Skip to content

Mom’s Browned Butter Coconut Haystacks

December 16, 2011

My mom peacefully slipped away eleven years ago today. It was a comparatively subtle ending to a messy and painful battle with cancer. Mom was a big, hard woman. Her cancer was bigger and harder. Days, even weeks go by without her lingering in my mind. I seldom, at the risk of sounding callous, miss her in the way that I might if things had been different between us.


I’m careful with my memories of her, most of which lie dormant in the inner recesses of my mind throughout much of the year. I unpack them in December like a box of fragile, mismatched ornaments, only pulling out my favorites, and leaving the ugly ones to hide in the box until I can face them or part with them. Out of my memory box come the trips to the country where we cut down our tree together while dad pouted at home. I dust off the only times I can ever remember my parents lovingly embracing. I polish to a shine the way she complimented my pretty cookies.

Mom’s best, our best, came shining through at Christmas like the warm Chicago summer that can make you forget how brutal the winter was. As a kid, I spent eleven months of the year wanting to be somewhere, anywhere other than my house, but at Christmas time our warm, chaotic, vanilla infused kitchen was the only place I wanted to be. Cue the Johnny Mathis music. Preheat the oven to 350°F. And start creaming the butter and sugar–always by hand, never with a mixer. With the help of my grandma, sisters, aunts, my childhood best friend Jen, and even dad who perfected the art of rolling perfectly round one-inch balls, our bustling kitchen turned out hundreds of dozens (yes, hundreds) and nearly 30 varieties of cookies including:

Early in December I make my holiday baking list always with mom in mind. Old family favorites make up the bulk of the list. It’s sprinkled with a few new family favorites like Sea Salt Vanilla Caramels and punctuated with recipes I’m dying to try. This year’s newcomers will include the Brown Eyed Baker‘s Chubby Hubby Truffles and Date Ma’amouls from Leite’s Culinaria.

Like my mom, I’m crazy about coconut, so these haystacks make the list every year. They’re like the prettier, better tasting cousin of a Hershey’s Mounds Bar. I think they’d be lovely with a little rose water, but I can’t bring myself to add it. I don’t fuss with mom’s cookie recipes, because a single bite of a coconut haystack can remind me of the happy times we shared in the way that only food can do.

Merry baking!

Browned Butter Coconut Haystacks

The recipe below is exactly how it was written on mom’s recipe card. I use unsalted butter, heavy cream, and unsweetened coconut. Mom made hers with salted butter and sweetened coconut flakes. She dipped the bottoms in whatever chocolate she had on hand: chips, Hershey Bars, you name it. I dip some of mine in Ghirardelli bittersweet for the dark chocolate fans and the rest in Hershey’s milk chocolate. You’ll need six ounces of your favorite chocolate.


    1/4 cup butter
    1/4 cup cream
    2 cups powdered sugar
    3 cups coconut
    chocolate (for dipping)


Melt butter, heat until golden brown. Stir in remaining ingredients. Drop by spoonfuls onto wax paper and chill. Shape when still slightly tacky and chill again. Dip bottoms in melted chocolate.

Makes 3 dozen.

More sweet holiday treats: Double Chocolate Cookies with Thin Mints, Madras Curry Chocolate Truffles, Dressed Up Gingersnaps, and Coffee Rum Truffettes.

15 Comments leave one →
  1. farmer_g permalink
    December 16, 2011 5:49 pm

    I can’t wait for one of those haystacks! mmm-mmm!

  2. herbgirl permalink
    December 16, 2011 9:37 pm

    mmmmm mmmmmmmm me too, farmer g

  3. December 17, 2011 2:50 pm

    Those look so delicious. I’m a huge fan of coconut too and I love how simple these are 🙂

  4. December 17, 2011 9:19 pm

    Cherish all the good memories you have of your mom. Hard relationships always have some bright spots. Let those be the ones that you see yourself reflected in.
    These cookies look adorable like cute little elves made them. I love coconut so must try them too.

    • December 18, 2011 10:51 am

      Cathy–You’re right. I cherish each and every one. And I’m oh so grateful for the bright spots. Hope you enjoy the cookies.

  5. Heather Melick permalink
    December 18, 2011 7:55 am

    Your growing up sounds eerily (in an odd, familiar way) like mine. At Christmastime, my world changed because my mother was in her glory, cooking, baking and generally doing what she loved.
    My father stayed in the background, until muscle was needed to put up a gargantuan tree every year in our great room. Once the tree was up, the baking commenced. I do not remember a Christmas without liebkuchen, springerle, sand tarts, swedish crescents, pffernusse, or cinnamon stars. They were Christmases like no other. I did not dread the ending of Christmas because I had to go back to school, I disliked it when Christmas ended because my mother would become ordinary again, and at times her flawed self would rear its ugly head and we would pay for the dysfunctional relationship she had with my father.

    Your cookies look gorgeous. You have an amazing talent that no one can take away from you. What a gift given to you, or at least shared with you, by your mother. Peace and Love to you and your family this Christmas. xx

    • December 18, 2011 11:10 am

      Heather, thank you for dropping by for a visit and making the time to leave such a heartfelt comment. Your words brought me to tears–it’s a mix of knowing that my writing has touched someone else and the rare sense of connection to someone who understands what my life was like.

      Liebkuchen and springerle? There is such an art to the European cookies you were raised on. I’d love to try making them someday.

      Merry Christmas Heather. And thank you again for leaving me a present that I will continue to treasure.

  6. Amanda permalink
    December 20, 2011 6:55 pm

    When I was growing up, one of our neighbors made these same cookies with the addition of green coloring – not haystacks as much as tiny Christmas trees. I have searched and searched for the recipe over the years without any success. I was thrilled to see your recipe and even more thrilled to be able to recreate the taste I remembered from childhood.

  7. Jo Graham permalink
    December 22, 2011 1:52 pm

    Wow. I can really relate. How brave and honest you are on your blog! I lost my mom 3 years ago (right before Christmas). She and I didn’t always have a good relationship either. But we certainly share an affection/obsession for baking, reading and crochet. Christmas is always hard for me because it makes me miss her so much and that is where the majority of my good and precious memories lie also. You brought tears to my eyes with your honesty about which memories to take out and examine. Thanks for sharing such a post.

  8. Bortner permalink
    January 9, 2012 6:01 pm

    I love you, Bob. I miss u. Wonderful article.

  9. March 27, 2012 6:37 pm

    Wonderful, wonderful story and I love the recipe. Old family favorites are the best kind of recipes to have around and make. My sister Shawna just adores haystacks so I am going to pass this recipe along to her-and if I am lucky, perhaps she will call me for coffee and we can eat them all up together! Thanks again for sharing.

  10. Katie permalink
    January 11, 2013 11:07 am

    What a beautiful entry. Thanks for sharing such a vivid picture of the history of your lovely Christmas tradition. These cookies are scrumptious.

  11. December 18, 2014 3:24 pm

    Gorgeous story-telling…and I know the hay stacks are good, too. It was nice to see you again at Melanie’s party! She forwarded this to me and now I am your #1 fan! I love a good food blog-especially one that is this thoughtful.
    Peace to you in 2015!

  12. January 27, 2017 5:40 pm

    cut the sugar in half and dip the chocolate covered bottoms in instant coffee that has been made into ultra fine powder in the blender or food processor


  1. Hindistancevizli Piramitler | Susam ve ben

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: