Thursday, January 9, 2020

The Raisin Cookie Mystery--Solved?

Filled raisin cookies (Photograph from "Lillian's Cupboard")
About nine years ago, I wrote about my efforts to find out more about the kind of raisin-filled cookie that my husband's mother makes for Christmas. 

Based on what I found on the Internet (which should never be a final stop for historical research), I theorized that the cookie in question was an American variation of, or an attempt to make, what the British call an Eccles cake, since Eccles cakes became popular here starting in the 19th century.  

This Christmas, it occurred to me that perhaps I should try the same approach that I used to recreate my mother's Christmas Eve cabbage soup.  I decided to look for filled raisin cookie recipes, particularly ones dating back to the 1940s, since there was a suggestion that such recipes were au courant in the U.S. around that time.  

Both raisin cookie recipes and "Eccles cake" recipes abound on the Internet.  The first thing I learned in my search is that Eccles cakes, unlike my mother-in-law's raisin cookies, are made from puff pastry--a kind of flaky, layered, butter-filled dough that plays a significant role in French cuisine.  However, my MIL's cookies use a plain dough--not puff pastry.

So I focused more intensely upon "filled raisin cookies" in my searches and, to my surprise, discovered a recipe, complete with photograph, that matches my mother-in-law's cookies quite closely.  The recipe was on a blog called Lillian's CupboardThe blog's author recently died, and her daughter is acting as custodian for the blog.

The recipe appears
One of my mother--in-law's raisin cookies.
.  Lillian found it in a small, leather-bound book which housed a collection of 25 handwritten recipes, mostly for sweets and desserts.  The book was purchased in an antiques mall in Ohio, and given to Lillian as a Christmas gift.  The raisin cookie recipe, Lillian deduced, was likely from the 1940s-1950s, because:  1)  it calls for shortening, not butter; 2) it refers to "oleo", not "margarine"; 3) it specifies an exact oven temperature.  Finally, Lillian thought all the recipes in the book, including the raisin cookie recipe, were probably post-World War II because they call for lots of sugar, and wouldn't have been possible to make under the rationing regime of the war years.

There is a photograph in Lillian's post of the finished cookie; I've attached a copy above.  It looks like the cookies my mother-in-law makes, even down to the size.  (Our family raisin cookies are quite large).  The texture of the outside looks right, and the fork marks are right.  Granted, my mother-in-law uses a single large circle of dough, and folds it to one side to enclose the raisin filling, but I learned from my husband that her recipe originally called for two circles to be fork-pressed together around the entire edge.  She started using the fold-over method because it made the cookie-making process a bit faster without compromising quality.

The other jarring detail in the recipe Lillian found is the note of lemon in the cookie dough.  That is not present in the cookies my mother-in-law bakes, but since I don't have one handy to taste, I can't say for sure whether she might have substituted a different flavoring, such as vanilla extract.

I would like to find another similar recipe to see whether there is one that comes closer to my MIL's raisin cookies.  If any of my readers know of one, please let me know in the comments.

EDIT:  (1/24/2021) Added a photograph of one of my mother-in-law's raisin cookies--with a bite taken out of it to show the filling.


  1. They do look very much like a version of Eccles cakes, but I'm afraid I can't help you with the recipe. Over here we don't really get Eccles cakes or raisin cookies, we get the Scottish version, which is made from fruit mixture sandwiched between shortcrust pastry and is known as a fly cemetery cake.

    1. Yes, I've heard of the fly cemetery cake; emmymadeinjapan featured the process of making them a few weeks ago. They sounds as though they'd have a similar taste, but there's fewer raisins and more flavorings in the raisin cookies my MIL makes than there are in a fly cemetery, I think.