Scandinavian Coconut Cookies with Sea Salt

Scandinavian Coconut Cookies

A wooden spoon and a simple recipe are all it takes to create a memory. “I want to help Mama bake cookies,” he says, coming inside and finding out I’m starting to bake. The butter is melting in the saucepan, the coconut measured. There’s really little else to do. And that’s perfect for this particular early-May evening.

I scoop up my little boy and position him on my hip, holding him up with one arm as I show him how the eggs change properties when beaten with sugar in our cobalt blue stand mixer. He’s too heavy to hold like this for long, but with the addition of a little vanilla extract, the components are soon ready to bring to the counter and mix.

Scandinavian Coconut Cookies

Scandinavian Coconut Cookies

He stands at the counter on a stool eager to help. I begin to stir the butter and coconut into the rest of the ingredients and quickly give in, handing him the wooden spoon. He is big enough to try. I am as ready as I’ll ever be to relinquish control of the process. I watch, hoping for minimal spills, as his little hand clutches the wooden handle. I hold the saucepan still as he concentrates and maneuvers the spoon throughout the coconut, the handle just the right size for an easy grip.

I do the rest of the work, dropping little mounds of dough onto parchment-lined baking sheets while he watches. He is just like his mother and wants to sample the dough before it’s baked. I must be asking a lot, to make him wait until the cookies are done and we have finished our dinner. But soon enough, soon enough, we’re all back in the kitchen–mom, dad, and son–each eating a cookie before bed.

Scandinavian Coconut CookiesAs many excursions, activities, and adventures I’m tempted to fill our days with, I know that moments like these are special. While I teach and nurture healthy eating habits with my son every day, these occasional baking sessions allow us to connect, to take a little time to engage in an activity together and finally to savor the results of what we have made.

My childhood memories are full of moments like this, helping my mom cook and baking alongside my grandma as she indulged my curiosity when I’d find a recipe of interest.

A wooden spoon and an easy recipe. Yes, that’s all it takes to make a memory. May you make some of your own in the coming days too.

Scandinavian Coconut CookiesScandinavian Coconut Cookies with Sea Salt
I first wrote about these cookies–adapted from Aquavit: And the New Scandinavian Cuisine by Marcus Samuelsson–almost four years ago. But I love how quick and easy they are to make and decided to revisit them with the addition of sea salt from semiswede.com. I hope you enjoy making them as much as I do.

2 1/2 cups unsweetened, medium grated or shredded coconut
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 eggs
3/4 cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon flaky sea salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Melt butter in a small saucepan, then remove from heat and stir in the coconut until well-coated.

Beat eggs in a separate bowl to combine the yolks and whites. Add sugar and continue to beat until light and fluffy. Stir in vanilla extract.

Stir the coconut into the eggs until combined. Drop batter by rounded teaspoons into mounds onto the parchment paper, giving almost an inch between cookie. Flatten slightly using the bottom of a glass or the back of a spoon. Stir the batter occasionally as you work to reincorporate the melted butter. Sprinkle each cookie with just a little sea salt; you want to add just a touch of flavor, otherwise they’ll be too salty. Bake until golden, 8 to 11 minutes depending on the size of the cookie.

Makes about 2 dozen cookies.

Scandinavian Coconut Cookies

Cardamom Thumbprint Cookies with a Scandinavian Touch

Cardamom Thumbprint Cookies

They’d all be here in 15 minutes, my mom alerted me in a text message. My mom and dad, grandma, uncle, and contingent of cousins were on their way, the first arrivals of a 21-person Thanksgiving feast. I reflected on the progress, what still needed to be done, and felt a sense of calm.

The tables were set, the turkeys in the oven and rotisserie, the soup simmering on the stove. Despite a short period of feeling pressured to get everything done a half an hour prior, my husband and I were ready to welcome the first of our first guests.

We’ve hosted feasts in the past–large groups of so many people that we’ve made big batches of chili or ribs and let our guests serve themselves with paper plates and plastic cups. But being our first sit-down meal with more than about 15 people, this event required quite a bit of extra preparation. So off I headed to Ikea for a ridiculous amount of plates, utensils, water glasses, and wine glasses (and a necessary serving of Swedish meatballs in their cafe), and I braved the pre-Thanksgiving holiday rush at the mall to find linens. And then there was the food. Last Sunday I realized that I could minimize my time at the grocery store–guaranteed to be crowded any time in the following days–by ordering most of my groceries online. By the time Tuesday rolled around, I told the women in my Bible study that I was feeling strangely relaxed about hosting such a feast–perhaps that was cause for concern?

