Baking old fashioned sand tart cookies has been a family Christmas tradition for decades. Baking these thin sugar cookies made with fresh orange zest brings back great memories of baking with my mom. If you love baking cookies during the holiday season, add this crispy cookie recipe to your favorite cookie recipe box
Sand tarts sometimes go by different names like Pennsylvania Dutch sand tarts. These cookies, along with others like Mexican wedding cookies (aka Danish wedding cookies), were a part of our holiday cookie platters.
While baking with partially hydrogenated shortening, white flour and white sugar was standard in the 1940′s, there are better options for baking today.
I added whole wheat pastry flour to the white flour, used butter instead of shortening, natural sugar instead of refined white sugar, and doubled the orange zest. In addition to organic ingredients, choose naturally colored sugar sprinkles if you prefer.
To bake these cookies you'll need:
- All purpose flour (unbleached white)
- Whole wheat pastry flour
- Baking powder (buy aluminum free)
- Unsalted butter (1 stick)
- Natural cane sugar
- Fresh oranges
- Colored sugar sprinkles
For measurements please see the recipe card.
To make these cookies you will need:
- A rimmed baking sheet or cookie sheet (I use rimmed ones)
- Rolling pin
- Wax paper or parchment paper (I use parchment)
- A hand mixer
- A sifter or fine sieve
- A medium sized, simple shaped metal cookie cutters (better than plastic)
- Pastry brush
- Metal spatula (a pancake turner-type spatula)
How to Make Sand Tarts
Start by placing dry ingredients into a sifter or fine sieve and shake onto a piece of parchment paper or wax paper. This refines the flours.
Next, cream butter and sugar together. Technically, creaming means to beat the sugar and butter together with a hand electric mixer or standing mixer until its light, fluffy, and pale yellow in color. It will have a sandy texture.
Once the sugar and butter are creamed, slowly add a beaten egg and fine orange zest. Tool tip: use a microplane zester for fine orange zest.
Add the flour mixture in gradually on low speed and mix until dough is smooth. Split the dough into two portions, flatten into disks, wrap well in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours or overnight.
When you want to bake, remove the dough from the refrigerator and allow it to stand for 1 hour before rolling it out. Heat the oven and get your tools ready while you are waiting. You want the dough soft but chilled to roll well.
Follow the steps below to roll, cut, decorate and bake the cookies.
How to Roll Out Cookie Dough
Rolled cookies or cut cookies are more work than a drop cookie, but worth it. My mom taught me to roll out cookie dough on a floured pastry cloth. Today, I roll the dough between sheets of wax paper or parchment paper. It’s easier, less messy, and uses no extra flour (which can toughen cookies). And if the dough gets too warm and soft just put it back in the refrigerator to firm up for a few minutes.
Here is a video on rolling out cookie dough by Nancy Baggett, my friend and author of Simply Sensational Cookies. I roll my cookies thin, closer to ⅛-inch. Once you do this a few times you will get a feel for the dough and the thinness by running your hand over it.
Colored Sugar Sprinkles
Colored sugar for decorating cookies is called sanding sugar. Most sugars at the market are made with synthetic foods dyes, chemicals or artificial ingredients and often have preservatives. What else can you use? Naturally colored sprinkles.
Naturally colored sugar sprinkles may not be as bright as colors of traditional decorative sugars, but they are a better choice (if possible). These sugars use colorants from natural sources like fruits and vegetables.
See what's available at your local market or find options online if you want to go with natural colors. Here's one source with good colors or find them on Amazon. I used the orange sugar for this batch.
A other option is using cinnamon sugar instead of, or along with, the colored sanding sugar.
Cookie Success Tips
- Butter must be at room temperature for proper creaming.
- Thorough chilling of the dough is key to success with a rolled cookie.
- To keep cookie cutters from sticking, dip the edges in a little flour then shake off the excess before cutting.
- Cut the cookie close together to minimize waste, then form and re-roll leftover dough.
- Brush the cut cookies on the baking sheet with beaten egg yolk (egg wash) to get the colored sugar sprinkles to stick.
Cookie Cutter Tips
Anything with a fancy edge will lose some of its shape as the cookies spread while baking. Don’t worry if that happens. Baking on parchment lessens the spread a bit. Simple stars and hearts work well, but I've done angels and other shapes like Christmas trees, rounds, candy canes and snowmen.
Make Dough Ahead
Make the cookie dough a day or two ahead as it keeps well wrapped in the refrigerator wrapped in plastic wrap. Allow the dough to stand at room temperature 1 hour before rolling. If the dough softens as you're cutting the cookies and it seems difficult, place the dough in the refrigerator or 10 minutes and they will cut more easily.
Cookies will keep in an airtight container on the counter for a week, but trust me they won't last that long. They are irresistible.
History and Tradition
My mom's heritage is from the Amish and Mennonite population of Lancaster County, PA. Our family favorite Christmas cookie recipe is adapted from the 1940’s Woman’s Home Companion Cookbook. My historic, tattered treasure holds the original recipe for the sand tart cookie.
Gather up your kids, family, friends or neighbors and start a baking tradition of your own. Enjoy the joy of being together in the kitchen and creating memories that will last forever. Happy baking and Merry Christmas from my kitchen to yours!
Old Fashioned Sand Tart Cookies Recipe
- Parchment or waxed paper
- Fine sieve or sifter
- Baking sheets
- Hand mixer
- Rolling pin
- Pastry brush
- Wire cooling rack
- Metal spatula
- 1 cup all purpose unbleached white flour 5 ounces
- ¾ cup whole wheat pastry flour 4 ½ ounces
- 1 teaspoon baking powder aluminum free
- 4 ounces unsalted butter at room temperature 1 stick
- 1 cup natural cane sugar 7 ¾ ounces note below
- 1 large egg beaten
- 1 tablespoon fresh orange zest 2 oranges
- 1 large egg for egg wash
- 1 tablespoon water for egg wash
- colored sprinkles to decorate
- Place a sheet of wax paper or parchment on a flat surface. Place a sifter or fine sieve in the center. Measure the flours and baking powder into the sifter and sift through. If there are a few flakes of whole wheat left, discard them.
- In a medium bowl using a hand mixer, cream together the butter and sugar on medium speed until sandy and fluffy in texture. Slowly add the egg and orange zest and blend in. Add in the flour and blend on lowest speed (or mix by hand) until dough is smooth. The dough will be stiff at first, then soften. Split the dough into two portions. Form each piece into a flattened disk shape. Wrap dough disks well and refrigerate about 2 hours or overnight. When ready to bake, remove dough from the refrigerator and allow to stand about 1 hour at room temperature. You want the dough to be soft enough to roll but still chilled.
- Pre-heat the oven to 325°F. To roll out your cookies, place each dough disk between two sheets of wax paper or parchment, then roll with a rolling pin until about ⅛″ thick. Start in the center and roll out to the edges in all directions. Place the rolled dough in the paper back in the refrigerator for 10 minutes. Remove from the refrigerator and cut out shapes with cookie cutters. Place the cookies on a baking sheet lined with parchment. You can bake cookies directly on a sprayed and wiped cookie sheet. They may spread a bit more.
- Whisk together the extra egg with 1 tablespoon of water to make an egg wash. This makes your decorations stick. Using a pastry brush, brush the cookies lightly with egg wash and sprinkle with sugars. Bake at 325 degrees approximately 10-12 minutes or until lightly golden brown at the edges. Timing will depend on your ovens. Allow cookies to cool for a minute then remove with a metal spatula to a cooling rack. Cool completely and place in an airtight container.