Edible history: 19th century heart-shaped Christmas cakes

by Treloar Bower, Curator of Education

Who hasn’t read Little House on the Prairie? I did, and I read all the other books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I read biographies of Laura, too, including my favorite from childhood, Laura: The Life of Laura Ingalls Wilder, by Donald Zochert. It was packed with information and lots of pictures. I still have that book; it’s in pretty rough shape, much like my personal book-version of a Velveteen Rabbit.

I loved Laura so much that my mom made the heart-shaped Christmas cakes from Little House on the Prairie for breakfast every Christmas morning when I was young:

“Mary and Laura pulled out two small packages. They unwrapped them, and each found a little heart-shaped cake. Over their delicate brown tops was sprinkled white sugar.”

This year, my family will be with my parents for Christmas and my mom and I will cook heart-shaped Christmas cakes for my own daughter. Take a page from 19th century history and try the cakes for yourself. They are more like sweet biscuits than cake. I like them with honey!

Heart-Shaped Christmas Cakes Recipe (from The Little House Treasury by Carolyn Strom Collins and Christina Wyss Erikson)


½ cup (1 stick) butter or margarine, softened
2 tablespoons granulated sugar, plus some extra for sprinkling on the tops of the cakes
¼ teaspoon vanilla
1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
Flour for sprinkling
Granulated sugar for sprinkling

Heat the oven to 325º F

Beat the butter, sugar, and vanilla together until they are light and fluffy. Stir in the flour.

On a floured board, pat the dough out in a circle about 1/3″ thick. Cut out shapes with the cookie cutter.* Sprinkle the tops with granulated sugar. Put the heart shapes on the cookie sheet and bake them for about 15-20 minutes, until they are lightly browned. Take them out of the oven and sprinkle more granulated sugar on the tops. Carefully remove the cakes from the cookie sheet with the spatula and put them on the wire rack to cool.

Makes about 12 cakes.

*Ma likely did not have a heart-shaped cookie cutter. My mom rolls the dough and cuts triangular pieces, like wedges from a small pizza. On the wide end of the wedge, cut a slit about 1-2 inches, toward the pointed end. Pull the two flaps slightly apart. During baking, this will form a heart-shape more reminiscent of Laura’s cake.

If you try this recipe, let us know how it turned out! And send us pictures, too.


December 2009
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