost my grandmothers recipe when my mother passed away but my mother was from Allegheny county in Pittsburgh. My cousin has a recipe but she isn’t having surgery today so there’s no way I can get it from her I wanted to make them with my grandkids I wanted to know if you could share your recipe because I was wondering if that would sound more like how many my grandmother made because she made them for all the grandkids and I were 13 of us. Thank you so much I would love to have this recipe to share with my grandkids since they’ve never had them and my daughter made them when she was younger but I can’t find my copy of the recipe at this time because I had moved and it is packed up somewhere
Just have to say – so glad I found the recipe. I made a double batch of the dough yesterday and split each into fourths. I baked one of the fourths tonight. So great. I used the hint to use my Kitchenaid Pasta roller. My dough was very moist and would not have rolled real good and I didn’t want to be adding flour and making it tough – so whe I saw the hint about the pasta roller I went for it. It worked great. ended up doing them on setting three. It was difficult to get setting 1 (which is thinner than 3) to stay together long enough to put it on the parchment paper to cut out :). Setting three was great. These are thin thin thin and crispy. I’m happy. I could see my hand through the dough as it was coming out of the roller, Other tricks I used from others hints: I would cut them out on the parchment paper, pull away the extra dough and put a few more on the parchment until I had no place else to place dough from the roller. I then put them in the freezer, did the next set and by the time I went to the freezer again – just a couple or three minutes or so with the next piece of cookie covered parchment the set in the freezer were solid enough to pick up and place exactly where I wanted them on my cookie sheet without any bends or smushies. About 8 minutes in the oven and they were done. I’ve decided I’m going to do a bunch of cutouts – freeze them on the parchment – and then store them in a nice large container to pull out and bake whenever I want. I’m making these to send to my Mom in PA (I’m in California now) – and I guess I’ll need to introduce these CA natives to good old fashioned PA Sand Tarts. Now to pack them so they get to PA in mostly one piece :).
Omg these are the cookies my grandma made every year at Christmas. She passed away seven years ago and we could not find her recipes, thank you for sharing. Can’twait to make them!
Today I was looking for something in the back of my cupboards. I found all my Great Aunt and Grandmother’s cookie cutters. It was always a weekend event and we referee rated our dough too – covered and on the back porch – only brought in what we needed for each batch. So I’m going to call my daughter up and have her over to use these cookie cutters on a new generation thank you for the recipe – I have only three recipes from when I was very young. Bread Pudding, tapioca with stiffened egg whites beaten into it to make it fluffy, andy Aunt Vera’s Sadie cake. So I’ll be adding this to my collection also. Thank you so much for helping bring back some really good memories.
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i don’t know where my mother got her recipe at,but i do know she was from PA,and i was born in Reading Pa..any how this was her recipe for sandtarts,every christmas she would make these,and since she past on a few yrs back i’ve kept the tradition going,here goes mind you it is like yours but different ingredients,,,, 2 cups sugar 1/2 pound butter 4 eggs seperated 2-3 cups flour cream together the sugar,butter & egg WHITES.add the flour 1/2 cup at a time until dough is very stiff.make about 1 1/2″ to 2″ balls place on cookie sheets,beat egg YOLKS and with the back of a spoon dip in the beaten egg yolk an while flattening the cookie out spread some on top of cookie,sprinkle with nutmeg an place half of a walnut on top,,, bake @ 350 degrees for 8-10 minutes………P.S. WATCH CAREFULLY
I was so happy to see this post on your blog. My family has been making these cookies at Christmastime for at least 4 generations. My mom used to tell me stories of her childhood and making these with her mother and grandmother. That was in the days before cookie cutters, so they rolled out the dough and cut diagonal lines through the dough one way and then the oppositedirection to make diamond shapes. They decorated the cookies with cinnamon sugar and pecans, blanched almonds, or walnuts for variety. I can remember my mother blanching almonds herself to remove the skin…very tedious work. Nowadays my siblings and I favor using just pecans, because we like the flavor of the toasted pecans best. We roll out the dough in very small batches, keeping the remainder in the fridge, because as the dough warms up it becomes hard to work with. We roll the dough nearly as thin as a potato chip. Once baked the cookies are translucent when held up to the light. We cut the cookies in a variety of simple shapes (circles, bells, stars, etc.) for the traditional cinnamon sugar and nut treatment. We also cut some in more figural shapes (Santas, Christmas trees, angels, etc.) and use colored sugar and no nut. Our family recipe does not call for separating the egg, and it uses brown sugar instead of white sugar. We are not Pennsylvania Dutch, but my mom was from western Pennsylvania and my great grandmother was of German descent, so there’s a connection in there somewhere. I have made these cookies for friends and they have often told me that these are the best cookies they ever ate. I think they taste best when baked so that the edges are browned, as the cookie becomes very crunchy and the pecan really toasts. This is our recipe:
1 lb butter
4 cups brown sugar
4 ½ cups flour (4 3/4 cups if using extra large eggs)
Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs and beat. Fold in flour on slow speed of mixer. Dough will be very thick. Chill dough overnight. Roll cookies; brush with egg white and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar. Decorate with a nut. Bake at 380 for 6 to 8 minutes.
