Norwegian Christmas calls for almonds
These mandelstenger may become one of your seven types of Christmas cookies
A little over four years ago when I decided to go vegan for the animals, I remember thinking to myself: “Christmas will never be the same.” I was convinced that when I made the conscious choice to give up meat, fish, dairy, and eggs, there would be nothing left to eat in the Norwegian cuisine. The horror of giving up all the delightful Norwegian cookies we make every year felt real.
But boy, was I wrong. Little did I know that vegans are super creative, and that includes Norwegian vegans! I’ve been following the super talented blogger and now cookbook author, Mari Hult from Vegetarbloggen (vegetarbloggen.no) for a while now. Her recipe for mandelstenger, literally translated as “almond sticks,” was my inspiration for today’s piece. (Spoiler alert: they turned out amazingly good, so get excited.)
The vegan movement is growing in Norway, as people are getting increasingly aware that their meat- and dairy-heavy diets may not be the healthiest choice. Heart disease, cancer, and obesity have risen dramatically in Norway as in the rest of the western world, and processed and fast food is plentiful everywhere. That is not to say every choice we make has to be 100% healthy, but overall, if we choose to be more conscious about what we put in our bodies, our health will benefit as a result.
But back to Christmas. I realize a lot of my readers are very fond of the classic, Norwegian recipes of old times such as krumkaker (still wildly popular in Norway), sandkaker, fattigmann and goro (not so much), sirupssnipper, and more. Regardless, Norwegians are known to go a little nuts (no pun intended) with baking cookies during this holiday. Seven kinds are still the norm in many households.
So what kind of cookies do Norwegians like to make and eat in 2017? In addition to today’s cookie, others include brune pinner (very similar to mandelstenger), kokosmakroner, mandelflarn, julekaker/julemenn, pepperkaker, smultringer, hjortetakk, and risboller, to name a few. I’ve also seen the influence of American and other international pastries in Norwegian households, as my fellow countrymen have embraced the love for brownies, muffins, and biscotti.
Almonds are a typical Norwegian ingredient in pastries and other dishes. I like to think of almonds being as popular as peanut butter is in the United States; you see them included in a large variety of baked goods. There is a dish called “brente mandler,” i.e. burnt almonds, which is popular to serve this time of year, perfect with a glass of gløgg (mulled wine). An almond is also placed in the porridge—risgrøt—served during Christmas, and the lucky person who gets it in his or her bowl, will get something special as a surprise—often a marzipan pig, which itself will be made of almonds.
Almonds brings me to my recipe. Mandelstenger are soft and chewy on the inside and crispy on the outside and are almost like candy, they’re so good. They are very similar to the better-known kransekake, as the base for the dough is ground almonds. I’ve also seen versions of this called “heksefinger” (witch fingers!) and “Finnish bread.”
Super quick to make and requiring few ingredients, mandelstenger have become a favorite for many Norwegians. Even though it may be considered a “modern” recipe, this cookie has existed for a long time in Norway’s cuisine in different versions and was considered one of the “seven types of cookies” made for Christmas by many. I write more about the “syv slags kaker” in my blog, Arctic Grub (and The Norwegian American also covered the topic last Christmas: www.norwegianamerican.com/featured/seven-cookies-for-christmas).
Makes about 20 pieces
7 0z/ 200 grams whole almonds
3 oz/ 80 grams vegan butter
6 0z (3/4 cups) / 160 grams sugar
3 tbsp soy yogurt (I used the brand Kite Hill which is deliciously creamy and tangy) plus extra for brushing on top of batter
4 tbsp all purpose flour (sub gf flour or cornstarch if gluten free)
1 tsp baking powder
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (160 degrees Celcius).
Dress a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
Set aside about 10-15 whole almond and roughly chop them up. These are to be sprinkled on top of the cake batter.
Grind the remaining almonds in a high powered blender or a food processor into a mealy flour.
In a stand mixer, whip the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add in the soy yogurt. Add the ground almond meal, all purpose flour and baking powder, stir until just combined.
Press the dough onto the parchment paper dressed cookie sheet into a large square – the batter should be about 1/2 cm (1/4 inch) thick. Spread a little soy yogurt on top and sprinkle with the remaining almonds.
Bake in oven for about 15 minutes on the bottom shelf, remove from oven and using a pizza cutter, slice into about 2 inch thick/4inch long pieces, while the dough is still soft.
You can make this recipe gluten free simply by omitting the all-purpose flour and substituting either gluten-free flour or cornstarch; the flour simply works as a binder for the batter.
Sunny Hjorthol Gandara was raised in Norway and attended college in the U.S. She is a trained chef, a certified wine and spirits educator, a trained health coach, and holds a certificate in plant-based nutrition. She ran her own catering company, Fork and Glass, for five years, and today works for herself as a vegan food and chef consultant and life coach for women. Find her on Facebook (arcticgrub) or on her blog, Arctic Grub (arcticgrub.com).
This article originally appeared in the Dec. 15, 2017, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.