Turtle Back Cookies


Today, I am in Dayton.  It is quiet and peaceful, and I have been surrounded by family.  As we’ve been here for Thanksgiving many of our conversations have returned to Mim and Olive, or Gran and Tootsie, as we know them.  We have been reminded of their great love for their friends and family, and their effortless ability to make you feel at home with them.  We have talked about our relationships with them, and shared the things we see of them in ourselves.  I see little things about them in myself, like my love for shopping, dresses, and discerning taste in caramel cakes.  More importantly though, I’ve learned the importance of relationships from both of these women.

As you know, my husband and I are trying to build relationships with our neighbors.  A few days ago, we made some goody bags to deliver to our neighbors.  We filled them with our favorite fall treats, and wrote notes for each of the bags.  We delivered them door to door, and had a wonderful time.  We got to meet a few new neighbors, and reconnect with some that we’ve talked with several times. It made my relational heart happy, and I hope our neighbors saw our genuine desire to get to know them more.

Our goody bags were full of our favorite fall treats: Turtle Back Cookies, and apple butter, and pumpkin bread, oh my!


As promised, I’m going to share my Turtle Back recipe with you, but first a little history lesson.  The Turtle Back Cookie was created in Demopolis, AL at Treager’s Bakery.  As far as I can remember, Treager’s was THE bakery in Demopolis, and these cookies were their trade mark.  The bakery burned when I was much younger and never reopened leaving the poor people of Demopolis grieving the loss of this signature cookie.  Thankfully, the people of Demopolis are resilient, and quickly took on the task of creating their versions of the Turtle Back Cookie.  Many families have their own version of the cookie, and my family is no different.

Carolyn Nelson is a local cook book author, and I often use her cookbook “Memaw’s Southern Cookin'”.  I have found that you can almost always trust someone called “Memaw”.  Mrs. Nelson claims to be the creator of the Turtle Back Cookie using a spice cake mix, and for that we are forever thankful for her!

The cookie itself is a spice cookie.  It is moist and chewy, and completely delicious. When the cookie bakes, the tops crack making it take on the appearance of a turtle’s shell.  You can see flecks of cinnamon and pecans, and it makes your house smell like fall as they bake.  My father in law desperately wants me to add raisins to the batter, but I just can’t bring myself to do it.  I’m a purist, I guess.

The topping is like the more understated and confident cousin of the praline.  She’s made almost entirely of brown sugar and margarine.  This topping knows she’s delicious, and doesn’t try to impress you. But, oh does she!

Together, this cookie is truly decadent.  The topping is creamy and melts in your mouth, and the cookie has the perfect texture and just the right amount of spice!

When they’re ready to eat, they look like this. For now, gobble them up with your eyes!

Turtle Back Cookies

Be warned-one day you’ll wake up, and these cookies will be in your kitchen.

They will be staring at you, begging you to eat them.

And when that happens, you’ll totally justify eating a cookie cookies (let’s be honest) for breakfast because a spice cake is pretty similar to carrot cake, which has carrots in it, which makes it a vegetable, which makes these cookies a completely healthy choice for breakfast.

When that happen, I want you to remember this: You are not alone. You are not judged.

So go ahead, my friend.  Make these cookies. Share them with your neighbors! Use them as a way to get to know the people around you.

Here’s the recipe I used, and the one you’ve been drooling about:

This recipe was handed down to me by my Maw Maw. Hers is very similar to Mrs. Nelson, but there are some very slight differences.  I always use Maw Maw’s and it is delicious.


1 box Duncan Hines Spice Cake Mix

2 Tbsp. water

2 eggs

1/2 cup pecan pieces

1/2 cup vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Mix cake mix with liquid ingredients and stir to combine.  Stir in pecan pieces.

Line a baking pan with parchment paper. Drop the cookie by rounded teaspoons onto a parchment lined baking pan leaving two inches between each cookie.  Bake for 12 minutes or until set.  When the cookies are done, let them cool completely on the cookie sheet.  These cookies are super moist and really need the support of the pan to set and not crumble.

For the Topping:

1 stick margarine

1/2 cup brown sugar

3-4 tbsp. milk

3 cups powdered sugar

As the cookies are cooling, melt the margarine over medium heat.  When the margarine is melted, add the brown sugar to the pot, and bring the mixture to a simmer.  When the butter and brown sugar mixture starts to simmer, simmer for two minutes stirring frequently.  If the mixture begins to rapidly boil, lower your heat to reach a simmer.  Off the heat, beat in the powdered sugar and milk, alternating milk and powdered sugar ending on milk.  This way you can add more or less milk, to get it to a creamy texture.  Beat until smooth.

When cookies are slightly cooled, spread the frosting over the cookie.

A few notes: I don’t always use cake mix, but when I do, I make Turtle Back Cookies.  There are some recipes that make the cookies completely from scratch sifting flour and baking ingredients with spices.  I have to be honest though, I love these cake mix cookies! So don’t beat yourself up about using a cake mix.  These cookies are totally delicious, and this is one of the few times that a shortcut is better than made from scratch.

I also rarely use margarine, and usually prefer butter.  However, the margarine keeps the frosting soft and doesn’t get sticky or chewy as it cools.  In this case, margarine is preferred.

These cookies spread a good bit when baking.  So, you can make a smaller dough ball than  you normally would and still get a good sized cookie. These cookies are pretty rich so you don’t want a huge cookie, but I’d still eat it if you made it for me.

I use a spoon to spread the frosting.  I fill the spoon with frosting, pour over the cookie, then use the back of the spoon to spread it around. There should be a full disc of frosting on top of the cookie when you’re done.

I hope you enjoy making and eating these cookies!  And I hope your neighbors enjoy the cookies you share with them!




2 thoughts on “Turtle Back Cookies

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