Tip: Roll dough very thin and use flour generously when rolling.
I was doing them really thin because that’s how my grandmother did them too, and they were super! But I kept breaking them so I just started to do them like regular sand tarts and now they are too “thick” and taste bland (I had to use plenty of flour like you suggested because my finished product was “gooey.” My post above explains that I made a double batch, and some recipes take alterations as opposed to times-two when doubling them and I think this might be one of them. They are finished and they are cookies, just kind of “plain” tasting though; but I do believe somewhere along the line of making them, this was my fault :o(
I’m right with you on all of that. Rolling them thin is very important. If they are thicker, I find them chewy and I don’t care for that. I prefer them very crisp. I use a pastry cloth and a cloth roller cover and flour both generously and keep flouring them as I work. The dough can get sticky as you work with it and it warms to room temperature. Using the floured cloths really helps keep the dough from sticking and I find it makes it easier to roll them thin. I also think they have to be well baked to be good…a little on the toasty looking side. I think it makes them caramelize and just better somehow. Otherwise they just taste like sweet flour. If some of the batch doesn’t get browned to my taste, I have been known to pop a few on a baking tray in the toaster oven to brown them more..just for a minute or less at 300 or 350 (and I watch them carefully!). Our recipe makes several hundred cookies, so we do it as a group project and share the results. 🙂
Anne, I like them very well done too or they taste bland. I keep the dough very cold and roll a little at a time. I like them so thin that I can almost see through them.
My Grandmother’s Recipe is very similar but calls for regular white sugar and there is no amount for the flour (“Flour to stiffen” ) I find they do taste bland when too thick so Rolling as Thin as humanly possible. Also they taste better when on the brown side. Thanks for the Conversation on a Favorite Cookie of mine but all my friends can’t get past the name.
I just made these and I’ve made plenty of sand tarts, but I doubled the recipe and the dough is like a cookie dough but not “rollable” I am hoping I can add a little flour but I’d hate to chill them again. Any feedback?
Thank you for this! I am half pa Dutch and grew up eating these made by my grandmother every year. We always used a glass to cut the cookies out. I can’t wait to make these 🙂
Linda, Thank you. I hope you get a chance to watch the video. I had fun.
Hi! I was hoping you could clarify how many teaspoons of vanilla are required. There’s no number in the ingredient list. Thanks in advance!
I love regional & family recipes. There’s something so special about them! Thanks for sharing this cherished recipe. The cookies look amazing!
You’re very welcome.
I love seeing other people’s old family recipes – and these look completely delicious. Great video, too!
These are a big regional cookie. You’d love them. Like eating sweet potato chips.
i grew up in Lancaster, Pa and we my mother made these every year-we put chopped peanuts on ours-they were the best-not super sweet
YES!! A half of a peanut was placed on top of the super thin cookie brushed with egg wash and then sprinkled with cin/sugar! Some of our family chopped the peanuts, but my mom always just put on a half of a peanut “meat” as she would call it!
What is with all these pecans and almonds???
Seriously, go make your cookies YOUR WAY. Why come here and be so snarky? I have never seen a sand tart with peanuts, but that doesn’t mean I would question it. These are CHRISTMAS COOKIES. Go bake in peace. Let others do the same.
I don’t think that I’ve ever tried these! They look really good I have to say! 😀 And so unique too!
They look great and so do you. All the best to you and your family for a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
Aww Norma. Thanks. I’m wishing you back a wonderful, loving Holiday season.
Question, can you use a mixer for the flour after folding in the egg white?