A family gives up a secret sugar cookie recipe
December 23rd, 2011
11:00 AM ET
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Recently, I shared a family story on Eatocracy about our attempt to get back our family tradition: the befana cookie. My Grandmother passed away before we learned how to make them. We took these special cookies for granted.

My brother tried many different combinations of ingredients. He researched with other members of the family, the internet, even conversations with cousins in Italy to try to make them Nonna's way. But, finally, he achieved cookie perfection.

I couldn't disclose the secret recipe for fear of Bernardini excommunication. It has now become a family legacy. When the story was re-posted this year, I quickly from the learned from the comment section that that legacy turned into a fatal flaw. So many people were very disgusted with me.

As a form of penance, I want to post another recipe that we do share throughout the year: sugar cookies.

The recipe's origin was a mystery to me until I asked my Mom. When I was a child, we lived in an apartment building in Burlington, Vermont. Our upstairs neighbor shared a cookie recipe with her that quickly became the staple of all of our school bake sales and family gatherings. My Mom and my sister are the two who have kept the tradition going.

The cookie is the perfect combination of buttery goodness with a sweetness that doesn't overpower.

If you make these cookies with margarine, you will get crispier and flatter cookies. If you make them with butter, they will rise more.

We always leave the batter overnight in the refrigerator. If you don't, the dough will be harder to roll out in your hand. The cookie dough balls should be about a tablespoon and a half in size. The aim is to have them all the same size on the plate for uniformity.

Hopefully, this recipe will make your holiday as well as ours very special. I look forward to the spending all day today with my brother and sister making our Christmas cookies.


2 sticks of softened butter or margarine
3 egg yolks
2 cups of sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cream of tartar
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups flour


Combine all of the ingredients in a large bowl.

Refrigerate the ingredients overnight (this makes it possible to roll the ingredients). Roll into small balls, then roll the balls in sugar.

Bake in preheated 325 degree oven. Check cookies after 12 minutes; the length of time will vary depending on if you used butter or margarine.

Previously - Have a sweet holiday and save kitchen memories while you can and It's not the holidays without...befana cookies

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Filed under: Baked Goods • Christmas • Christmas • Cookies • Family Recipe Index • Holiday • Holidays • Make • Recipes

soundoff (118 Responses)
  1. Lori

    Who cares about another "secret family recipe"! There are only so many ingredients that can go into a cookie and I'm pretty sure none of them are any big secret! As far as I'm concerned, if you don't share a family recipe, you're either very self-centered and selfish or the hype of the "secret" is way better than the cookie itself!

    November 10, 2013 at 10:47 am |
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    August 15, 2013 at 12:48 am |
  3. Lois

    My awesome family has this recipe for THE BEST cookie, but you can't have it. Here is a recipe for some sucky sugar cookies instead, losers.

    December 31, 2011 at 11:50 am |
  4. Beth

    Apparently, y'all do not get the whole, "Family Secret Recipe" ordeal. It's called a secret recipe for a reason; it's called a FAMILY secret recipe for a reason. A family secret recipe is either handed down from generation to generation OR it's taken to the grave. Stop it with your selfishness and you gimme-gimmes. Sheesh. If I had written this article, I wouldn't have given you my family's SECRET recipe either.

    December 28, 2011 at 4:17 pm |
  5. Dawn

    What is truly sad about this is that Nonna's secret recipe went with her to the grave, so the author and her brother spent years trying to recreate it. The author, having learned nothing apparently, has decided to keep it a secret so that it can go with her to the grave... My beloved aunt made all sorts of yumminess that we kids all loved, especially around Christmas time. Everything from Biscochitos to Tamales. No one ever could re-create exactly how she made her bread pudding or her green chili or her yummy blue corn tortillas. I could never get it right, despite making some of these items with her year after year. A few years ago, for Christmas, every one of us kids got a small book that Tia Connie made by hand where she wrote out every single recipe for us, with every pinch of this or that that was required to make her delicious food. She died the next year just before Thanksgiving. My Tia knew what apparently this author does not: part of the joy of cooking something that your loved ones love is teaching them how to make it for themselves. Now, even though my Aunt is gone, we can all still expierence Christmas with a small part of her. And I have something I can pass down to my daughter that is better than any secret. And anyone who asks gets a copy of whatever recipe they want. This article has made me so mad, that I think I will start my own food blog with the express purpose of sharing these recipes so that everyone can experience them.

    December 27, 2011 at 2:10 pm |
  6. Nathan


    You're kidding, right? It seems you don't quite get why people are miffed with you. If I were to walk up to someone and relate the story you shared, but then refused to share the recipe when they said, "Gee, the sounds great. I'd love to make some, could I have the recipe?", how do you think they would feel? Yeah, we get your brother went to a lot of trouble to recreate it, but c'mon? If I recreated an old family recipe, I'd (and probably most of us who cook for the pleasure it brings to ourselves and others) share it with anyone who asked. If it was such a big secret, then why share the whole story in the first place? You call this a penance?
    This will be the last article of yours I'll bother with. There are plenty of food blogs out there that don't bother with this petty crap.

    December 27, 2011 at 11:35 am |
  7. Charlotte

    Eh. Any recipe for baked goods that includes "or margarine" on the ingredient list is probably not worth trying.

    December 26, 2011 at 4:33 pm |
  8. JayBird

    "I have a secret cookie recipe but can't share it but I want you to know about my secret cookie recipe". What a useless article. Bonus: mediocre sugar cookies.

    As far as anise cookies, I much prefer the springerle, Joy of Cooking pg. 840. Bit of a process, but excellent.

