Meg’s Mom’s Sand Tart Cookies

My mom has made these thin, crispy cut-outs at Christmas for as long as I can remember. The same treats could be found at both Grandma Sara and Grandma Losch’s homes in December each year. When I married, I discovered that my mother-in-law also makes the same recipe each year! Must be a Pennsylvania thing.

Make the dough ahead of time, and you might as well go ahead and make two batches because once you bake them, these cookies go fast. In fact, the trick with these is really in the hiding: The earlier in December you bake them, the better you have to hide them from the children and men (mostly, the men).

These are a lot of work, what with all the rolling, cutting, decorating (and hiding), and they bake fast, so once you start putting them in the oven, you’re going to get a good workout. This must be why my mom only made them once a year, and recently threatens each year not to make them at all. (I think this year she’s going to make good on that threat.) Even so, with non-Christmas cookie cutters, you could turn these into a Valentine’s Day treat for your sweetie, or whatever other seasonal reason you can use to rationalize making them.

MEG’S MOM’S SAND TARTS (modified just a wee bit by Meg)

2 cups granulated sugar

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened

3 eggs

1 Tbsp milk

1 tsp baking soda

4 – 4½ cups flour

 

An extra egg white for eggwash

 

Colored sugar sprinkles and cinnamon/sugar for decorating cookies

 

Tools you’ll need: That giant electric mixer that’s collecting dust in your cupboard, cool Christmas cookie cutters (why not treat yourself to some new ones?), baking parchment to cover your baking sheets (or buy some new airbake sheets if yours are as crusty as mine), a pastry brush, measuring spoons and cups, a thin metal turner/spatula, rolling pin, cooling racks, a timer, and lots and lots of patience. Also, it’ll be much easier if a friend helps.

In a large mixing bowl, using electric mixer (just the excuse you need to bust out your KitchenAid!), cream sugar and butter well.  Add eggs and milk and mix well.

In a separate bowl, combine flour and baking soda.  Using a wooden spoon (you can put the mixer away again until next year), add flour mixture gradually to sugar/butter mixture until dough is somewhat firm. Don’t allow it to become crumbly.  Divide the sugary, buttery goodness into 3 or 4 pieces and form each into a nice, tidy disc. Tightly wrap each disc in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least several hours, ideally overnight.  This dough can be stored in refrigerator for several days.

You’re done for the night; uncork the cabernet. Clear your schedule for tomorrow night or Saturday afternoon.

Bring your dough to room temperature by allowing it to sit on the countertop for as long as it takes you to finish last night’s leftover wine a couple/few hours.  Clear all the other stuff off of your countertop. Flour your rolling pin and surface well, and keep the flour handy – you don’t want the dough to stick!

Using your grandmother’s rolling pin for good luck (yes, I do), roll the dough very thin and cut into shapes with cookie cutters. Depending on the dough’s texture, you may be able to re-roll scraps one or two more times, but each time you re-roll, the finished product will be less tender, so don’t get too crazy with the rerolling.

(About the thin-ness: Listen to me here. If they’re too thick, they won’t be flaky-crispy and I won’t allow you to call them Sand Tarts. Trust me – these cookies taste best when they’re almost paper-thin, and crispy.)

Using the metal turner, carefully transfer cut-outs to ungreased cookie sheets lined with baking parchment.  Mix that extra egg white with a Tbsp water in a small bowl, and very lightly brush each cookie with the eggwash. No puddles! It’s only there to make the sugar stick.

Now, the fun part. Find the kids, because this is the only part they’ll want to help with anyway. Bust out the colored sprinkles and go crazy! Also, try using a cinnamon/sugar mixture, paired with a sliced almond or some chopped walnuts, which will enable you to rationalize eating serving these for breakfast.

Bake at 350 degrees (you did preheat your oven, didn’t you?) for 5 to 8 minutes or until they just start to turn golden – watch carefully and often to make sure they don’t burn.  USE A TIMER – don’t lose track! Adjust baking time as needed. DO NOT WALK AWAY BECAUSE I PROMISE YOU WILL GET DISTRACTED AND BURN THEM.  Yelling on purpose here. I speak from experience.

Using a potholder (I make no assumptions), remove cookie sheet from the oven and allow to cool for a minute or two. Shoo onlookers away and tell them to come back later, after they’re all baked. (The cookies, I mean.) Transfer cookies to wire racks to cool completely.  Store in airtight container.  These cookies will last for weeks in your freezer, assuming your husband doesn’t know that the freezer is your hiding place.

Sand Tarts!

Sand Tarts!

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About Meg McCormick

Mom to 3 boys, wife, HR consultant. Grew up in south-central PA and came to the Washington, DC area in the early '90s. Currently reside in the Maryland suburbs of DC. Enjoy music, cooking, and gin. Am blessed with an abundance of friends and an inability to say no to a good party.
This entry was posted in Baking, cookies, Grandma Losch, Grandma Sara, holidays, Mom, Recipe and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

116 Responses to Meg’s Mom’s Sand Tart Cookies

  1. Patti M. says:

    Central PA woman too! This is a PA Dutch cookie that our whole family makes every Christmas, but I have changed things over the years to make it easier on myself and they taste better. First, I do not use flour for rolling now, instead I use 10x sugar. I always hated the flour taste on the bottom. Second, I roll then our in my kitchen aid mixer’s pasta attachment onto a 10x covered parchment paper. Makes them thin without breaking my arms rolling! I use the cookie cutters, pull away the extra, then egg whites, colored sugar, and in the oven without having to try to move them and without breaking them. It goes much faster now and I always make two batches.

