Unbelievably Good Gnanakatha Cookies — A Must-Try Recipe!

If you like cookies that are buttery, sweet, and crumbly, you will love this easy and tasty Sri Lankan Gnanakatha Cookies recipe my friend Nadee showed me last week. It is like shortbread and really yummy.

Gnanakatha also known as rock cookies

Below is the step-by-step guide to the sugar cookie recipe she gave me. 

These Common Ingredients Make Delicious Gnanakatha Cookies

Gnanakatha cookies are a great teatime treat that pairs well with tea or coffee, and thankfully they’re quick to make with just six ingredients you will probably already have on hand. 

Gnanakatha Cookies Recipe Ingredients

1. Butter

Using room-temperature butter will make blending the sugar and butter easier.  

2. Granulated Sugar

Simple white sugar offers a sweet contrast to the creamy butter and a nice crunch on the outside of the cookie. Brown sugar will work, too, but it will create a darker and softer cookie.

3. Egg

The egg brings moisture and protein that will help to hold the cookie together. Ohh, and using room temperature eggs in cookies makes everything mix so much more smoothly, ensuring your Gnanakatha cookies turn out light, fluffy, and evenly baked—like a little baking magic!

Top Tip: If you forget to take the egg out of the fridge, you can bring it to room temperature by placing it in a cup of warm water for one to two minutes before cracking it into the bowl.

4. Vanilla Extract

Vanilla helps to amplify the other flavors in the recipe. Even if you use a small amount, it really makes a big difference. 

5. All-Purpose Flour

Most people have all-purpose flour in their kitchen, and it’s the perfect balance for baked goods. It holds all the wet ingredients together and helps to give the cookie a tender texture. Once I tried using whole wheat flour for my cookies, but they ended up a bit too dense for my liking.

6. Baking Powder

These cookies are slightly puffed up thanks to a small amount of baking powder. Before using baking powder, double-check the expiry date to ensure it will still rise. I am talking from personal experience as I thought that the baking border would never expire.

The Quick and Easy Step-by-Step Guide to Gnanakatha Cookies

classic Sri Lankan sugar cookie.

1. Cream Together Butter and Sugar

Preheat the oven to 180°C or 356°F. Prepare a cookie sheet with parchment paper cut to fit. 

In a large, clean, and dry mixing bowl, cream together 50 grams (1/4 cup) of room-temperature butter and 125 grams (1/2 cup) of granulated sugar by hand using a whisk or an electric mixer. I like to put a cloth under the bowl to help keep it from slipping.

mixing white sugar and butter using a whisk

2. Add Wet Ingredients

When the sugar disappears and the mixture lightens in color, add one medium-sized egg and mix, then add one teaspoon of vanilla extract.

mixing the wet ingredients using a whisk

Mix the wet ingredients together thoroughly until the mixture is smooth and lump-free. 

3. Sift in the Flour

Mix 250 grams (2 cups) of all-purpose flour and one teaspoon of baking powder in a separate bowl.

sifting the flour and baking powder

Then, slowly sift the flour and baking powder mixture into the wet ingredients. Sifting will help to prevent lumps and ensure an even distribution of ingredients. Give one final mix to bring everything together. Don’t mix it too much, or it could cause the dough to be tough.

mixing the dough

The dough should be smooth, not too wet, and stick together without falling apart when you form a ball with your hand. It shouldn’t be sticky to the touch like you can see in the video below.

4. Shape and Dip the Cookies

Using your hands, roll the dough into small balls about 1 inch in diameter and gently press the top to flatten them into disks. Set each cookie on the parchment-covered cookie sheet while the rest are rolled.

setting the cookies on the parchment-covered cookie sheet

Sometimes, if I find the dough a bit sticky to work with, I refrigerate the dough in the covered bowl for about thirty minutes before rolling and shaping, it makes it more workable and won’t stick to my hand anymore.

After all the dough has been shaped, prepare a small bowl of granulated sugar and a small bowl of water. The bowls should be big enough to dip the top side of the disk into them.

dipping the top side of the cookie into the water and into the sugar

Dip the top side of the cookie into the water to wet it, then dip it into the sugar to create a sweet and crunchy sugar crust. 

Note: Nadee’s recipe suggests granulated sugar, but sometimes I like to dip them in cinnamon and brown sugar mixed together, or a mix of finely chopped nuts and sugar for added texture and flavor. These alternatives will add an exciting new dimension to each bite!

Place the coated sugar cookies back onto the parchment-covered cookie sheets until they have been dipped.

placing the coated sugar cookies back onto the parchment-covered cookie sheets

5. Bake The Gnanakatha Cookies for 15 Minutes

baking the cookies in the oven

Bake the cookies in the oven at 180°C or 356°F for approximately 15 minutes or until the edges turn golden brown.

Remove them from the oven and let them cool on the baking sheet for 5-10 minutes before transferring them to a plate.

removing the cookies from the oven

Enjoy these Sri Lankan Gnanakatha cookies for an afternoon snack or after-dinner treat.

