Memories that shape us: sandbakkelse

Make connections with handmade delights


Photo: Daytona Strong
The recipe for sandbakkelse is simple; it’s the exquisite thin shapes that set them apart.

Christy Olsen Field
Seattle, Wash.

When I married my husband Carl, I gained a wonderful network of extended family: aunts, uncles, cousins whom I love like my own family.

One of my favorites is Uncle Steve, who married into the family too. Steve is a man of few words, and he is full of wisdom and humor. We spend a week every July with this side of the family on the shores of Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park, and I always enjoy spending quality time with Steve and his wife Sharman.

Steve is also a proud Norwegian. I liked him right away.

A few years ago, Steve mentioned that he loved sandbakkelse, small shortbread tarts. Though I didn’t grow up with the cookies, I love a good Norwegian baking project. I bought a set of sandbakkel tins from Scandinavian Specialties and got to work for our upcoming trip to the lake.

The cookie dough is delightfully simple—butter and sugar creamed together with an egg and almond extract, and flour to bring it all together. Quality ingredients shine here, and I like to use high-fat European-style butter, such as Kerrygold or Plugra.

The trickiest part of the recipe is shaping the cookies in the sandbakkel tins. It’s labor intensive, but it’s easy to get into the rhythm and fun to do with others. Here are some tips:

1) Make sure that the dough is pressed evenly in the tin. You don’t want the sides to be too thin.

2) Take care to not extend the dough over the rim of the tin, as it will make it difficult to remove.

3) If the cookies are difficult to remove from the forms (it happens to me if I let them cool too long), I find that putting them back in the oven for another couple minutes can help.

The sandbakkel is Norwegian simplicity at its best: not too sweet, buttery rich, and keeps well in an airtight container. The cookies are excellent on their own, but can also be filled with anything from mousse to fresh fruit to lemon curd.

When I presented Steve with a small box of sandbakkelse at the lake that summer, it brought tears to his eyes. He shared with me why these cookies remain his favorite:

“My grandmother made these for me in southwestern Minnesota every Christmas for years when we took the train out there from Chicago. Her father and a brother drowned in a fjord when she was 17, and the family had to send her to Minnesota to be raised by an uncle, in about 1896. She loved to bake, and I was one of many beneficiaries. She eventually made them for me when we went out there to spend summers as well. These cookies always remind me of her.”

And that is what I love about making food for people: it’s not really about the food. A certain dish can transport us to cherished memories and tradition, and connect us to our loved ones.

Now I bake sandbakkelse for Steve every July (and I always tell him he doesn’t have to share), and for my family every December. It’s my way of sharing the love with my favorite Norwegians.

Photo: Christy Olsen Field These traditional Norwegian cookies can be made in a variety of shapes.

Photo: Christy Olsen Field
These traditional Norwegian cookies can be made in a variety of shapes.

Adapted from Scandinavian Classic Baking by Pat Sinclair

1 cup unsalted butter, softened to room temp.
1 cup sugar
1 egg
pinch of salt
1 tsp. almond extract
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
confectioner’s sugar (optional)

Preheat the oven to 375°F.
With an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar together on medium speed until smooth and light in color. Beat in the egg, salt, and almond extract. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour slowly until a smooth dough forms. Remove from mixer, flatten into a disk, and wrap with plastic wrap. Chill for 15 minutes.

Pinch off about 1.5 tsp. of dough, and roll into a ball. Press into tin* with your thumbs, taking care to keep even thickness throughout. Bake on a cookie sheet for 12–15 minutes, or until lightly golden brown. Let cool slightly.

To remove, invert the tin and press the sides of the tin. The cookie should come out cleanly. Cool completely and dust with confectioner’s sugar, if desired. Cookies will last in an airtight container for up to four weeks (if you don’t eat them all first!).

Yields about 5 dozen cookies.

* Note: Sandbakkel tins can be found at Scandinavian stores and a number of online retailers and vintage shops.

Christy Olsen Field was on the editorial staff of the Norwegian American Weekly from 2008 to 2012, and the Taste of Norway page was her favorite section. Today, she is a freelance grantwriter for small to mid-size nonprofits with her business, Christy Ink. Learn more at

This article originally appeared in the Dec. 11, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.

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The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.