  2. Parke says:

    I like to thank you for a good memory and a laugh. I am from Central Pa. (Harrisburg) and growing up these were the MUST HAVE Christmas cookies according to my mom. These are the best cookies to eat but (CENSORED) to make.
    When I was young it was great because all I did was help mix, decorate and taste. As I got older I got the worse part, rolling. I hate rolling these things. The dough would stick no matter how many tons of flour you would, and mom’s theor…., demand was “PAPER THIN, CAN YOU READ THE PAPER THROUGH THEM?!?”. Your quote “(About the thin-ness: Listen to me here. If they’re too thick, they won’t be flaky-crispy and I won’t allow you to call them Sand Tarts) reminded of her so much, but she thought that the scraps could be reused and reused and reused, until I started throwing them when she wasn’t watching.

  3. Julia Carroll says:

    My Nana passed several years ago at age 99. She made these sand tarts every Christmas. They had red and green sprinkles in tree, bell and star shapes. This was by far the best cookie I ever ate. My brother and I are attempting this recipe this weekend…all ingredients, wine and spiced egg nog are waiting…BTW my nana was from Washington D.C. I’m in Maryland.

  4. Sue Morrow says:

    I googled sand tarts and this popped up. I, too, am from Central PA – Etters….can’t wait to try this recipe. I saw sand tarts at the Farmer’s Market this morning and they were $14 for a little container. I see after reading your directions,why they were that expensive. I’ve got my wine. I’m ready to go! :)

    • Stacy Matlock says:

      I just googled Sand Tarts my grandma made and this recipe came up. My sisters and I have decided to make cookies for my dad this Christmas , I decided to make sand tarts we are from Altoona Pa. however we live in Florida now. I am going to try this recipe this is all my dad talks about every Christmas to have me make these cookies. I still have my grandmothers rolling pin all I need is the wine and I guess I will be ready to take this large challenge . Good luck to all of you making the tarts the first time and Meg thank you for sharing.

  5. Heather says:

    Just finally this year (at 29) decided I would try my hand at my Grammy’s (now 85) sand tart recipe. It was an index card with a list of ingredients, bake at 350. Nothing else! I knew they needed to be rolled thin, but I’m really glad I came across this site, the refrigerating overnight could have cost me a whole batch! So my list of ingredients and baking temperature now have the missing pieces. We’re from Harrisburg, but who knows where her recipe came from originally. I’m quite sure she has it in her memory and never needed it written down, but this is the first year that she won’t be able to bake much herself, so I’m going to stand in for her. I perfected her chicken and waffles recipe last weekend, much to her delight (and no, not fried chicken, chicken gravy with home made waffles) and will be on year 3 of making her pumpkin pies (with real pumpkin, cut, boiled, mashed and drained in cheesecloth). So hopefully I can master this one too!

    • Meg says:

      Thanks for your comment Heather! Glad you found the how-to here. You make me want to make PA-style chicken and waffles now!!

      • Meg, OMG chicken and waffles must go with sand tarts! My mother made both and I came on here to find a recipe and hit on yours. Thank you! I am not going for the ham bone soup! My mother made ham pot-pie with home made flat, square pieces of dough, and as it cooked on the stove top in a large dutch oven, she added cut up potatoes and onions. The broth was to die for. I have never made it. Have you heard of that?
        I am from Bedford, PA and now live in Monessen, PA, near PGH. email
        indialecarre@gmail.com
        Any Bedford folks?

  6. Sharon says:

    I so love this! My great grandmother used to make these! She had three huge glass containers sitting on her counter at Christmas. One was filled with Anise Seed Pillows, one with Chocolate Chip Cookies, and one with Sand Tarts. I remember those jars were always half full of cookies. She must have made thousands at Christmas. She always cut hers out with cutters and always with cinnamon and sugar on top. She filled tins with cookies and Christmas chocolates to give away. After my great grandmother passed away the recipe was lost till my grandmother found it a few years ago. I had the pleasure of deciphering her 5/8 pound of butter, 4-6 cups flour, and cook in a quick oven recipe. I was up for the challenge and could hardly wait for the first batch to cool! I was not dissapointed! Your recipe is very similar to mine. I think this year I will try the colored sugar. Thanks for the great post!!

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  8. Dominique says:

    This recipe is amazing! thank you so much for sharing. I just made bunny shaped ones for easter, they made me feel like a kid again and my little one loved them so that made it even better!

  9. Linda says:

    Just found your blog today! I’m from central PA, too! My mom would let my sister and I “play hooky” one day a year to help with her sand tarts. She sold them by the dozens at Christmas. Just dug out her old cookbook and the recipe she used called for 21 cups of flour! Brings back great memories!

  10. Yasmin says:

    I made the sand tarts, and the recipe worked beautifully. However there is one thing that bothers me, you can really taste the baking soda. I hope I don’t seem to fussy, because they taste great otherwise, but the soda taste does affect their perfection. Does anyone have a suggestion? I wonder if the soda also helps the dough to be very elastic, because it was so easy to roll them. But nevertheless, we still enjoy them a lot. Thanks for the recipe.

  11. Yasmin says:

    I am trying t make these tonight and finish them tomorrow. Wish me good luck!

  12. Jan says:

    Meg, your Grandma Sara doesn’t happen to be from Harrisburg does she? Is your Mom Janet? If so, i fondly remember these cookies!! My Mom and Sara were friends and Sara would give me a tin of them every Christmas! i have never found them anywhere else!! Love these cookies!! Even if your Grandma is not the Sara S. i know, these cookies are the absolute BEST!!

