Classic 1920s Orange Drop Cookies

published Dec 3, 2021
christmas
Orange Drop Cookies Recipe

These soft and cakey drop cookies are easy to make and only require a handful of basic ingredients.

Makes60 (2-inch) cookies

Prep35 minutes

Cook30 minutes

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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!

If I were to distill the 1920s into cookie form, it would be an orange-flavored drop cookie. Let me explain. The 1920s marked a new era in American history. World War I decimated an entire generation of young men and that trauma led the survivors to overturn many of the strictures of previous generations. Prohibition was in full effect, women had gained the right to vote, and the brief economic depression following the end of the First World War quickly morphed into a heady mixture of personal liberation, technological advancement, and growing national wealth.

At a time when so many traditions were being thrown out the window, cooking was no exception. Many middle- and upper-middle class women who had gone to high school or college found themselves without the cooking skills their grandmothers had learned since childhood. Cookbooks for new brides and books on household management became increasingly popular as new homemakers struggled with the complications of managing house and home. 

Some tasks were easier than they had ever been. The increasing availability of electricity meant less time spent cleaning the soot from gas lights, blacking the coal stove, and getting ice delivered. The flip of a switch or a clothbound cord and plug were all that were needed to make toast, coffee, ice cream, and cold drinks. Dinners were streamlined, and the focus of food was increasingly on convenience and fashion rather than abundance and skill. Chafing dish or tableside cooking — once all the rage in the 1890s — became popular again, this time with electric chafing dishes to cook fashionable dishes like shrimp wiggle and Welsh rarebit right at the table. Brand-name products (canned soup, condiments, powdered gelatin, breakfast cereals, and canned fruits, vegetables, and meats) made cooking faster and easier. Even holiday dinner menus, once multi-course affairs, were slimmed down to just a few key dishes — more elaborate than everyday meals, but nothing like the groaning boards of days gone by. 

All of this simplification made the 1920s prime time for the drop cookie. Although drop cookies like oatmeal raisin, molasses, and others had been around for decades, the 1920s saw a rise in popularity of the soft, cakey, more delicate drop cookie. Combining convenience, speed, and elegance, the drop cookie was simply a dough mixture dropped by spoonfuls onto a greased cookie sheet and baked — it was the perfect teatime or holiday treat for the less-skilled baker who didn’t want to fuss with rolling and cutting cookie dough. The orange drop cookie, in particular, was representative of the 1920s for a variety of reasons. 

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

Oranges have long been associated with Christmas. A holdover from the Medieval period where wintertime citrus was an expensive treat, the growth of the Florida and California citrus industries in the late 19th century meant that oranges were more accessible to more Americans than ever before, but still remained an occasional treat for most. In the 1920s, perhaps spurred by the inaccessibility of Europe and the Mediterranean to wealthy travelers during the war, Florida became a fashionable vacation destination and home to a major real estate bubble, with Miami at the center. At the same time, California was playing host to the burgeoning Hollywood movie industry, alongside its citrus groves. And then there was the growth of refrigerated railroad cars, which meant that more people had access to the juicy fruits grown in Florida and California.

Fresh-squeezed orange juice at breakfast became all the rage, and orange-flavored foods became increasingly common. Vitamin C had been discovered in 1912 and orange growers capitalized on the new vitamin fad to promote their crops. Although the Florida real estate bubble burst with a vengeance in 1928 and the national economy burst in 1929, Americans had developed a taste for oranges that would continue unabated until the present day.

This recipe for orange drop cookies comes from Aunt Sammy’s Radio Recipes, published in 1927. Developed in 1926 by the USDA Bureau of Home Economics, “Aunt Sammy” was a fictional character designed to engage rural housewives via radio. Her Radio Recipes were published multiple times in the 1920s and 1930s. One of the longest-lasting investments Americans made in the cash-rich days of the 1920s was in-home radios. The radio connected Americans to the rest of the world like nothing short of the telephone (which was also becoming increasingly popular). Aunt Sammy was one of just many “homemaker radio” shows that would continue to be popular until the 1960s.

The Modern Twist

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

For a modern take on Orange Drop Cookies, check out the Blood Orange Crinkles.

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.

Orange Drop Cookies Recipe

These soft and cakey drop cookies are easy to make and only require a handful of basic ingredients.

Prep time 35 minutes

Cook time 30 minutes

Makes 60 (2-inch) cookies

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • 4 tablespoons

    (1/2) stick unsalted butter

  • Cooking spray or butter, for greasing the baking sheets (optional)

  • 2 cups

    all-purpose flour

  • 1 tablespoon

    plus 1 teaspoon baking powder

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    kosher salt

  • 2

    large eggs

  • 2

    medium or large navel oranges

  • 1 cup

    granulated sugar

Instructions

  1. Place 4 tablespoons unsalted butter in a large bowl and let sit at room temperature until softened.

  2. Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat the oven to 375ºF. Lightly coat 1 or 2 baking sheets with butter or cooking spray, or line with parchment paper.

  3. Place 2 cups all-purpose flour, 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon baking powder, and 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt in a medium bowl and whisk to combine. Beat 2 large eggs in a small bowl with a fork until lightly beaten.

  4. Finely grate the zest of 2 medium or large navel oranges until you have 2 tablespoons. Juice the oranges until you have 1/4 cup juice.

  5. Add the zest to the butter. Beat with an electric hand mixer on medium speed until the butter is well-blended, about 30 seconds. With the mixer still on medium speed, slowly add 1 cup granulated sugar, eggs, and orange juice, and beat until combined, about 20 seconds. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a flexible spatula. With the mixer on the lowest speed, slowly add the flour mixture and beat until just combined.

  6. Drop the dough by heaping teaspoonfuls onto the baking sheets, spacing them about 2 inches apart, about 20 per sheet. Bake one sheet at a time until firm on top, light golden-brown on the bottom, and you can just see the browning at the edges, 9 to 10 minutes.

  7. If using greased baking sheets, let the cookies cool on the baking sheets for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely. If using parchment, slide the parchment with the cookies on it onto a wire rack and let cool completely. Bake the remaining cookies, letting the baking sheets cool completely and re-greasing or lining again with parchment before each batch if reusing.

Recipe Notes

Storage: Store the cookies in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days.

Recipe adapted from Aunt Sammy’s Radio Recipes, published in 1927.