Cardamom Thumbprint Cookies

But before I knew it my house was full of relatives from both sides of my husband’s and my family, who were happily mingling and sampling from bottles of bottles of Beaujolais Nouveau, Côtes du Rhône, Grenache, and Tempranillo. Soon the dining room was full of relatives hungrily eating a first course of butternut squash and chipotle soup garnished with cocoa-toasted pumpkin seeds and served with aged-cheddar biscuits. While the bowls were emptying, my husband carved the turkeys and the side dishes were passed: Mom’s sweet potatoes in orange cups and her classic sausage dressing, my mother-in-law’s creamy mashed potato casserole, a perfectly sweet-tart cranberry sauce from my sister-in-law, and a squash and radicchio salad from my brother-in-law.

The calm I had felt in the days leading up to the event had not been the calm before the proverbial storm, but rather a sense of peace and confidence that everything was under control, that the day would turn out to be what it should be: a time to spend with loved ones and to reflect on all the things we have to be thankful for.

Cardamom Thumbprint Cookies

A few days ago I even managed to bake a batch of cookies–not for Thanksgiving, but just for fun. I had seen a recipe for cardamom thumbprint cookies in Food & Wine and wanted to give it a try, adding lingonberry preserves to the mix for an extra-Scandinavian touch. We certainly didn’t need any more sweets–we had more pies, cakes, and cookies than we could eat–but baking these amidst all of the holiday preparations gave me a chance to do a little something for myself and it also resulted in being able to send home a box of treats with some family members last night.

With Thanksgiving in the past and the countdown to Christmas now here, I’d like to share with you the first in a series of cookie recipes I’ll be featuring on Outside Oslo in the coming weeks. Whether your Christmas preparations include making the traditional syv slags kaker–seven sorts of Norwegian Christmas cookies–or perhaps making just a few batches of favorite family cookies, I hope you’ll find ideas and inspiration here on the blog. I’m aiming to share seven cookie recipes in the weeks to come, but even though I’ve read that it wouldn’t be a proper Norwegian Christmas without at least seven types, I’m modifying the tradition for my family and choosing to do as many–and only as many–as we can make while still maximizing a sense of togetherness, fun, and holiday cheer. Whether that ends up being three, four, seven, or ten types, I’ll be happy with the results.

I hope that you all had a good Thanksgiving and that you have a blessed holiday season.

Cardamom Thumbprint Cookies Cardamom Thumbprint Cookies

 Almond-Cardamom Thumbprints with Lingonberry Preserves
Adapted from Food & Wine, December 2013

1 cup fine almond flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Approximately 1 cup lingonberry preserves

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and prepare two baking sheets by lining them with parchment paper or using a Silpat baking mat (I did the latter and baked the cookies in rounds batches).

Whisk almond flour, all-purpose flour, cardamom, and salt together in a medium bowl to combine. In a medium-to-large bowl, beat the butter and sugar using an electric mixer for about three minutes, until it becomes light and fluffy; scrape down the sides of the bowl as necessary to fully incorporate the ingredients. Beat in the egg and vanilla extracts, then turn down the speed to low and mix in the dry ingredients, just until incorporated. Turn out the dough onto your work surface and knead it a few times, forming it into a ball.

Shape the dough into little balls using a tablespoon measure and arrange them on the baking sheets about an inch apart. Make an indentation in the center of each–Food & Wine suggests using a teaspoon for this–and bake until slightly firm, about 10 minutes. Reinforce the indentation in each cookie one more time and return the cookies to the oven until they start to turn lightly golden and feel dry to the touch. This should take about seven more minutes.

Immediately transfer the cookies to a rack. When completely cool, stir the lingonberry preserves in a small bowl to create a smoother jam (it’s okay to leave the berries intact), then carefully spoon a little into the center of each cookie.

Makes about two dozen cookies.

Swedish Almond Rusks

Swedish Almond Rusks in Bowl

Food has taken on a special characteristic since I became a mother. Sure, I always enjoyed baking, cooking, feeding others, sharing a meal, dining out. But now it’s about so much more than that: It’s about introduction. The naturally sweet flavors of steamed carrots… Toothsome mushrooms sauteed in olive oil and garlic… Ripe strawberries that spew juices as you take a bite… When you’re the one being the first to share such simple, pure flavors and textures with someone with a budding palate, even the most seemingly humble produce that you might otherwise end up dressing up with spices and sauces comes back into focus, reminding you of how delicious it was to begin with.

