Honey Cookies with Lemon and Nutmeg

published Dec 3, 2021
christmas
Honey Cookies Recipe

The stand-out ingredient in this back-to-the-basics cookie is honey.

Makes36 (1 1/2-inch) cookies

Prep20 minutes

Cook11 minutes to 14 minutes

Jump to Recipe
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Post Image
Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk; Prop Styling: JoJo Li

This recipe is from our Cookie Time Machine — a trip through the most iconic cookies of the past 10 decades, paired with 10 fresh twists for right now. Click here to see the most important cookies of the 1920s through today — and gaze forward with our Cookie of the Future!

When I was tasked with finding a classic cookie to represent the 1940s, I knew it had to include honey. Let me explain: Although the U.S. involvement in the Second World War took up only four years of the 1940s, the war had an outsized impact on the decade. The war in Europe began in 1939, and the United States was still trying to claw its way out of the Great Depression and the environmental effects of the Dust Bowl in late 1941 when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. For the second time in less than 50 years, the United States was embroiled in another World War, but things were a little different this time. Instead of relying largely on the free market and voluntary rationing to reach wartime goals, the federal government engaged in total war — mobilizing nearly every aspect of life toward the war effort. Rationing began almost immediately and was mandatory. Although rationing rules changed frequently (and confusingly), fat (including butter) and sugar were among the most heavily and longest rationed. 

Sugar was abundant in the United States prior to the Second World War, thanks in large part to U.S.-controlled sugar plantations in the Philippines, which had become a U.S. territory during the Spanish-American War of 1898. But in early 1942, after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Japan conquered the Philippines, cutting Americans off from one of their largest sugar suppliers. Sugar was also produced in Hawaii and the Caribbean, notably in Cuba. But between the Japanese Navy and heavy predation from German U-boats in early 1942, combined with the use of cargo ships for military use, national sugar supplies were reduced by a third. Domestically, Louisiana produced cane sugar and California produced beet sugar. But with the internment of Japanese Americans, California lost most of its beet farmers, and production shifted to the Upper Midwest. Domestic production was not enough to meet the needs of Americans, who, prior to the war, consumed more sugar per capita than almost any other nation.

Sugar was the first food to be officially rationed in the United States. In April 1942, families had to register for ration cards and report on how much sugar they had already on hand — stamps were removed from their cards to reflect existing supplies. As the war dragged on, sugar rations tightened. Sugar continued to be rationed until June 1947 — almost two full years after the end of the war.  

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk; Prop Styling: JoJo Li

Vegetable and nut oils came primarily from Europe and the Pacific, which were inaccessible during the war. Animal fats were used in the manufacture of munitions and for tasks such as greasing Naval artillery guns. Although not officially rationed until 1943, fats were in very short supply by Christmas 1942. Housewives were encouraged to save fat from frying and roasting meats to bring to their local butchers, who would serve as clearinghouses for manufacturers to pick up the fat to clarify it and use it in industrial work — especially in manufacturing explosives. Lard rationing ended in 1944, but butter and margarine continued to be rationed until November 23, 1945 — the day before Thanksgiving, and almost two months after the end of the war. Eggs and fresh milk were never officially rationed, but could be in short supply. 

To cope with rationing restrictions, a whole slew of cookbooks were published, most in 1942, ’43, and ’44, outlining how home cooks could cope with the increasingly strict rules. Honey, molasses, maple syrup, and corn syrup were all used to replace sugar in recipes. Vegetable shortening (made largely from cottonseed oil) was used to replace butter and lard, and many recipes touted how much fat they used, and whether or not they called for eggs. 

When it came to Christmas, cheer was in short supply, and homemakers and children were encouraged to send gift boxes to soldiers. Many old-fashioned cookie recipes called for molasses or honey, and vegetable shortening was a good replacement for lard. The emphasis was on cookies that naturally featured these ingredients, rather than trying to make other popular cookies, such as the frosted sugar cookie, fit the ration mold. 

In Cooking on a Ration, a little cookbooklet published in 1943, there are several cookie recipes calling for honey, including these simple Honey Cookies that are perked up with lemon and nutmeg.

The Modern Twist

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk; Prop Styling: JoJo Li

For a modern take on Vintage Honey Cookies, check out the Jumbo Chewy Honey Spice Cookies.

Our Three Most-Loved Cookie-Baking Tools

Before you preheat the oven, gear up with these cookie-making essentials.

  • The Sheet Pan Every Kitchn Editor Owns: This sturdy, won’t-ever-warp pan is great for cranking out a ton of picture-perfect sweets. Bonus: It comes in great colors, which makes baking even more fun.
  • Our Tried-and-Tested Favorite Cooling Rack: We love these racks for their criss-cross design, which adds stability, makes sure your precious treats won’t slip though, and prevents the rack from wobbling or warping.
  • The Little Spatula That Every Baker Needs: This thin-but-sturdy spatula is great for gently loosening your cookies from the pan and transferring them to the cooling rack. It’s particularly handy for moving small or delicate treats.

Honey Cookies Recipe

The stand-out ingredient in this back-to-the-basics cookie is honey.

Prep time 20 minutes

Cook time 11 minutes to 14 minutes

Makes 36 (1 1/2-inch) cookies

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • 2 cups

    all-purpose flour

  • 1 teaspoon

    baking powder

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    baking soda

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    kosher salt

  • 2

    large eggs

  • 1

    medium lemon

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    freshly grated nutmeg

  • 1 cup

    honey

  • 1/2 cup

    room temperature shortening

Instructions

  1. Arrange 2 racks to divide the oven into thirds and heat the oven to 375ºF. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

  2. Place 2 cups all-purpose flour, 1 teaspoon baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon baking soda, and 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt in a medium bowl and whisk to combine.

  3. Place 2 large eggs in a small bowl. Finely grate the zest of 1 medium lemon (about 1 teaspoon) into the eggs. Add 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg and beat with a fork until the eggs are broken up.

  4. Place 1 cup honey and 1/2 cup shortening in a medium bowl and stir together with a wooden spoon or flexible spatula until combined. Add the egg mixture and mix until combined. Add the flour mixture and stir until just combined.

  5. Drop the dough by heaping tablespoons onto the baking sheets, spacing them about 2 inches apart, 18 per sheet.

  6. Bake for 6 minutes. Rotate the baking sheets between racks and from front to back. Bake until the cookies are firm to the touch and lightly browned on the bottom, 5 to 8 minutes more. Let the cookies cool on the baking sheets for 5 minutes. Transfer the cookies to wire racks and let cool completely.

Recipe Notes

Storage: The cookies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days.

Recipe adapted from Cooking on a Ration, published in 1943.