  13. Angela says:

    Another PA girl here! I remember these cookies so well from my childhood! We always used colored sugar (and sometimes the tiny colored balls). I’ve been asking my mom for years to make these cookies but she said they are too much work and she didn’t have a recipe for me to try them on my own. I didn’t even know they were called sand tarts. We just called them “christmas cut outs”. Thank goodness for the internet and thank you for posting the recipe!

    • Meg says:

      Angela, I hope you are able to make them and they remind you of your childhood when you eat them! I made my dough this past weekend but threw it in the freezer – hope I can find time this Saturday to roll, cut & decorate.

  14. Yvonne says:

    I so enjoyed reading this blog. I know this recipe is right, because I remember the tablespoon of milk. I never thought it would really matter (as a child). My Grandmother lived in Lancaster Co. PA, and when they came to Western PA for Christmas, she would pack cookies in Lard Tins!! You are so right about re-rolling this cookie dough. I was impressed with a tip on another web site. She cut her dough into 2″ wide strips, then cut the strips on the diagonal, thus producing diamond shapes…….Diamond shape was one of the cutters that my Grandmother used to use, so they would still “look” right. I can’t wait to make these this year. Thanks for your blog.

    • Meg says:

      Ooooh, diamond shape, good tip, Yvonne!! Glad you liked my post. I am considering making some this weekend…

      • Jackie says:

        I enjoyed the blog also. These are my favorite cookies. My mom made them and like one of the other posters, threatened for years to stop. We lived in Lancaster, across the street from a Charles Chips factory. She kept Christmas cookies in Charles Chips cans, with wax paper between the layers. Love those memories! Mom is 80 now and has stopped baking, but I have taken over. We used to help her so I knew the rolling work was “work”. I have found a help – I roll the dough on parchment then cut the cookies and remove the “excess” dough, leaving the fragile cookies in place on the parchment. Just put that onto the cookie sheet, decorate, then into the oven. That saves the potential for distorting shapes trying to move the raw cookies from one place to another. Hope this helps others.

      • Meg says:

        Jackie, what a GREAT idea to roll on parchment!! I will try that this year. Hug your mom for me!

      • Yvonne says:

        Jackie……………….that is BRILLIANT!!!!! I will do this this year. Thanks.

  15. Megan says:

    I called my Mom for this recipe which she didn’t have because she was out of town, so glad I found your recipe (I took it as a sign that this was the one to try – my name is Megan and I was looking for my Mom’s recipe!) I’m about to roll out some dough and bake up my first batch of sand tarts in, oh, probably 10-11 YEARS! Can’t wait to introduce my Texan husband to this PA Dutch treat, thanks!!

  16. Cheryle says:

    Just googled sand tarts recipe and found your blog. I’ve been making sand tarts for years from a similar recipe that was given to me by a former coworker. The recipe was given to her by her neighbor. The recipe never had a time/temp with it so I thought I would see if I could find a similar recipe with the proper time/temp. I’ve always used a 350 oven so I was happy to know that was the right temp. Baking these sand tarts has become a “family tradition”. Each year on the Friday after Thanksgiving my grandchildren come to our house and help “Mimi” make sand tarts. I roll and cut as that is the tricky part, then they have an assembly line – one brushes on the egg wash, one sprinkles with cinnamon-sugar mix, and then the three younger ones decorate with colored sprinkles. After they are baked, we all have a taste or two and then I pack them in a large tin and store in the root cellar until Christmas. When their parents were young, they were my sand tart helpers, as was my niece and our neighbor’s daughter. The grandchildren are already planning this year’s bake session!

    After many years of trial and error with rolling the cookies to the proper “thinness”, I discovered a very useful item. It’s called the “no mess dough disc” and it makes rolling sand tarts, or any other doughs a breeze. Unfortunately, the people who sell them do not have a website so you have to call them if you want to buy their product. The dough disc is heavy plastic and comes with covers for both the disc and your rolling pin and is well worth the small investment to purchase it!

    I’m from north central PA and after seeing some of the results from the google search, I am convinced this an old Pennsylvania Dutch recipe.

    • Meg says:

      Cheryle, thanks for your message! I love that you hide ‘em in the Root Cellar. I also like the idea of the rolling pin with the thinness guide – I saw one of those in a catalog recently and might have to give it a try this year.

      My husband’s family is from Lycoming County.

      • Cheryle says:

        Meg, small world – we are in Lycoming County! Sand tarts rolled perfectly this year thanks to your tip for allowing the dough to come to room temperature. Happy New Year!

      • Meg says:

        so glad to hear it Cheryle! That’s where my husband grew up and his family still lives!

  17. Kristin says:

    Thank you for posting this recipe. I will try it. My PA Dutch grandmom (from Reading, PA) made these every time my brother and I would visit. She wasn´t very good at hiding them, which I´m sure contributed to my childhood obesity. I´d often be discovered in a corner with a tin of sand tarts eating them as if they were potato chips. And hers were about as thin as potato chips. All of my great aunts always talked about how jealous they were of my grandmom because her sand tarts were thinner than theirs. My mother and aunts always asked her to write down her recipe for them, but it they were always dismayed to get an index card that listed the ingredient quantities as “until it’s just right.” Like “add milk to the creamed butter and sugar until the consistency is just right.” Needless to say, my grandmom’s recipe died with her. Yours gets rave reviews, so it must be the right one. My grandmom cut paper-thin round cookies off a frozen log with a knife just like some other commenters mentioned, although to this day no one has discovered how she did it. I used to watch her do it, and I’ve tried to do it, but I can’t. She’d keep the log in the freezer overnight before cutting. Very rarely she would use other shapes. She didn’t like to make the shapes because hers were so thin that it was too easy to burn the uneven edges on the shapes–for instance, the arms on the gingerbread men might burn before the Christmas trees and snowmen are fully cooked. The round slices all cooked evenly and perfectly, because everything had to be perfect when my grandmom was baking desserts. And we never had sand tarts with cinnamon sugar or nuts on top. Always a pinch each of red and green sugar. She used a lot less sugar than you do from the looks of your picture. Just a tiny pinch. Thanks for this trip down memory lane, Meg.

