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May 20, 2024

Butter Nut Horns

By Dan Mulhollen

The Christmas holiday season is a gift to the senses. Brightly colored lights and holiday music. The aroma and flavor of freshly baked treats. And all around the feeling of warmth, despite the cold winter air.

One family tradition when I was growing up was the first or second Saturday before Christmas, my mother (assisted usually by my grandmother and a friend or two) would bake butter-nut horns.

It began with the one part of the operation that my brother and I were allowed (in fact encouraged) to help out with; grinding the walnuts. The top drawer was removed from the kitchen sink and a metal grinder clamped under the counter. Then nuts would be dropped into the top, and we would begin taking turns turning the handle.

This was a lot of fun at first, grabbing on to the metal grinder's wooden handle. After a couple minutes it did start getting boring. Then slowly, turn after turn, handful of walnuts after handful of nuts, it started becoming sheer torture (well, at least to a child who would have much rather been doing anything but turning a handle).

And indeed, bag after bag of walnuts would be ground, for my mother was not simply baking for family consumption, but making gifts for dozens of family members, friends, and neighbors.

Then my mother would mix the dough, shape the pieces into crescents, brush on the egg, and bake. The sweet, nutty aroma filled the house as the horns baked. Then a pan was finished, the horns were allowed to cool before being stored away.

Just before Christmas they would be placed in small containers of every description; small boxes which were then gift wrapped, plastic storage containers, used plastic tubs from whipped cream or margarine. Everyone getting one of these containers knew what was inside, and was happy in receiving that gift.

I don't know where the recipe is from (or why they were given their confusing name, they contain butter and nuts, but not butternuts). My mother had a small hand written piece of loose leaf paper with the recipe, which she hand-copied for anyone wanting the recipe.

Eventually I typed the recipe out on my computer so it could be printed out whenever my mother needed a copy (which was often). Years later, I was looking through a backup CD and found that old recipe was still around, 20+ years and 6 computers later.

(The following recipe is unedited from my mom's hand-written note. As she is no longer around to answer any questions, you'll have to work out any difficulties for yourself.)


  • 1 pack yeast
  • 1/4 cup warm water
  • 2 tablespoons sugar

Mix together and let stand.

  • 1/2 lb. butter
  • 1/2 pint sour cream
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 4 egg yolks (save whites)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 4 cups flour
  • a pinch of salt
  • 2 cups ground nuts
  • 1 cup sugar

Mix butter, sugar, egg yolks, sour cream, and vanilla. Add flour and yeast mixture. Chill.

When chilled, form balls. Flatten out and roll into mixture of 2 cups walnuts and 1 cup of sugar. Shape into crescents.

Brush egg-whites on top. Put into greased pan. Put pan into oven at 350 degrees until brown.

Article © Dan Mulhollen. All rights reserved.
Published on 2008-12-08
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