And then there are the sweets. Homemade cookies, a lopsided birthday cake that made up for flavor what it lacked in presentation, the very first taste of ganache still warm from the pan–these are some of the treats that I have been able to share with my son, a child who talks about “Mama’s cookies” (referring to the rusks I’m sharing with you in today’s post) even while he eagerly eats grilled wild Alaskan sockeye salmon and cole slaw.

Swedish Almond Rusks with Coffee

Swedish Almond Rusks on Baking Sheet

When introducing my son to solid food, I took the stance of many mothers around me: only organic fruit and vegetables, homemade over processed whenever possible, limited empty calories, and no sugar. An ideal introduction to the exciting world of food choices out there, for sure. With a healthy foundation and a daily diet that focused on the nutritive qualities of food, I eventually began to incorporate foods that carry with them a softer, harder-to-define value: that of the heart.

If you’ve been reading Outside Oslo for any length of time you know about my belief that food fosters communication and connection, bridging generational gaps and helping us to identify with and learn about the heritage and culture of our own family and of people we love. Whenever I bake lefse with my 94-year-old grandma, my son gets to enjoy it, still soft and warm from the griddle. When he watched me mix up the dough for a Norwegian fyrstekake recently, I didn’t stop him as he reached for a piece of dough and sampled it. The same goes with these almond rusks pictured here. I kept a handful of them around this week (after giving a good portion of them away, as I love to do with baked goods), and he inevitably spotted them in the kitchen and wanted to try them. I let him. I have helped to steer his palate toward healthy tastes, and part of that training involves the occasional treat, enjoyed in moderation.

Swedish Almond Rusks

Swedish Almond Rusks

Though I bake often, sharing many of the recipes here on the blog, we don’t generally keep a lot of sweets in the house. Whenever possible I wrap up the cookies or half a tart and give them away. It’s a pleasure to be able to give a little unexpected gift to someone, sharing something handmade and from the heart. These little rusks made it easy to do so: They’re sturdy so they travel well, and they keep for a while.

Rusks, as they’re known in Scandinavian cuisine, are a twice-baked cookie or bread, much like the Italian biscotti. This particular recipe is flavored generously with cardamom, that wonderful spice that defines much Scandinavian baking, and dotted with slivered almonds. When freshly-baked these rusks are not so hard that you couldn’t eat them on their own, but they’re excellent dipped briefly into a cup of coffee. They are just enough to elevate the essential morning or afternoon cup into a special experience. And since food is about so much more than just sustenance, I encourage you to whip up a batch and share them with your family or friends this weekend.

Swedish Almond Rusks
Adapted (barely) from Scandinavian Classic Baking by Pat Sinclair

3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 cup slivered almonds

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Prep a baking sheet by lining it with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, cardamom, baking powder, baking soda, and salt and set aside. Beat the eggs in a small butter and set these aside as well.

Using an electric mixer, beat the butter until creamy, then gradually add the sugar while continuing to beat, letting the combination take on a light appearance. Add the sour cream, almond extract, and the prepared eggs, and beat to combine. Reduce the speed to low and begin to add the flour, adding it gradually and allowing a soft dough to form. Add the almonds and beat just until combined.

Place the dough on the parchment paper in the form of three logs, each about a foot long. The dough is sticky and the rusks are rustic, so don’t worry too much about a smooth appearance at this step. Press them down to flatten slightly, then bake until they’re light brown and firm, about 25 to 30 minutes.

Remove from the oven and leave on the baking sheet to cool a little while you go about your business. After about 10 or 15 minutes or so, when they’re cool enough to touch but still warm, cut each log into diagonal slices about 3/4-inch thick. Turn the slices so they’re flat on the baking sheet and return to the oven to bake for another 8 to 10 minutes. Turn them over and toast the other sides for 8 to 10 minutes, then cool.

Makes about 36 rusks.

Swedish Almond Rusks in Bowl on Tray

Danish Vanilla Cookies and the Search for a Lost Recipe

Danish Vanilla Cookies on Parchment

When I gave a speech about connecting heritage and food to a group of Norwegian women last spring, one of them said that she wished her 20-something-year-old son would take an interest in Scandinavian cooking like I have. Obviously an important part of her life, the food of her heritage hasn’t yet become a connecting point between the generations. I wish I had a solution for her, a way for her to convince her son to take notice of the richness and memories woven into old recipes and the food served to generations of family members. Until that happens though, I hope the woman makes a point to collect and gather her family’s recipes, writing down memories and stories as she goes.

I certainly don’t expect everyone to get as giddy as I do about handwritten recipes and boxes of notecards with ingredient lists in elegant penmanship. But I do know that food is one of the easiest ways to bring people together and prompt connection. It’s a way to carry on traditions and to conjure up memories.

