Sunday, January 23, 2011

My Mom’s Best Cookie: Sour Cream Twists

In memory of my mother, who died six years ago today, I made her favorite cookie, which has been the family’s signature cookie for well over 40 years. And I have to say, Mom, they’re the best batch I’ve ever made! They turned out just the way they’re supposed to – a crunchy, caramelized sugar coating on the outside, a delicately flaky pastry-like cookie on the inside. Just the right golden color. Perfect!

My mother found this recipe when her first daughter got married many more years ago than I’m sure my sister Anne wants to remember! It was a simple wedding with a reception on the lawn of our parents’ home. I was all of five or six at the time, but I do remember the flurry of activity and I sure remember those cookies.

My older sisters tell me that Mom found this recipe when she was searching for something special for the reception. We thought it must have come from her favorite cookbook– Woman’s Home Companion – but maybe it was another (because I looked there.) Mom herself told us that it was an “old German recipe.” We thought that was a little unusual since she had an Irish Scot heritage and Dad was 100% Italian!

Every woman in the family learned to make Sour Cream Twists. Over the years, we’ve all contributed the recipe to many a benefit cookbook of any organization we’ve belonged to. I’ve taken them to book club, church potlucks, parties, card club, women’s meetings. We’ve all often been asked for the recipe. Once  I happily shared the recipe with a woman I admired as a great cook (who moaned so appreciatively as she ate a cookie in front of me.) She came back to me later and told me I must have left something out because hers weren’t quite the same as mine.

“Ahhh!” I thought, “It must all be in the technique of the twist!”

It did take me a while to get the hang of twisting the raw dough just right, and judging just how much vanilla sugar to roll into the dough. I do remember well my younger sister and I learning how to make the cookies with Mom. And how much raw dough we’d sneak in while she wasn’t looking.

We’ve all thought it was a unique cookie and not your standard fare. But if you do a quick Google search today, you’ll find hundreds of versions. And imagine the family’s dismay when our Sour Cream Twist, our family’s signature cookie, was featured in a 2005 Good Housekeeping magazine cookie contest! Not so unique after all! The Massachusetts woman who submitted the recipe said that a co-worker gave her the recipe. “She gave me the recipe for these twists, which are delicious – like puff pastry. That was 40 years ago and I still make them every year.”

So do I. And they are delicious. Mom made them for just about every occasion, no matter how special or ordinary. Someone coming home from college for a weekend? Sour Cream Twists. Great report card? Sour Cream Twists. Home on leave from the service? Sour Cream Twists. And certainly every Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas. Simply a family tradition we can’t -- won’t -- let go of.

The recipes I’ve looked at all have slight variations. More or less eggs or varying amounts of sour cream. But none of them have any sweetness in the dough; the sugar is added in the rolling later. They all have sour cream, yeast, flour, butter and vanilla extract in the dough. Mom always insisted on Fleischmann’s margarine and she used cake yeast. I think she would have easily latched on to using parchment paper or a silicon mat. Cleaning up those &*^$# pans of caramelized sugar was always tough.

I’ve messed around with the recipe from time to time – adding orange zest or crushed almonds or almond extract. But I always come back to the original.

Because they remind me of you, Mom. Especially today.

I miss you very much. Always will.

Sour Cream Twists

1 package active dry yeast
¼ cup lukewarm water
3 ½ cups flour
2 sticks butter
2 eggs
½ cup sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
For rolling:
1 ½ cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Dissolve yeast in water. Mix flour in butter in bowl with pastry blender until mixture is well blended. Beat eggs until foamy, then add yeast mixture and sour cream until well blended. Add the flour and butter mixture and mix well. Gather into ball and wrap in clear wrap and refrigerate at least two hours. (It will keep in fridge a couple days.)

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Line rimmed baking pans with parchment paper.

Combine a mixture of 1 ½ cups sugar and 2 teaspoons vanilla and blend well. Sprinkle rolling surface with some of this mixture. Using half the dough, roll it to a rectangle about 4 by 12 inches. Cut in half lengthwise, then each half into 12 even pieces. Roll the piece in the vanilla sugar, then twist it two or three times and roll it again in the sugar and place two inches apart on baking sheet. Follow same procedure with second half of dough. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes until lightly golden brown on bottom. Remove immediately from pan and cool on baking rack. Store in tightly covered container about a week. If cookies lose their outside crispness, reheat in 350 degree oven for about five minutes.

Makes 4 dozen cookies.


  1. This is such a nice tribute to your mother's memory. Thank you for saring this recipe with us.

  2. What a beautiful tribute to your mother. There are no recipes that I love more than recipes that remind people of their family. It was wonderful to hear your recollections. Thank you for sharing such beautiful thoughts with me. Your words and your creativity are blessings in my life. I hope you have a bountiful week!

  3. Can I say how much I love this post? That your mother had a signature cookie - that it is ingrained in your memmory. That you make them in her honor - that food connects to loved ones in the most wonderful way. And the cookie is new to me and entices.

  4. I shouldn't have, but I had another cookie for breakfast this morning, just because it would remind me of Mom!

    Thank you for reading this post . . . I enjoyed writing it!

  5. Hi Rosemary-you have got me all "weepy eyed" with your precious memory of your mom. May her memory be a BLESSING!

    Love the beautiful cookie, and how you lovingly prepared it for a tribute to her.
    The exquisite lace table cloth no doubt belonged to her, as well.
    Such a heartwarming post, and delicious cookies.
    Thank you for sharing them with us!

  6. What a lovely post.
    I am going to have to make this cookie. Most cookie and bread recipes with sour cream are so soft and tasty.

  7. What a lovely way to pay tribute to your Mother and the cookies look wonderful.

  8. Thanks for all the nice comments . . . I'm sure my mother would be blushing.


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