    • Thanks for sharing your memories here, Kristin! I may have to try your grandma’s “frozen log” method in order to achieve super-thin cookies that are the envy of all! Re: the sugar – that’s what happens when the kids help… but it does add an extra “crunch”.

  18. Melissa says:

    Hi Meg,

    I’m really glad you posted this recipe. I used to help my mom make these cookies every year, but I haven’t attempted them since she died in 2008. I want to get back in the habit, but I don’t know where her recipe is (she was a collector of “church cookbooks”) and had a ton of them, who knows where the real recipe is hiding. I think these are the cookies that I miss the most. And you can’t really buy them. There’s a stand at Eastern Market in York that sells sandtarts, but they’re not quite thin enough. They get them mostly right, because at least they understand that sandtarts are a “butter cookie”, definitely not a “sugar cookie”. Anyway, I hope to try them this weekend.

    Melissa

    Just a side note, did you ever do a Google images search for sandtarts. The results are hilarious and wrong. You’d be amazed at the type of pastry products that people are trying to pass off as sandtarts. Here’s a link.

    http://www.google.com/search?tbm=isch&client=firefox-a&rls=org.mozilla%3Aen-US%3Aofficial&hl=en&source=hp&biw=1280&bih=907&q=sandtarts&gbv=2&oq=sandtarts&aq=f&aqi=g-s4g-mS2&aql=&gs_sm=e&gs_upl=971l3145l0l3465l9l9l0l0l0l0l175l820l6.3l9l0

  19. Diane says:

    I am from Lebanon, PA ,but have lived in NY for almost 25 years as this is where my husband is from. I haven’t made sand tarts in a few years and couldn’t find my own recipe last night, so I googled “sand tarts” and came across your wonderful blog! Reading it brought back a lot of “food” memories, so many things that I grew up eating that even my parents don’t eat any more. We go back to Lebanon to visit and to the reader that mentioned Laudermilichs, yes their cookies are delicious! MY girls are now 18 and 21 and they love to cook, I am passing this onto them to read. Thanks for sharing all your memories and recipes!

  20. Hi Meg,

    I wanted to let you know that I tried your recipe last week, and I think I was pretty successful! It was my first shot at sand tarts, and I’m glad I stopped here, because you really prepared me for the challenge I was in for.

    I’ve been in the York/Lancaster area for most of my life, and I had no idea, really until I read the comments on your blog and started talking about these cookies, that this was such a local thing. It made me really stop to appreciate my PA Dutch heritage.

    I wrote a blog entry of my own about the experience, and I linked to your recipe since I liked it so much. I hope that’s okay! Anyway, thanks for sharing the recipe. Even though they’re so, SO time-consuming, these cookies are getting filed away as a must-have holiday tradition.

    ~Valerie

  21. Linda says:

    I too am checking to see about proportions since my Nana’s recipe always seems too stiff for (polite) words. She was descended from the Mennonite Herrs who settled just south of Lancaster in the 1710s. She was actually born in NJ, but the Penna. roots run deep. It would not be Christmas without sand tarts and chocolate jumbles … both requiring careful rolling and endless cooky cuttering.

    Thanks to Nana I started baking cookies very young and have amassed quite a collection of cookie cutters (hey, I’m 64). I’ve baked sand tarts where ever I’ve lived (Colorado, NYS and for 35 years in VT). This October I took my Mom on a driving trip thru central Penna. from Williamsburg to Millersville finding the graves (and the stories, and the home sites) of as many Deans and Herrs as we could. We had a great time eating “Dutch” favorites, and picked up a good supply of Cope’s dried corn, and Wilbur Buds.

    I loved reading all the stories and have one of my own. When I was about 17 I made the usual double batch and they were spread out on racks on the kitchen table cooling … decorated artistically with cinnamon and sugar, slivers of nuts, colored sugar, and colored sprinkles. Little did I know that while we were eating supper in the dining room, our voracious beagle would find her way up onto the table and eat the entire 8 dozen. She did not eat anything else for the next day and a half. That incident might be behind my preference for cats.

    Thanks again!

    • Meg says:

      Linda, is my recipe similar to Nana’s? I usually will add the 4 cups and then add the last 1/2 cup if it seems too sticky. The PA roots DO run deep, don’t they? I’ve been in the DC area for almost 22 years but I still consider myself a PA girl. Your dog story reminds me of one neighborhood dinner, when our neighbors grilled up a huge flank steak – while it was resting on their kitchen counter, our golden retriever managed to reach it, pull it down and eat most of it. We still have the dog, whose kitchen shenanigans are now limited to loaves of bread, bags of bagels, or whatever carb he can reach on the counter. Argh.

    • Jen says:

      Haha! I forgot all about Cope’s corn!!! Wish I could get my hands on some down here!

