Cracknels

The word “cookie” is an Americanism derived from the Dutch word meaning small cake. Another term used by the British for a cookie is “cake,” as in Shrewsbury Cakes, or biscuits. Cracknels are a traditional English variation using caraway seeds. Caraways were sometimes candied in a confection called comfits.

18th Century

Take half a pound of fine flour, half a pound of sugar, two ounces of butter, two eggs, and a few carraway seeds; (you must beat and sift the sugar) then put it to your flour and work it to paste; roll them as thin as you can, and cut them out with queen cake tins, lie them on papers and bake them in a slow oven. They are proper to eat with chocolate.

Moxon, Elizabeth. “English Housewifery.” pg.114.

21st Century

  • 1 ½ c flour
  • 1 c sugar
  • 4 Tbsp. butter
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 Tbsp. caraway seeds

Note: It is important that this dough be worked with your hands. Do not try to mix it with a spoon, mixer or food processor.

  1. Pre-heat oven to 325 degrees and line cookie sheet(s) with parchment paper.
  2. Combine flour, sugar and caraway seeds in a bowl until well mixed.
  3. Cut in butter. Beat egg slightly and add to flour, sugar and butter mixture.
  4. Work the dough with your hands until the mixture holds together. If you find that the heat of your hands is not bringing the mixture together, you can beat one more egg and add a little bit at a time and work until dough holds together. This mixture will be stiff, so it is important not to add any more moisture than necessary.
  5. Taking a small portion of dough at a time, roll out to 1/8” thick on a lightly floured surface. Cut out dough with a 2 ¼ inch biscuit cutter and place on parchment lined cookie sheet ½-1” apart. Dough does not spread during baking.
  6. Bake 8-10 minutes or until lightly browned around the edges. Cookies will be soft to the touch.
  7. Allow to cool slightly on the cookie sheet before removing to wire racks to cool completely. As the cookies cool they will become hard and crisp.
  8. Yield: using a 2 ¼” cookie cutter, about 7 dozen cookies.

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19 Responses to “Cracknels”

  1. November 17th, 2011

    Barbara Crankshaw says:

    Hi, I loved your presentation on cracknels, in fact, I love all your videos. Open hearth cooking is a hobby of mine. I was wondering what your source was for the cracknels. I’ve read in other places where they were referred to as hard, crisp bisquits, sometimes equated ith ‘hardtack’. and they were labeled ‘the soldiers bisquit’. Do you have an origin?

  2. November 17th, 2011

    Jan says:

    In the list of ingredients, you’ve got another 3 cups of sugar and 1/3 cup of seeds. Is that a mistake?

  3. November 17th, 2011

    Samantha says:

    thank so much greatest!, social studies project ever!

  4. November 18th, 2011

    Chris Hansley says:

    Good morning,

    The questions for this recipe are:

    1.) You have two amounts of caraway seed. One tablespoon of caraway seems to be an appropiate amount. A 1/3 cup of caraway seed seems a bit much? When would it be added? I like caraway seed, but……

    2.) For this recipe, would chilling the dough help it come together and stay together while working a portion of the dough?

    3.) Can this dough be frozen or is it best to freeze the cookies? Seven dozen is a lot for two people.

    Have a great Thanksgiving,

    Chris Hansley – Tinley Park, IL

    • November 18th, 2011

      Historic Foodways says:

      You’ve found a typo! We’re grateful for the correction. It’s been fixed, and we will have a response for you on the chilling and freezing questions soon.

  5. November 29th, 2011

    Pam Williams says:

    Mmmm…cracknels = hardtack? No. They are too good!!!!! Made this weekend by my very dear friend JoAnn, sampled at our “Taste of the Past” event at Belair Mansion in Bowie, MD. Lovely with hot tea!

    Hardtack is basically flour and water. Maybe a little salt. Nasty…their best use is as a home for weevils.

  6. November 29th, 2011

    amanda says:

    i made them and they were quite crusty on the bottom is this normal? it also stuck to my baking pan i had to scour it.

    • November 30th, 2011

      Historic Foodways says:

      Sorry to hear that. When we make these, we line the baking sheets with parchment paper and usually have no problems. You might also cover the pan with a fine layer of flour or try modern non-stick baking sprays. Some if it may also have to do with the consistency of the dough. If it sticks to your hands or the cookie cutters, try adding about a 1/2 cup of flour to it to make it less sticky.

  7. November 29th, 2011

    Heidi Price says:

    I just made these and they came out great! Really tasty! I didn’t get 7 dozen, though – I think it was closer to 60.

  8. December 1st, 2011

    Jo Ann Ptack says:

    “A Taste of the Past” Belair Mansion, Bowie MD.
    As Pam says, they’re delicious and I found them very easy to make. I used parchment paper on my cookie sheet and rolled them on a marble board.

  9. December 27th, 2011

    Aaron Sowers says:

    My friends and I are going to make any and every reciepe on this site. WE LOVE HISTORICAL EVERYTHING.. And so far food from the past is quite good!

  10. January 23rd, 2012

    Barbara Crankshaw says:

    It was raining today, and I with nothing to do. I thought I’d give the cracknels a go. A mite sticky on the bottom, maybe they should have stayed in the heat a bit more, but yum anyway!

  11. September 9th, 2012

    This recipe is also in Hannah Glasses Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy 1774. Was the cookbook you got this recipe out of printed before or after 1774.

  12. October 22nd, 2012

    Anonymous says:

    We made this is school for a colonial recipe. We had groups, one of them didn’t use the caraway seeds, and the rest did. The groups with the caraway seeds hated it, but the group without loved it, and so did I. I am making these at home (without the caraway seeds, though)

  13. June 25th, 2013

    Ryan Palmer says:

    we made these caraway cookies whilst i was a student in college, and they were so easy to make. Thanks very much for the recipe. We had loads and shared them in our Halls!

  14. February 23rd, 2014

    Rita says:

    Followed the recipe and they came out perfect, absolutely delicious, too! Thanks for sharing this 🙂

  15. February 24th, 2014

    Abbie says:

    If you don’t like caraway seeds, try using anise seeds – I think they are fantastic with anise!

  16. December 19th, 2014

    Theia says:

    I made these cookies last year, flavoring with cocoa powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove instead, they were a huge hit at my Christmas party. We tried the original recipe first and didn’t care for the caraway. With my flavoring it came out tasting a bit like Mexican hot chocolate.

  17. July 16th, 2015

    Anne says:

    I found this website and recipe after a search for “cracknels.” I had just read that the Russian Tsar Alexander III used to eat cracknels for breakfast (in a memoir by his daughter Olga), and I had never heard of them. I will be baking them soon.

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