Seven cookies for Christmas
Taste of Norway Editor
I grew up knowing the tradition of the syv slags kaker—or seven sorts of Norwegian Christmas cookies—by taste rather than by name. Krumkaker, sandkaker, spritz, and any number of other buttery cookies—these were the treats my grandmothers made year after year. My memories of Christmastime often take place in the kitchens of my mom and my grandmothers, the heart of the hospitality that pulses through my family. But it wasn’t until a few years ago that I realized that my grandmothers’ propensity for holiday baking had a long history.
In my research for an article in Edible Seattle last year, I interviewed Dr. Kathleen Stokker, author of Keeping Christmas: Yuletide Traditions in Norway and the New Land. She helped me put in context the special nature of the family tradition.
Christmas has been extraordinarily special to Scandinavians, Stokker said, especially in Norway, which was the poorest of the Scandinavian countries. For those who weren’t of an upper class, cookies infused liberally with butter would have been very special indeed. Farmers would have sold their butter and used lard instead for daily use—except at Christmastime, when they’d use the butter to create cookies that reflected the celebratory time that it was. While I can now whip up a batch of cookie dough on a whim, my ancestors’ experiences would have been much different. So the baking tradition that’s been passed down from generation to generation is linked as much to the pleasure of eating something sweet as it is to hospitality.
As an adult, I now keep the tradition of the syv slags kaker. A big question, though, is which cookies to include. Each family is likely to have its own list, but there are definite favorites. Back in 1992, Aftenposten—Norway’s largest daily paper—surveyed people and compiled a list of the most popular varieties. Smultringer and hjortetakk tied for first place. Krumkaker, sandkaker, sirupsnipper, berlinerkranser, goro, and fattigmann also made the top seven.
In this issue, we’re featuring recipes for some of those, but we’re incorporating some other favorites into the mix. In the following pages you’ll find my recipes for krumkaker, berlinerkranser, fattigmann, and pepperkaker, along with other writers’ recipes for spritz, snipp, and bordstabler. My own list for 2016 also includes sandkaker, rosettes, and sirupsnipper, and you can find those recipes on my blog, Outside Oslo (www.outside-oslo.com).
For me, the tradition isn’t so much about the cookies themselves, rather the memories and the love wrapped up in all those butter-laden treats. I’ll keep baking these cookies year after year in order to share the gift of my heritage with those I love.
2/3 cup butter (I use salted)
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup golden syrup
1/4 cup cream
3 tsps. ground cinnamon
1 1/2 tsps. freshly-ground cardamom
1 1/2 tsps. ground cloves
1 1/2 tsps. ground ginger
3 cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
In a medium saucepan, mix the butter, sugar, and golden syrup over medium-low heat until the butter melts and the sugar dissolves. Cool a few minutes, then stir in cream and spices.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour and the baking powder. Add the butter mixture and stir until incorporated and dough comes together. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line baking sheets with parchment paper. On a very-lightly floured surface, roll out a little of the dough very thin, about 1/8-inch thick. (Keep the other portions chilled while you work.) Cut the dough into the shapes of your choice and transfer to the baking sheets. Bake 5-7 minutes until the edges barely start to turn color. Cool on the baking sheets. Store in an airtight container.
1 cup sugar
2 sticks (4 ounces) unsalted butter
2 large eggs at room temperature
2 tsps. heavy cream
3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 pound whole skin-on almonds, blanched*
2 egg whites
1 cup sugar
View the rest of the recipe for Julie Logue-Riordan’s bordstabler at www.norwegianamerican.com/food/the-simple-ingredients-of-tradition/.
submitted by Julie Logue-Riordan
1 1/4 sticks of butter (10 tbsps.) (I use salted)
1 tsp. freshly-ground cardamom seeds
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup flour
up to 1/2 cup cold water, or as needed to thin batter to the right consistency
In a small pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Remove from the heat, stir in the cardamom, and let cool a bit.
Beat eggs and sugar together until light and fluffy. Mix in the cooled butter, then stir in the flour until the batter is smooth. Mix in cold water, a little at a time as needed, to thin the batter almost to the consistency of thick, heavy cream—it should pour well but still coat the spoon.
Heat your krumkake iron and lightly grease it. To bake the cookies, drop a teaspoonful of batter into the center of the iron. Bake until both sides are golden—this takes about a minute on my iron. To remove, slip a metal spatula—some people use the tip of a blunt knife—under the cookie and slide it off, then immediately roll onto a cone and set aside to cool.
Transfer to an airtight tin shortly after they’ve cooled, or serve immediately. They can also be frozen.
Today’s bakers have a choice: stovetop or electric irons. There are benefits to either type, with tradition and romance associated with the former and convenience, speed, and ease of cleanup with the latter. I personally use a dual-krumkaker electric iron that Grandma Adeline gave me years ago. Whichever model you choose, they’re available at many cookware and Scandinavian shops, as well as online. Don’t forget to pick up a couple of cone rollers, too.
While everyone’s technique, timing, and workflow will differ, I like to slide the cookies off the iron onto a piece of parchment paper and immediately put more batter on the iron; by this time my krumkaker have cooled just enough to be workable (though still hot), but not so much that they become brittle. By the time they’ve set enough to transfer off the cone rollers and retain their shape, the next batch are just about ready to remove and roll.