  22. Diana says:

    Hi, I found this recipe and am hoping it is like the cookies that my co-workers mother sends from a Deli in Annville, PA. His package comes once a year and he shares them with me and every year I try to find a recipe for them. If you know of the deli Laudermilch Meats and Deli, and this recipe is like there sand tarts please let me know. In the mean time I will make these to see and hope that with my glass of wine in hand I can make them to perfection. :)

  23. Meg, I am true southern transplant to Mifflin County, yes I say ya’ll. When visiting my fiance’s 93 year old Grandmother tonight at the nursing home, they started talking about Christmas cookies and low and behold they both started talking about Sand Tarts, no I have never heard of them! But according to Grandma they are “the absolute best Christmas cookies!” So, i instantly found your recipe on my phone and after leaving her we stopped at the store and my first attempt is in the frig, will see how this all works out tomorrow, even down to the little red candy on the top of the tree for the star :). By the way I am lucky I get to use fresh homemade butter straight from the farm, now if I can just pull this one off, wish me luck!!!!

  24. Anita says:

    New to your blog and loving it! I was on the search for a Sand Tart recipe and I found yours! My question is-would it be ok if I doubled the recipes or should I make 2 seperate batches? THanks!

  25. Sheri Whittemore says:

    I’ve been looking for the perfect sand tart recipe and by reading the previous comments I am certain this is the one. I am hoping to start a new tradition with my daughters and am sooooo looking forward to trying this recipe to see if this is the one that will become a part of this tradition.

    I am also from central PA (Elizabethtown) – we must all have the Pennsylvania Dutch blood running through our veins. Best of luck to all of you in your sand tart endeavors!

  26. love christmas says:

    I, too, was searching for a sand tart recipe to compare to my mother’s recipe. My mom’s recipe was from her mother’s mother and it quickly became family tradition to bake these little treasurer’s with my grandma, mom, and sister’s. Our entire family looks forward to cookie baking day as it is a group effort. My mother has recently passed and eventhough we get so busy in our lives we would never think of not making these cookies together as our families continue to grow. Mom would be proud. We are now at the fifth generation of sand tart bakers. Laying the ancient cookie cutters out onto the table is like taking a step back in time. We always used colored sugar. Grandma’s favorite was cinnamon/sugar with either a walnut or raisin. We have now ventured into the 21st century and incorporated various colors of sugar besides the traditional red and green. Also keeping with tradition there is at least one sick child from eating too much dough. Oh, did I mention that we are from Pennsylvania? A little town known as Dillsburg. We are definately Pennsylvania Dutch:)

    • Meg says:

      Hooray, another colored sugar user! We drive through Dillsburg whenever we visit my in-laws who live up the Susquehanna river, near Williamsport.

  27. Bonnie says:

    Thank you so much, I have been looking for a recipe like my moms and another excuse for a glass of wine. I live in Lititz and grew up in Manheim, both in PA. I always remember that when mom said she was going to make sand tarts, the house emptied as we sought refuge with the neighbors. She stopped making them two years before she passed away. I am going to do them this year with my daughter, hopefully without incident.

  28. Meg says:

    Kristyn, I’m so glad my post helped you to remember some fine holiday traditions. I’m glad you are using a special rolling pin to make yours this year – trust me, they turn out much better when the rolling pin is infused with fond memories.

  29. Kristyn Heller says:

    I just found this recipe while searching for one similar to my grandmothers for a friend of mine. I too am from PA dutch county, living in Berks County. I was not born yet when my grandmother made them, but my mom and aunt did so every year until my aunt passed away from cancer. During these gatherings was the only time my grandmother’s rolling pin made its way to my home, as my aunt would hide it at her home until the Christmas season was upon us. I am now the proud owner of said rolling pin and will be making these this year along with my Italian grandmothers rum cookies. My family used to fight over these cookies, with myself and my father liking the chewy ones, and my mom and aunt liking the crispy ones. We too used sugar on most, but also used a glass to make round ones with a walnut half, cinnamon sugar and egg wash on them. Thanks for helping me remember some good times with my family.

  30. Denise Herr says:

    My sister and I were looking for our dads (Whitey Shaeffer) sand tart recipe and I found your information. so glad I did, He would make dozens & dozens for Christmas gifts. people LOVED them!
    He has passed away and I moved from Lancaster Pa to Florida. I TRIED to make them once…but they were not crispy and thin. I will try again with your helpful info.

    Glad I found your blog.

    Denise Herr

    • Meg says:

      Wow, your dad must have been a patient man with an eye for detail! The batch I made Saturday is almost gone; gonna have to make more for sure. Hope you can introduce some Florida friends to this Pennsylvania tradition!

  31. Jen says:

    This is great! I have such fond memories of my grandmother and mother making these as a child. They were from central PA (Eichelbergertown…actually, my grandmother IS an Eichelberger and Bedford) and I grew up in Pittsburgh.

    I agree with the other posters….we NEVER would have been allowed to put colored sugar on ours. Only cinnamon sugar and walnuts. But we did get to cut them out in Christmas shapes. I cannot believe that no one commented on how GOOD the dough tastes raw! I remember years of getting in trouble for sneaking out to the refrigerator in the garage to eat bites of raw dough!

    Anyhow, I have my own family now and we live far from PA (in the Caribbean) but, thanks to you, I will be making these this year and introducing them internationally!

    • Meg says:

      No colored sugar Jen? Really? Hmmm. I remember using red and green – I use other colors now, too – but always some with cinnamon sugar and a walnut piece. And YES, we do love the raw dough! I hope you share these with your Caribbean friends!

