Moravian Black Walnut Cookies

This recipe is from an old family collection from my best friend who was born and raised in a Pennsylvania Dutch family in Bethlehem, PA before relocating to Ashland in Schuylkill County where she resided for over 4 decades before passing away in 2013.

Even though our friendship evolved over thirty years, Peg and I rarely got to spent a lot of time together during Christmas due to the pull of family obligations and jobs. Toward the end of her life, she asked me if I had ever seen the star on the mountain overlooking Bethlehem. I answered that I never had and we promised to go see it together. The best laid plans…

My friend passed away in early 2012. I have yet to get to see the star. Hopefully, some Christmas soon, I will gaze upon it. And with some luck and some blessings from above, Peg will be there with me.

Bethlehem, Pennsylvania’s Moravian connections

Bethlehem has a strong Moravian connection. Bethlehem, Pennsylvania was founded in 1741 when a religious group, members of the Moravian Church, purchased land where the Monocacy Creek flows into the Lehigh River. Bethlehem was christened as such on Christmas Eve, 1741 in a stable while the small group of Moravians were singing a hymn with the stanza “Not Jerusalem, Lowly Bethlehem”.

I love you, but those decorations…

Centuries later, proud of her native roots in Bethlehem but unimpressed by the Christmas decorations in her hometown, Mrs. Eugene C. Grace threw a switch on December 7, 1937 that illuminated lights and ornaments adorning Main Street, and her hometown was officially declared “Christmas City USA.”

An undated newspaper illustration, from the Bethlehem Area Public Library.

In the 80 plus years since, Bethlehem has continued to embrace its “Christmas City” character. And throughout that time, its most prominent decoration has shined down from South Mountain, a giant star mimicking the Biblical guide of the Magi.

The star on South Mountain, seen over Route 378 from Broad Street, lights the way through Bethlehem. Photo: Steve Novak | For

There are several stories attributed to how the star on the mountain came to be; some claim it existed before the christening of Bethlehem as “Christmas City, USA”. Others range from a newspaper owner’s gift to the city to an idea hatched by city employees sitting around a kitchen table.

The design on South Mountain is a two-faced five-pointed star with eight rays. It was originally made of wood, but steel supports from Bethlehem Steel were installed in 1939. A new star was installed by Stehly Sign Co. in 1967. Before it was replaced, both faces were lit by a total 280 50-watt special clear lamps. That was changed to 252 25-watt lamps in 1967. In 2010, the bulbs were replaced with 258 7-watt LED lights, said Greg Kreider, Bethlehem’s head electrician.

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Black walnuts lend a distinctive flavor

Black walnuts have a bold and distinctive flavor setting them apart from the more widely known English walnut. Nearly all black walnuts come from trees growing in the wild, while English walnuts come from orchards. Black walnuts are available in many major chain grocery stores, baking supply retailers, and are also available online.

I adore the flavor of Black walnuts, but if you do not like them, English walnuts can be substituted but the cookies will not have the distinctive flavor that makes them so special and sets them apart.

Simple to create

These cookies are a snap to create. You can make the dough logs ahead and bake when convenient. If you prefer, finely chop some extra nuts and roll the logs in them before chilling for an outer ring of extra goodness on the cookies.

Moravian Black Walnut Cookies

Recipe by A Coalcracker in the KitchenCourse: DessertsCuisine: Pa. Dutch, Coal RegionDifficulty: Intermediate


  • 1-1/2 cup granulated sugar

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter (1 stick), softened to room teperature

  • 2 whole eggs, room temperature

  • Pinch of salt

  • 1 Tablespoon baking soda dissolved in a teaspoon of white vinegar

  • 1/2 cup medium chopped black walnuts (not English walnuts)

  • 3 cups all purpose flour


  • Cream butter and sugar until well blended.  Add remaining ingredients, mix well.
  • Roll into logs about 1-1/2 inches in diameter.
  • Refrigerate until completely chilled (or freeze), then cut into 1/4 inch slices with sharp knife.
  • Place on parchment lined cookie sheets.
  • Bake 325F degrees for 8 to 10 minutes or until lightly browned around the edges.
  • Cool on wire racks.
  • OPTIONAL: Roll the logs in additional finely chopped black walnuts before wrapping and chilling.


  • If you do not like the flavor of black walnuts, English walnuts can be substituted but the cookies will not have the distinctive flavor that makes them so special and sets them apart.