    December 26, 2011 at 4:29 pm |
  9. Cookie Elegance

    Some people want others to envy them – they wish to be thought to possess something "better" than what another person has. And they do not wish to share it – it's a crutch, a prop, for a wonky ego. Like the "secret" cookie recipe the author brings up again and again. Very silly! But more than that, pathetic. And especially about a CHRISTMAS cookie – really, what would Jesus bake?

    Look through church cookbooks and family booklets and you will find incredible recipes that others were glad to share.

    December 26, 2011 at 2:47 pm |
  10. psring

    Okay this is nuts. The cookie recipe that she is so proud of has been handed done generations in my family it is no secret cookie recipe. She is just being stingy and does not like to share. If that is how she cares to be remembered as that is her problem. She just needs to grow up and stop the child hood games.

    December 26, 2011 at 1:59 pm |
  11. AGeek

    Unless your family is a group of bakers and your living is tied to the secrecy of the recipe, "family secret" recipes are effing stupid beyond words. You like a cookie I make? I'll give you the recipe. I'll tell you exactly how I make it – right down to where I buy ingredients and how long to cool them before moving to the racks. I'll tell you what & how to tweak it if you want it fluffier/flatter/crispier/chewier/whatever. There are secrets which need to be kept secret. There's information that isn't for everyone. For everything else – cookies included – secrets are just stupid and make you look like an egomaniacal cretin.

    December 26, 2011 at 9:16 am |
  12. jfolsom

    Mystery solved


    December 25, 2011 at 4:11 pm |
  13. Luneniege

    I understand secret recipes. I guess I am bad at keeping them. My mom had always been the cooie maker and Christmas pudding maker for all our friends since I was a kid. After she died I continued making the cookies and sweets for a year or two. But after I was diagnosed with diabetes I really did not enjoy baking 100s of treats I could not eat. So that year I made a booklet of all my mom's holiday sweets recipes and gave them as gifts instead of the cookies.

    December 25, 2011 at 3:16 pm |
  14. Melissa

    "I quickly from the learned from the comment section that that legacy turned into a fatal flaw." WTF? What is this article about?

    December 25, 2011 at 1:37 pm |
  15. kevin

    HOW SELFISH ! Laura Bernardi perpetrated a CRUEL hoax, on Christmas no less ! The title is a lie. She did not give the secret recipe. She gave an old recipe that was never a secret! Gee I wonder how your grandmother is being received in Heaven right now ? She must be so ashamed of her children. You are sharing that your entire family is completely selfish. My entire family is so upset with Laura. Why would CNN allow this. This is the polar opposite of what you are suppose to teach our children about sharing!

    December 25, 2011 at 12:29 pm |
  16. Suzy

    This Laura lady (author) is being pretty ridiculous in not sharing a silly recipe. Why not spread the wealth and let everyone enjoy the cookies? I, for one, give out all my recipes to anyone who wants them. I like thinking that they will pass the recipe down from generation to generation after I'm gone.

    Reminds me of a Chinese Proverb: "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime."

    December 25, 2011 at 11:20 am |
    • Bob

      Yes, Laura is being ridiculous. But don't worry. Bob to the rescue! I guarantee that this Befana Cookie Recipe will blow Laura's out of the water. She might as well retire her's because after using this recipe nobody will be able to look at, let alone eat her cookies!


      1 1/4 sticks butter
      1/4 t. salt
      1 1/4 c. sugar
      1 T anise seed
      3 eggs

      Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs. Beat until light and fluffy. Add salt and anise seed. Add enough flour just so dough holds together. Separate into two rolls. Place in refrigerator for about 1/2 hour. Roll our dough. Use cookie cutters for shapes. Bake on ungreased cookie sheet at 350° ‘til edges just begin to brown. When cool, decorate.

      December 25, 2011 at 6:41 pm |
      • Kasey

        Bob, have you actually really made these? Because it looks to me like you just googled Befana cookies, and cut and pasted the recipe from the Cuisinart webpage. :-)

        But I still think the whole "secret family recipe" is silly. That story of hers is posted all over the place. You can' barely find a recipe because half the links returned are to the original story that's evidently been posted 3 years in a row. If she doesn't want all this "stress" and "controversy", then stop posting the same article every year. Plus, it's not like it's even her grandmother's secret recipe. It's just her brother's approximation of it. She needs to try writing something new instead. And I have a sugar cookie recipe that's leaps and bounds better than hers, but I can't share it on here. She might actually lift it from my comment and wouldn't want to hand down a recipe to her or anything.

        December 25, 2011 at 9:10 pm |
  17. Houstonian

    I'm going to have fun playing with this recipe. By next Christmas I'll have a good spiced sugar cookie recipe and a boat load of memories of making cookies with my 3 year old daughter. Thanks for sharing what looks like a yummy basic recipe. Merry Christmas! The rest of ya'll need to let the whole Befana thing go. It was more of a sad I wish I had spent more time with my grandma story than a nanny nanny boo boo you can't have the recipe story. I'd give anything to have made spritz cookies with my grandma this year. Unfortunately, my grandmother doesn't remember that she had three kids, four grandkids, and four great-grandkids.

    December 25, 2011 at 1:39 am |
  18. $10k Cookie Monster

    I have a cookie story to share that includes the recipe! A few years ago, I was shopping and stopped for a break at the Neiman Marcus cafe. We had coffee and the most amazing cookies I've ever tasted.......

    ;) (Kidding – google Neiman Marcus cookie receipt for the complete urban legend and cookie recipe!)

    December 24, 2011 at 11:14 pm |
    • Kasey

      Try it, though. It's still a really good cookie recipe.

      December 25, 2011 at 8:55 pm |
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