  32. Diana says:

    I was researching the sand tarts recipe – as I wasn’t sure about the refrigeration process, I am simply amazed as to how many people are posting that are from Pa, I received my recipe from my nanny she got her receipe from her sister (Geraldine Rice – Lancaster County, PA) my nanny made these and of course next to the Toll house cookies, these were my favorite. She past away nearly ten years ago – and I just now dug out the recipe.
    I am planning on making my first batch this weekend.
    Wish me luck.
    Oh – yes she hid hers too – up in he attic!

    Enjoyed ready all the postings……..
    Diana in MD — missing my Nanny in Elizabethtown, PA

    • Meg says:

      Diana, I’m so glad you found this! I’m amazed at all the comments, too. So many PA people are finding their way here through the magic of the internet. I’m happy to share it and to help you and everyone else remember with fondness their grandmas and moms and aunts who used to make – and hide! – these delicious cookies.

  33. susan visser says:

    I too am from central PA and was looking to compare my mother’s recipe with yours. She beat her eggs whites until they were stiff and the allowed the kids to carefully place walnut pieces on top of the egg whits and then sprinkle just the right amount of cinnamon sugar mixture over the cookie. Of course we had 7 kids in the family and she made these cookies by the batches all thru the holiday season to give to everyone in the neighborhood. We did argue as to who would get what job but only Mom could roll the dough thin enough!
    Thanks for the memory!
    Sue V. now in Texas.

    • Meg says:

      Sue, it is your responsibility to introduce your fellow Texans to these Christmas treats! I remember my grandma using walnut pieces on hers, sometimes. I stocked up on colored sugar at the Amish market when we were in PA over Thanksgiving, so I’m ready to churn out a big batch of these this weekend!

  34. LanaKay says:

    I found this by accident… I was looking for a pot pie recipe to use my turkey broth with. This has taken me way back, good heavens I remember my mother making these. As you said, the kids were to do the decorating, that and eating them, of course, was the only part mom would let us help with. I haven’t thought about this in many many years, I can see the old round cooking cutters that she used that were once my grandmothers. Thank you so much for the memories!! Have a Merry Christmas! (oh I am from Central Pennsylvania, Juniata County)

  35. Alaina N says:

    Well, here I am 3 years after you posted this recipe looking for this because, like many others, I grew up in PA making these every year with my grandmother who has now passed away. Unfortunately she took the recipe with her but FORTUNATELY yours seems like a very close match! Now that I have kids of my own I want to start the tradition with them. Thank you for posting this!

    • Meg says:

      Hi Alaina! I hope this works out for you. Yes, the post is old but I get hits on it daily and comments frequently, which tells me I am filling the public’s need for old-timey recipes such as this one! I am going to buy a rainbow selection of sanding sugar and go crazy on these this year. My family just loves ‘em.

  36. Gunflinter says:

    I guess I am mystified at the comments about how much work these are??? I disagree totally. The only reason they are time consuming is the rolling and cutting which goes with any rolled cookie.

    • Meg says:

      Well, I suppose I’m comparing them to the amount of work involved in turning out a batch of drop cookies. It takes a few hours to fully do a batch – maybe I”m a slowpoke!

  37. Sandy says:

    My Mother, who is 90 years old, and I are also both from the Lancaster/York, Pa area. As a child, I remember every year a baking of cookies frenzy. In addition to her sand tarts, we made toll house, peanut blossoms, kisses, and many more, but the very favorite was always the sand tarts. Last week while making the other cookies, my Mom asked if I was going to make the sand tarts. Knowing how much trouble they are to make, I nixed the idea. Early this morning, I woke with the idea of surprising her by making them, as we never know how long she’ll be here to eat and enjoy them. I found her old recipe and checked the recipe online and found yours. It is almost exactly like hers. I’ll make them this AM and bring her over to my house Christmas Eve day to roll them out and bake them. Thanks for the inspiration.

  38. Nancy says:

    My mom always made them by rolling them into a log and refrigerating. Then she sliced them paper thin. But don’t think this is a quick fix. I’m 66 and have still not mastered the cutting of of the roll. If someone can tell me how to cut them really thin off of a chilled roll without ruining them I would be soooo happy. They are my favorite cookie and I’m tired of buying them from some little Mennonite lady when I could make them myself.

  39. Robin says:

    My grandmother worked as a schoolteacher (in PA and MD!) and was always pressed for time. I bet that’s why she modified the recipe a tad–hers tells me to roll the soft dough in logs, wrap in waxed paper and chill in fridge (or freeze for later). Then you take it out, slice it paper-thin with very sharp knife, decorate and bake.

    you can produce many many sand tarts in a minimum amount of time this way. I love these cookies and make them every year.

    • Meg says:

      Robin! That sounds like an ingenious fix! I might have to try that. It’s not like I have a ton of free time to crank these cut-outs out.

  40. Hello there!
    I am at home right now, making some Christmas cookies and had a hankering for some sand tarts, so I started hunting for the “perfect recipe” like mom’s! Yours sounds like THE ONE. :)
    I am also from Pennsylvania and want them to taste just right. Although, I am not a great cook and so I will be asking this “horrible” question. :) Does it HAVE to be butter or can it be ( shuddering as I ask ) margarine? That is all I have in the fridge right now, but I could wait to make them my next time in town! We live in NC now on a small farm and go into town ( 1/2 hour away ) about once a week! Thanks for all your help and LOVE how much fun you have made this recipe! Sincerely, Kim

    • Meg says:

      Hi Kim – I’m so glad you found this recipe! I see you left your comment yesterday – did you end up trying the margarine? I will tell you, many of my grandmas’ recipes specifically state margarine, though I almost always use butter. I think it tastes better. Aside from the taste, I think there may be texture differences when using margarine versus butter, too. But try it and see! And report back if you don’t mind… either here or via email. Good luck!

