It’s rare that the recipes that were in use 250 years ago are still tasty to us today. But, these cracknel cookies have a very long history- both in England and Early America. Back in the old days these crisp, snappy cookies were made in England and the tradition to make them carried over into the baking of the New World. This recipe comes from Colonial Williamsburg – adapted from a 1769 recipe.
These shortbread cookies are rolled thin before baking so that they get nice and crisp. I stand by my trusty rolling pin with thickness guides at the sides. It helps to ensure that recipes that call for thinly rolled dough turn out perfectly. I’m sure the bakers in the colonies would have enjoyed such a tool!
This recipe calls for what is today a controversial ingredient- caraway seed. Back then any spices were seen as exotic and flavorsome, and any cake or cookie made with luxurious sugar was a treat. So I doubt most people would have argued over the flavoring. But, today, this anise-like seed gets a bad rap.
To avoid a fuss here’s a tip: cracknel cookies can also be made with lemon or orange zest instead of caraway. In fact it was a common variation back in the day, along with some more savory cracknels, too.
For the holidays I plan to split the unflavored dough in half and make one batch caraway and one batch with orange zest. That way there’s something for everyone.
The original recipe also makes this very important note as a closing statement: “they are proper to eat with chocolate.” At the time hot chocolate would have been the more common way to consume chocolate so if you want to eat these tasty cookies with some hot cocoa then you would be historically accurate.
The caraway flavor is noticeable but not overpowering in these cookies. I wasn’t sure if people would enjoy these but I made some for a party and they were almost entirely gone by the end. It turns out maybe some flavors are appetizing across the centuries.
Makes 50-60 cookies
25m prep time
10m cook time
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1 tablespoon caraway seeds
- 4 tablespoons salted butter
- 1 egg
- 1 teaspoon milk
- Preheat oven to 325˚F. Combine flour, sugar, and caraway seeds in large bowl. Use pastry knife to cut in butter. Stir in egg and milk.
- Divide dough in half. Roll out first section to 1/ 8” thickness. Use 2” cookie cutter to cut circles from dough. Place on lined baking sheet.
- Repeat process with remaining dough. Bake for 8-10 minutes or until just beginning to brown underneath. Allow to cool on pan for 5 minutes before removing to wire racks to cool completely.
Recipe adapted from Colonial Williamsburg.