Syv slags kaker
Do you know the story behind this Christmas tradition?
Astrid Karlsen Scott
Christmas in a Norwegian home without seven kinds of cookies (syv slags kaker) would be at variance with tradition. Of course one many choose to bake several other kinds, and many do, but never less than an assortment of seven.
My earliest recollection of the Christmas cookie baking tradition stems from the time our family lived on the island of Kollen by Larkollen in the southern part of the Oslofjord. My sister Eva and I shared a bedroom next to the kitchen. Since the only heat in the little house came from the big wood stove in the kitchen, our parents always left the bedroom door ajar to allow the heat into our room.
When mamma began preparing the different kinds of dough for the Christmas cookies, she usually began by singing the beloved Christmas songs which brought back memories of Christmas’s past.
Soon memories mingled with the aroma oozing from the oven and longing for Christmas became so intense sleep was impossible.
When we were a little older mamma welcomed our help. There were eggs and sugar to beat with a wooden spoon or a hand beater until light and fluffy. This took time and patience. However, with our help and the piles of the baked cookies, fattigman, smultringer, hjortetakk, sirupsnipper, pepperkaker, sandkaker and more grew into towering proportions. Understandably, the excitement of cookie baking also came from participation and creating, and from the many “secret” nibbles. However, cookie baking also brought memories. Each cookie’s flavor and shape brought to mind previous celebrations, or the enjoyment other family members found in certain varieties.
Christmas cookie baking is so much more than creaming butter and sugar and whipping eggs until fluffy. It means togetherness and sharing love and tradition. Amazing how such a simple act could bring security, and a feeling of belonging.
When my own children were growing up, there were times when we baked cookies together. At other times, I appreciated making some varieties by myself when the house was quiet and all others were asleep.
Today while baking, I still follow mamma’s tradition of having Christmas music However, instead of having to sing alone, I play Norwegian Christmas tapes and records as I sing along. Each song, like the cookies, brings treasured memories of people I love, of Christmas in Norway, and of traditions started in a far off land. And then I am grateful for the simple tradition of making seven kinds of cookies both with children, and now with grandchildren, or by myself in a peaceful home which awaits a joyous Christmas celebration.
Share the fun of Norwegian Christmas cookie baking with family or friends, pretend the packaged mixes, the frozen doughs, and the prepared foods are not to be had, and bake up a tradition!
I do not recall how many of these tiny cardamom doughnuts our family made every Christmas, but I do remember huge piles of them on our white scoured wooden kitchen table. An absolute “must” Christmas cookie. They keep well in air-tight containers, as well as being suitable for freezing. When making these doughnuts, it is important to deep fry them quickly in hot lard or Crisco.
Small cardamom doughnuts
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup butter, melted
1/2 cup light cream
1/2 tsp. lemon extract
1 tsp. cardamom, crushed
3 7/8 cup flour
1 tsp. hartshorn salt
Beat eggs and sugar until light and fluffy. Add cooled butter, cream, lemon extract and cardamom. Sift in flour and hartshorn salt. Dough should be soft as possible, yet not elastic. Chill dough thoroughly. Roll out rather thick and cut with a small doughnut cutter. Traditionally smultringer were deep fried in lard. Fry until nicely raised and cooked through. They should be light and a nice golden color. Cool on absorbent paper to drain off excess grease. They are best freshly made, but may be stored in air-tight containers.
This recipe and excerpt from Astrid Karlsen Scott’s book “Ekte Norsk Jul Vol. 2.” Find this and other great books at http://www.nordicadventures.com.
This article originally appeared in the Nov. 8, 2013 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (800) 305-0271.