      I, too, grew up on a farm that was remote – though we were lucky to be within 5 miles of two different grocery stores.

  41. Mom says:

    Am happy to re-find this. I had forgotten how well you wrote it. This is an excellent post, and were it not for the fact that I am in FL and the cutters and ambition are in PA you would have inspired me to mix up a batch. I remember with great fondness our Christmas seasons of doing them at the farm.

  42. Ann Hart says:

    I’m utterly stunned to find this recipe (nearly 2 years after you posted it). I’m putting together a cookbook of family recipes for my grown daughter, and one of the recipes is “Sand Tarts.” My grandmother (born in 1902) made these; her recipe is very similar to yours. It omits the baking soda and uses brown sugar instead of regular sugar. The method–which you described wonderfully–is the same. And yes, she lived her whole life in Pennsylvania. So it must be a PA thing! These do take scads of time and patience to make, but I loved them, my kids loved them, and I’m glad to see that others are familiar with them too.

  43. Janet says:

    I was looking to see if anyone out there actually makes sand tarts like I do and came across this blog. I enjoyed every post. These cookies aren’t for the faint of heart but so worth it. Sand tarts were new to me when I married my husband but I learned to make them the hard way (don’t we all?). Now, 35 years later, they have become a competition in our family as to who got the thinnest cookies every season. It wouldn’t be Christmas in our PA household without them.

  44. bets says:

    I really enjoyed rereading this. Although I still don’t have the patience for it myself. Jae really wants to make gingerbread cookies so at least the Christmas cookie cutters will get a workout, even if it’s not for sand tarts. Did you make some this year?

  45. Pingback: Sand Tarts (reruns) « My Grandmas’ Recipes

  46. Mary says:

    Today I told the kids with much excitement that for our first day of vacation we would be making our family recipe of Pennsylvania Dutch sand tarts. As a child my grandmother would make the dough and only allow my grandfather to roll it out paper thin. Our sand tarts were always round and the fun part was getting together with our cousins to put on the cinnamon sugar and yes we were allowed to use red and green sugar (which now my organic siblings would shun). My daughters were not as thrilled as I to start our vacation in this way. I stuck with my grandmothers original recipe although I also had aunt Bertha and aunt Maudes versions as well. So far I have made the dough and tomorow we roll. I hope I can do it as thin as Grandpa. These sand tarts are indeed precious. One year My granparents house in Pennsylvania had a devastating fire on Christmas eve. Thank goodness no one was hurt although the house was mostly destroyed. My father however ran into the kitchen to grab the turkey and the giant canister of sand tarts. They tasted very smoky that year but were indeed crispy!

  47. Cathy says:

    Okay, you’ve inspired me to actually put some work into this. I tried the Betty Crocker sugar cookie mix from Costco…and, well…it’s just not the same. Do I want to put in a whole day to making these? Oh, I guess so….but John will eat them all, so I must hide them so the kids actually get some!

  48. Marlene says:

    Love the recipe and the story to go along with it. I might have to make some of these this week!

  49. Ed says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you!!! I live in Yankee country (CT) but was born and raised in Lebanon, PA. I have been looking for this recipe for a very long time. I recall many Decembers when my Grandmother, Mother, and Aunt worked all day in the kitchen to make these wonderful cookies for Christmas–always with walnuts and cinammon atop them. I don’t think they would ever have allowed colored sugar, and they always had to be round!

    • Meg says:

      Ed – Sand Tarts can indeed be a full-day adventure. We made some this year with cinnamon/sugar and a sliced almond on top. I should have tried walnuts – that sounds good. I enjoy the variety of shapes, but I remember always making some round ones as a kid. We always used red or green sugar, but the Penna. Dutch market near me (they come to Germantown, MD a few days/week) sells all colors of “sanding sugar”. This near’s new favorite was a gold color.

  50. Patti T. says:

    I am here double checking my recipe for sand tarts. I am from PA and can not believe some of the recipes I have seen calling themselves sand tarts. Yours is just like the one I made/make. It seemed like I forgot a pinch of spice in the cinnamon sugar mixture but I guess not. I KNOW that around here they are always a crispy cookie, and might I add quite expensive at the markets. I baked some this weekend with my grand daughter who was delighted to help decorate. Hubby came in tasted one and said “Ewwww they aren’t soft, I am not eating them!” Huh, what?!?!

    • Meg says:

      Patti – I think if there is any spice, it would be part of a cinnamon/sugar mixture for the topping. You need to work on hubby – or maybe not because if he doesn’t eat them, there’s more for you!

  51. Melissa says:

    This is the EXACT recipe I was hunting for…and I’m sure you will not be surprised that a.) I am from Pennsylvania and b.) these are being made by request for my dad and husband! THANK YOU…not only for the recipe and photos but for the incredibly perfect and humorous commentary!!!
    Happy Holidays!!!!

  52. LikeMoms says:

    My Mom died from a very short bout with cancer last Holiday Season. With her, we lost so much, including several of those comfort food and Holiday recipes that hold so many happy family memories. My Mom was a Hershey, Pa native and always described herself as coming from “Pennsylvania Dutch” land. I knew I had the right recipe the minute I found it! Thank You Thank You Thank You. I will be baking them with my daughters this year… Just like the old days.

    • Meg says:

      I’m so glad you found my blog and the recipe is what you were looking for. My mom spent 20-some years in Hershey, too. I’m sure the holidays will be difficult for you this year, but you can enjoy memories of your mom in sharing her stories and enjoying these cookies. All the best to you and your family!

