The Great Norwegian Christmas Cookie Extravaganza

Christmas cookies

Photo: Madison Leiren
The home of Kristine Leander in Seattle’s historic Norwegian neighborhood in Ballard came alive with the scents and spirit of The Norwegian American’s Great Norwegian Christmas Cookie Extravaganza.

 

CHRISTY OLSEN FIELD
Taste of Norway Editor

Snart er det jul igjen! The holiday season has arrived, which means that it’s time to pull out our family recipe cards, don our Norwegian sweaters, and cozy up with Norwegian traditions.

With a year like 2020, comfort food is at the top of the list this year. Cookies can’t solve the world’s problems, but they can connect us to friends, family, and Norwegian roots.

Julebakst (Christmas baking) begins early in Norway, typically in November. Norwegian julebakst tradition calls for syv slags or syv sorter: an assortment of seven types of cookies, or more!

There is no set group of seven cookies; it depends on the regional favorites and family preference. In 2010, the Norwegian newspaper VG determined the top seven on their list: krumkaker, berlinerkranser, fattigmann, smultringer, sandbakkelse/sandkaker, sirupsnipper, and goro. But would the list be different today, as the Christmas cookie tradition continues to evolve?

Great Norwegian Christmas Cookie Extravaganza

Photo: Madison Leiren
In Norway it is tradition to serve seven types of cookies—syv slags kaker—but at The Norwegian American, no less than an assortment of baker’s dozen plus one would do!

Most of the traditional cookies in Norway have their origins outside of the country’s borders, including classics like fattigmann, peppernøtter, and pepperkaker. The first cookies, such as krumkaker and goro, were made by iron plates like waffles, and others, such as fattigmann, were fried in oil. These cookies date back to the Middle Ages. Other cookies made with yeast or another leavening agent and then baked in the oven came much later.

In my research, I learned that the Norwegian Christmas cookie baking tradition as we know it today didn’t really get its start until the 1800s, when stoves and ovens became more available, and cookbooks exploded in popularity.

“I think you can say that there were many changes that you could see in society with industrialization. Better technology and increased education went hand in hand with changes in culture in general, including food culture… a certain democratization means that more people can participate in customs, and sugar becomes more available to people,” said Henry Notaker, a Norwegian food historian and journalist in an interview with Forskning.no. (If you read Norwegian, I highly recommend reading the interview about Norway’s Christmas cookie history. It’s fascinating! See: forskning.no/mat-jul-historie/julekakenes-historie/805406.)

Photo: Madison Leiren
Nothing says “God jul” more than a Christmas cookie baked with with love.

But one thing is for sure: The cookie platter may change over time, but the love of Norwegian heritage is found in every bite.

And even on this side of the Atlantic, planning for the julebakst started early this year at The Norwegian American. The idea for our inaugural Christmas Cookie Extravaganza was sparked this summer, and we began strategizing in July.

To gather our 14 recipes, we asked some of the best Norwegian bakers we know: our friends. You will see many familiar names in this Christmas Cookie Extravaganza: cookbook authors, bloggers, professional bakers, shop owners, and other leaders in the Norwegian-American community. We asked for recipes that are Norwegian or Norwegian-inspired, and each contributor shared a bit about their recipe’s origins or special tips.

We are confident that you will find a recipe for (nearly) everyone: old-fashioned classics, family recipes, and fun, modern twists on traditional flavors.

Photo: Madison Leiren
Our Christmas Cookie Extravaganze includes many family favorites.

Some of these cookies require special equipment, which is noted in the recipe. If you need a krumkake iron or a patterned rolling pin or sandkaker tins or any specialty item, please email me at food@na-weekly.com, and I will gladly connect you to a Scandinavian store in your region.

A special tusen takk to our photo shoot crew: Lori Ann Reinhall for her vision and leadership; Madison Leiren for photography; Bernice Chouery for table styling; Julie Pheasant-Albright, Alyson Sundal, Courtney Olsen, and Diane Olsen for baking assistance; and Kristine Leander for opening her gorgeous home!

Happy baking and happy holidays from all of us at The Norwegian American!

What’s on your list for syv slags kaker? I’d love to hear from you! Write to me at food@na-weekly.com.

Editor’s Note: In the tradition of the Norwegian julekalender, we will be publishing one Christmas cookie recipe on norwegianamerican.com from the Great Norwegian Christmas Cookie Extravaganza each day from Dec. 1 to Dec. 14. Happy baking!

Dec. 1: Havrekjeks med skjokolade, by Sunny Gandara
Dec. 2: Brown Butter Krumkake, by Kristi Bissell
Dec. 3: Sandkaker, by Barbara Kronborg-Mogil
Dec. 4: Swedish Wedding Cookies, by Joyce Quarnstrom and Gordon Vande Voorde
Dec. 5: Knekk-Kaker, by Nevada Berg
Dec. 6: Peppernøtter, by Gert Kvalsund
Dec. 7: Kringla, by Lizabeth Nagel
Dec. 8: Cardamom Shortbread, by Rachel Antalek
Dec. 9: Pepperkaker, by Lori Ann Reinhall
Dec. 10: Romkugler, by Daytona Strong
Dec. 11: Berlinerkranser, by Lauren Carlson
Dec. 12: Krokaner, by Louise Hanson
Dec. 13: Spiced Slice-and-bake Cookies, by Christy Olsen Field
Dec. 14: Spritz, by Julie Pheasant-Albright

This article originally appeared in the Nov. 27, 2020, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

Christy Olsen Field

Christy Olsen Field

Christy Olsen Field became the Taste of Norway Editor in April 2019. She worked on the editorial staff of the Norwegian American Weekly from 2008 to 2012. An enthusiastic home cook and baker, she lives north of Seattle with her husband and two young sons. She is also a grantwriter for small nonprofits in the Seattle area.

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