Classic Sri Lankan Gnanakatha Recipe

Recipe by Jen Evansy
0.0 from 0 votes
Course: Dessert, SnacksCuisine: Sri LankanDifficulty: Easy


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This Gnanakatha Cookies recipe melds simple pantry staples into crispy-edged, tender-hearted confections, a testament to Sri Lankan baking mastery. Perfect for pairing with your afternoon tea or as a sweet finale to dinner, these cookies are a celebration of texture and taste. Each bite into their sugar-kissed crust reveals a soft, buttery interior, transporting you to a world of delightful contrasts. More than just a treat, Gnanakatha Cookies are a culinary voyage to the heart of Sri Lanka, bringing a slice of its sweet heritage right to your kitchen.

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  • 1/4 cup (50 grams) butter, room temperature

  • 1/2 cup (125 grams) granulated sugar, plus extra for coating the cookies

  • 1 medium-sized egg

  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

  • 2 cups (250 grams) all-purpose flour

  • 1 teaspoon baking powder

  • water, for dipping


  • Prepare for Baking: Preheat your oven to 180°C (356°F). Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper tailored to fit.
  • Cream Butter and Sugar: In a large, clean bowl, cream together butter and sugar until the mixture lightens in color. You can do this by hand with a whisk or with an electric mixer for efficiency.
  • Incorporate Wet Ingredients: Once the sugar is fully integrated, add one medium-sized egg and vanilla extract to the bowl. Mix these wet ingredients until smooth and free of lumps.
  • Sift in Dry Ingredients: In a separate bowl, combine all-purpose flour with baking powder. Gradually sift this mixture into the wet ingredients, mixing gently to avoid overworking the dough. The dough should be smooth and formable, not sticky.
  • Shape the Cookies: Roll the dough into 1-inch balls and press slightly to form disks. If the dough feels too sticky, refrigerate it for 30 minutes before shaping. Arrange the disks on the prepared cookie sheet.
  • Sugar Coating: Prepare a bowl of water and a separate bowl of granulated sugar. Wet the top side of each cookie disk in the water, then dip in sugar to coat. For variety, consider using a mix of cinnamon and brown sugar or chopped nuts mixed with sugar.
  • Bake: Place the sugar-coated cookies in the preheated oven and bake for about 15 minutes, or until the edges are golden brown.
  • Cool and Serve: Allow the cookies to cool on the baking sheet for 5-10 minutes before transferring to a plate. Serve and enjoy your Gnanakatha cookies as a delightful snack or dessert.

Recipe Video


  • Room Temperature Ingredients: Ensure your butter is at room temperature before creaming it with the sugar. Room temperature butter creams more smoothly and incorporates air better, leading to lighter, fluffier cookies.
  • Dough Consistency: Achieving the right dough consistency is crucial. If the dough is too sticky, a brief chilling period in the refrigerator can make it easier to handle. Conversely, if the dough is too dry, adding a little more water can help reach the desired texture.
  • Sugar Coating: Dipping the top of the cookies in water before coating them with sugar helps the sugar stick better and creates a beautiful, crunchy topping after baking. Feel free to experiment with different coatings, such as cinnamon sugar or finely chopped nuts mixed with sugar, for a variety of flavors.
  • Baking Time and Temperature: Keep an eye on your cookies as they bake. Oven temperatures can vary, so starting to check them a few minutes before the suggested baking time can prevent over-baking. Cookies are done when the edges are lightly golden.
  • Cooling on the Sheet: Letting the cookies cool on the baking sheet for a few minutes helps them set properly without falling apart. However, don’t leave them on the sheet too long, as they can become too hard.
  • Uniform Size: Rolling the dough into uniform balls and pressing them into even disks ensures that all your cookies bake at the same rate and finish baking at the same time.
  • Storage: Once completely cooled, store the cookies in an airtight container to keep them fresh and crispy. Layer them between sheets of parchment paper to prevent sticking if they have a sugar or nut topping.

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Another Must-Try Recipe

If you loved the crunchy outsides and soft insides of those Gnanakatha Cookies and are hungry for more, you’re in for a treat! Next up, I have got something super exciting for you next: a must-try Bibikkan recipe. It’s a juicy, sweet-and-spicy coconut cake that you’re going to absolutely love. This cake is soaked with flavors that’ll make your taste buds dance with joy!

Do you have a comment or question?

Got any questions or thoughts about making Gnanakatha Cookies? Just drop me a message below or on the YouTube video’s comment section. I really appreciate your input and am here to help with any baking problems or just to celebrate your baking wins with you. I’m eager to hear from you and will reply as soon as possible.

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About Jen Evansy

Nutritionist, researcher, avid home cook, and writer interested in everything nutrition and food-related. Striving to inform, encourage, and inspire all the readers to make healthy and informed choices when it comes to cooking, food, diet, and nutrition.