    • Sue says:

      My Mom also passed away two years ago. Here I am making sand tarts for the first time myself so I can show my granddaughter and let her decorate. My Mom was from Lebanon and I lived in Lancaster from the time I was born till my Dad returned to the Army when I was in second grade. My sister and I just visited Lebanon and Lancaster this summer with our Dad – got to go to market which we don’t have in Hot Springs, Arkansas, where we live now. Took my sister to Hershey cause she didn’t remember it. I made my dough yesterday and came here looking to make sure I was doing it right. Glad to know my Mom and her traditions are alive and well. We miss her terribly.

      • Meg says:

        Sue, thanks so much for commenting. I treasure comments like yours, and I receive lots of them! This blog started out as a selfish project, really, but I’m tickled and touched by comments like yours from Pennsylvania people who share memories similar to the ones I’m posting. Hope your cookies turn out great!

  53. jess says:

    I was comparing sand tart recipes on the web and came across your site. My family has a similar storied past with these delicious but annoying as all get out cookies (we’re from Schuylkill county, I’m now living in Maryland – similar life paths it seems) anyway, I thought you all might appreciate the story of my grandmother making sand tarts on her first Christmas with my grandfather, back in the ’30s. He came home, tried one of the cookies she had just baked, pronounced them nothing like his mothers sand tarts (from whom the recipe had come) and threw them in the trash. She picked up the nearest butcher knife and chased him through the streets of their town until he arrived at his mothers house. She met him at the door, asked what he had done to cause such a commotion and, upon hearing exactly what he had done, told him he deserved what came to him and shut the door in his face. He had to spend the night in the factory he worked in and it was quite some time before my grandmother made him Sand Tarts again. Ha. Our recipes are almost exactly the same by the way, except I use one more egg and also add a tsp of cream of tartar.
    Thanks for this great site! It’s helped me to find some old family favorites!

    • Meg says:

      Jess – Welcome, and WOW, what a fantastic story! Your grandma’s mother-in-law surely scored some huge points with her new daughter-in-law by putting her son in his place, didn’t she?

      Thanks, too, for the ingredient suggestions – may try that in my next batch. I have half a batch still in the fridge and will bake them today.

  54. bets says:

    I have tackled plenty of family recipes and have more in mind that I’d still like to try — but sand tarts is not one of them. Sounds way too tricky and picky. And if after all that work they aren’t crispy and delicious, but chewy, I’d be so very bummed out, because I KNOW how good they’re supposed to be. I like to try recipes that have a greater chance of success the first time!! Or at least, that I don’t have some lofty ideal to compare them to.

    • Meg says:

      bets – I follow your logic. However, I have always been one to bite off more than I can chew in the kitchen. Literally and figuratively.

  55. soup'smom says:

    Can’t decide if it’s better for me to still be baking them and thus maintain the rights to martyrdom. or to pass it on to the next generation, especially since there are only two of us here and sugar is verboten. Time for me to move over and move on, Dodder, and let you take the reins. Happy baking ! Glad you have good memories, and now you can create your family’s own. But I’m having the wine anyway.

  56. Richelle – I had no idea! You should’ve come and baked with us. Although I have to say, our sugar colors were limited to the seasonal red and green. Now, we use all different colors because why the heck not. I promise you that you would not call my version of these cookies “nasty bits of hell.” They are, in fact, little glimpses of heaven!

    I do remember pressing pecan pieces on some, but mostly, we dusted with sugar.

    And ALWAYS rolled, never dropped!

    Glad to see you checking in – stay warm up there!

  57. Richelle says:

    Oh, and how could I forget, we couldn’t use cookie cutters to make fun seasonal shapes, we had to make DROP SAND TARTS! Boring circles with a walnut piece….just what every kid wants!

  58. Richelle says:

    My Grandma would be rolling over in her grave right now (if she were buried instead of cremated) at the mention of colored sugar on a Sand Tart.

    In all the years I HAD to help her make those Sand Tarts (nasty, hard bits of H*ll-which I HATE), I was NEVER allowed to add colored sugar. Her only acceptable addition was a walnut piece smushed into it.

    As I enjoy my Pre-Steelers/Cowboys game beer(s), I am grateful that one more Christmas is coming WITHOUT me having to make Sand Tarts :)

    Greetings from the Great North Woods! (ok, about 2 hours south of it, but most people think ALL Maine is the Great North Woods)!

  59. Curt – HA for you, I am off to find a NEW hiding place and will mete out the sand tarts in predetermined intervals at unannounced moments.

    Rational self-control? Pourquoi?

    JCM – Never heard that story but I can see myself doing that. I had a batch of gingerbread cutouts meet a similar fate last year or the year before that – they were just all wrong. You understand what a production these things are! But never fear, I will have some ready for you – and hidden from Bill and Curt – by the time you arrive for Christmas.

  60. Judy & Bill says:

    Dear Daughter-in Law Did I tell you about the time I had mixed up a double batch prior to work with the idea of baking them later the same evening. Big mistake. This process is entirely too complicated. After a desperate attempt at rolling the dough to perfection, I opened the front door and threw the entire batch of dough out the door . I think the dough rolled all the way to Collomosville. I now realize the problem, I forgot the Cabernet…….JCM

  61. Curt says:

    HA! I know where all the freezers are in our house!! You can run with this awesome recipe, Meg, but you can’t hide.

    For the 41st consecutive year, I pledge that THIS YEAR will be the year I exhibit some rational self-control with the “waiting for Christmas week to eat them” part.

    Reader(s): I am, so far, 0-40 with this resolution.

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