Touch of cardamom, bounty of memories

Cherished cardamom gives a delightful touch to these festive sugar cookies

Cardamom sugar cookies

Photo courtesy of Maria Stordahl Nelson.

Maria Stordahl Nelson

Cardamom, as many of us know, is one of those complex, inherently delicious spices that is beloved and cherished by Scandinavians of all stripes. And although it seems to primarily inhabit the realm of sweet baked goods in Scandinavia, I am also a fan of it in savory dishes. So deep is my love of cardamom, I have been known on occasion to be a little heavy handed when it comes to my use of it in the kitchen. If this is a fault or something that most find annoying, I’m happy to be guilty of it.

Its use has become synonymous with my heritage flavor identity. “Heritage flavor identity” is a notion, a phrase I’ve coined for myself, and while it’s not an original idea, it is an idea that deserves a name, a recognition of some type. It speaks to the power of food and flavor and what we think and feel when we consume it. It describes this idea that food not only nourishes our body, but, importantly, also our soul.

One of my favorite ways to eat cardamom is in a spread comprising of butter, sugar, freshly ground cardamom, and a little bit of cream. After it’s whipped to a light and airy mixture, we then slather it on a piece of lefse or sometimes even our morning toast. Once on a return trip from Norway my mother brought some Hardanger lefse home that had been made lovingly on the family farm. This glorious spread sandwiched in between its delightfully fluffy layers was a flavor revelation. It’s completely replaced the traditional butter, sugar, and cinnamon recipe that was a staple for me growing up. My kids prefer it, so much so that it’s become a necessary part of our lefse tradition.

In the spirit of using more cardamom in our everyday lives, and with Easter fast approaching, I decided it was time to add some cardamom to my sugar cookie recipe. The result is delicious, and while I’ve used this recipe to roll and cut out shapes, if you’d rather not go to the trouble, you needn’t. You can easily roll the dough into a log, wrap it in plastic, refrigerate, then slice and bake. And because you all need this deliciousness in your lives, I’ve also included the recipe for the cardamom spread.

cardamom sugar cookies

Photo courtesy of Maria Stordahl Nelson.

Cardamom Spread
½ cup butter, softened
¾ cup sugar
3 tbsps. heavy cream
2 tbsps. freshly ground cardamom

Combine well and serve with lefse. Refrigerate then soften to room temp before spreading.

Cardamom Sugar Cookies
1 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 egg
½ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. fresh, finely ground cardamom
2 tsps. almond extract or 1 tsp. fresh orange zest
3 cups all-purpose flour
royal icing:
6 tbsps. meringue powder
5 oz. warm water
¾ tsp. cream of tartar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 lbs. confectioners sugar
1 tbsp. corn syrup

For the cookies:
In the bowl of a mixer, cream the butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy. Add the egg, salt, extract, and cardamom. Combine thoroughly. Gradually add the flour and mix until incorporated. Remove from bowl, divide dough in half. Roll out to ¼-inch thickness between two pieces of wax paper. Repeat with the other half. Leave the dough in the waxed paper and slide the sheets onto a rimmed baking pan. Freeze for 10 minutes while preheating oven to 350 degrees.

Remove from freezer and cut into desired shapes. Bake for 11 to 14 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool. Makes 2 dozen cookies.

For the icing:
In the bowl of a mixer, combine the meringue powder and water. Beat until frothy and the meringue is dissolved, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the cream of tartar, the extract, and half of the confectioners sugar. Combine. The add the remaining sugar and the corn syrup. Beat 3 to 4 minutes until fluffy.

For the marble effect:
Using gel food coloring, tint icing the desired shades you prefer. Thin the icing so it runs a bit but is still somewhat thick. Pour the base color (usually this is white) icing into a shallow bowl. Drizzle the two remaining colors over the surface, then swirl the colors together. Avoid adding too much of the colored icing and avoid over mixing it. You want the colors to remain somewhat separate. Dip the cooled cookies into the icing and gently shake the cookie to remove the excess. Set on a lined baking sheet to dry. Repeat one or two times, then add more colored icing and swirl it again.

Continue in this manner until all the cookies are dipped. Allow to dry 8 hours at room temperature. You can add additional royal icing embellishment if desired.

Maria Stordahl Nelson is a Seattle-area food writer, photographer, and recipe developer. She shares her love of all things sweet, savory, and sometimes Nordic at

This article originally appeared in the March 23, 2018, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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