Be patient. It takes a little while to get the hang of the timing and rolling. Some krumkaker won’t turn out just right, but that’s okay—part of the fun is sampling while you go, and the imperfect cookies provide a great excuse to do so.
Perfect Spritz Cookies
By Diane Olsen, adapted through the generations of Olsens and Gjerdes
It isn’t Christmas without a plate of spritz cookies! It is the favorite cookie on both sides of my family, and my mom bakes several dozen of them in December. They are buttery and not too sweet and keep well in an airtight container. My paternal grandma added baking soda to her recipe for a fluffier cookie, but I like how this recipe turns out.
1 1/2 cups unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
dash of salt
2 tsps. almond extract
3 1/2 cups flour
food coloring and sprinkles
special equipment: cookie press
Preheat oven to 350°F. With a mixer, cream together butter and sugar until fluffy and light in color. Add egg and almond extract, and mix. Add in flour slowly until combined. Tint with green or red food coloring, if desired.
Put through a cookie press. We make Christmas trees, wreaths, stars, and hearts.
Bake for 10 minutes, or until set. Cool on rack, and store in airtight container.
submitted by Christy Olsen Field
2 hard-cooked egg yolks
2 raw egg yolks
2/3 cup sugar
1 cup butter (I use salted), room temp.
2 1/2 cups flour
egg whites, lightly beaten (reserved from the raw eggs above)
1/4 cup pearl sugar
In a mixing bowl, mash the hard-cooked egg yolks (you can do this with a fork, or you can do what Magnus Nilsson does in The Nordic Cookbook and press the yolks through a sieve). Mix in the two uncooked yolks. When smooth, add the sugar and whisk vigorously until smooth. Next you’ll add the flour and the softened butter, alternating, a little at a time, working as little as possible. It will still appear crumbly, but it will come together when you press it. Divide the dough into two thick logs, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for a couple of hours or overnight.
When you’re getting ready to bake, preheat the oven to 375, line two baking sheets with parchment paper, and remove dough from the fridge (you want it to warm up slightly before you start shaping them—about a half an hour).
Divide each piece of dough into 14 even pieces. Put half of the dough back in the fridge to stay cool while you work on the first half—the dough can be challenging to work with as it gets warm. Roll each piece into a log about 1/3-inch in diameter and about 4-4.5-inches long. Form each into a wreath with edges overlapping, and press together. Place the cookies on the baking sheets, about two inches apart. Chill in the refrigerator for 15 minutes or so to help them keep their shape—if your baking sheets won’t fit, you can transfer them very carefully on the parchment onto a surface that will. Dip the tops of the chilled cookies into the beaten egg whites and then into the pearl sugar. Bake in the middle rack of the oven for 8-10 minutes or until the cookies are very lightly golden.
Cool a little on baking sheet, then transfer with care to a baking rack—perhaps just sliding the whole sheet of parchment on. Store in an airtight container. Freeze if you’re making them well in advance.
Makes about two dozen.
Adapted from Mat Fra Numedal Cookbook
1/2 cup + 1/2 tbsp. butter
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1 cup + 1/2 tbsp. buttermilk
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 tsp. cardamom
cinnamon & sugar for the topping
Preheat the oven to 200° C / 392° F. Melt the butter over low heat in a small saucepan. Let it cool. Blend the melted butter together with the buttermilk.
In a large bowl, mix the flour, sugar, baking soda, and cardamom together. Add in the butter and buttermilk mixture and mix until you get a firm and smooth dough.
On a well-floured surface, roll out the dough into a thickness of about 1 cm. Cut out diamond shapes and place on a non-stick baking sheet. Sprinkle the tops of each snipp with a good amount of cinnamon and sugar.
Bake for 10-12 minutes. Place on a cookie rack when finished to cool. Enjoy!
Makes around 30 cookies.
submitted by Nevada Berg
5 egg yolks
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup whipping cream
1-2 tbsps. Cognac or brandy
1 3/4 cups flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 to 1 tsp. freshly-ground
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 cup melted butter
Canola oil, for frying
Powdered sugar, for dusting
In a large mixing bowl, beat the egg yolks and sugar thoroughly. In a separate bowl, whip the cream until stiff peaks form. Gently fold in cream and brandy. In a small bowl, whisk together flour, salt, cardamom, and baking powder. Add the dry ingredients a bit at a time, alternating with the melted butter, adding a little more flour if needed to make a dough that will roll well, but work the dough just as little as needed. Refrigerate overnight.
Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface to about 1/8 inch thick. Cut using a fattigmann roller and separate the diamonds. Work one of the ends through the slit, repeating with each one.
Heat about two inches of oil to 350-375 degrees in a heavy pan. Working in batches, fry the dough, flipping them with tongs when one side is golden, and removing as soon as the other side colors. Transfer to a paper-towel-lined surface to drain and cool slightly, then dust with powdered sugar. Best the day they’re made.
Daytona Strong is The Norwegian American’s Taste of Norway editor. She writes about her family’s Norwegian heritage through the lens of food at her Scandinavian food blog, www.outside-oslo.com. Find her on Facebook www.facebook.com/OutsideOslo; Twitter @daytonastrong; Pinterest @daytonastrong; and Instagram @daytonastrong.
See also, “The Great Norwegian Christmas Cookie Extravaganza,” The Norwegian American, Dec. 11, 2020.
This article originally appeared in the Dec. 16, 2016, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.