I’ve written before about how I have only a few recipes from my late grandmother Agny. Most were lost after she died. The few I have come from old church cookbooks and my other grandma’s collection of recipes. One of my great regrets is that I didn’t join Grandma Agny in the kitchen and bake with her, listening as the process coaxed out stories of life in Norway. It’s a tradition I share with Grandma Adeline and my mom, and one I feel so privileged to get to enjoy.

Danish Vanilla Cookies in Process

Danish Vanilla Cookies Cooling OffFor the last couple of years I’ve been trying to recreate some old cookies that Grandma Agny used to make. Sweet and buttery, with a pleasant, toothsome crunch, the cookies were a staple at Christmastime. All I know is that they were a traditional type of Scandinavian cookie that Grandma shaped in an unconventional way. Formed into parallelograms with horizontal lines pressed into them with the tines of a fork, they were delicate and pretty, and Grandma served them with pride.

Many of you have offered ideas for what those cookies could have been, and I’ve been following your leads and baking through recipes in my Scandinavian cookbooks. I’ve come close at times, but I’m not there yet.

The fun part of the process is discovering cookies that I’ve never made before, including these Danish vanilla cookies. With an easy dough made little more than the normal butter, sugar, flour, egg, and baking powder, they’re flavored generously with vanilla, which lends a rich quality to them that pairs perfectly with a glass of milk. Think sugar cookies with an extra punch of flavor.

As I took my first bite, still warm from the oven, I analyzed the flavor, comparing it against the cookies I have filed away in my memory from so long ago. Not quite. These cookies are too crisp, too. I’m encouraged, though: I have a new recipe that I’ll be sure to make again and again, and thanks to the suggestions that some of you have left on my Facebook page since I asked for ideas yesterday, I have plenty of direction for where to take my search next.

Danish Vanilla Cookies with MilkDanish Vanilla Cookies (Vaniljesmåkager)
Adapted (barely) from The Great Scandinavian Baking Book by Beatrice Ojakangas

1 cup salted butter, at room temeperature
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
Powdered sugar, for decoration

Cream butter and sugar together in a large mixing bowl until smooth, then add egg and continue beating until the batter is light. Mix in the vanilla extract. Stir together flour and baking powder in a separate bowl, then add to the batter, mixing until all the ingredients combine and form a stiff dough.

Turn out the dough onto a work surface and knead briefly, further incorporating the ingredients without overworking them, then separate the dough into two portions and roll each into a log two inches in diameter. Wrap the logs in waxed paper and foil and chill in the refrigerator.

At this point you can either wait an hour or so, until the dough is chilled through, or you can wait and just keep the dough in the fridge until you’re in need of some freshly-baked cookies. According to the original recipe, the dough will keep for up to two weeks.

When you’re ready to bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 375 degrees and line baking sheets with parchment paper. Slice the chilled logs into rounds about 1/8-inch thick and place on the prepared baking sheets about an inch apart. Bake in the top third of the oven for about ten minutes, until the tops begin to turn golden around the edges. Allow to cool slightly, then dust with powdered sugar.

Yields about 30 cookies.

Part of the WanderFood Wednesday Recipe Swap

Finnish Aunt Hanna’s Cookies

Finnish Aunt Hanna's Cookies

As I was reviewing my posts from the month of February the other day, I noticed an interesting–and unexpected–pattern: All the recipes were for savory dishes. As someone whose lifelong culinary proclivities have bent slightly more on the side of baking than cooking, seeing such an across-the-board trend came as a surprise. I’m seeking to change that today with a recipe I briefly mentioned back in January: Finnish Aunt Hanna’s Cookies. These cookies come together easily and would be perfect with an afternoon cup of tea. Enjoy, and I’ll be back with more savory and sweet recipes soon!

Aunt Hanna’s Cookies (Hannatädinkakut)
Adapted from The Great Scandinavian Baking Book by Beatrice Ojakangas

1/2 cup softened butter
1/2 cup sugar
2 cups cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup whipping cream
Sliced almonds or almond halves, for decoration

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and prepare your baking sheets by covering them with parchment paper. Cream butter and sugar in a mixing bowl until combined. In a separate bowl, stir together flour and baking powder, and gradually add the flour mixture to the butter and sugar. Add the cream and keep mixing until the dough comes together and stiffens. At this point, you can proceed if the dough is workable, otherwise chill for a little while.

To form the cookies, roll a teaspoon of dough into small bowls and place on the baking sheets, spacing them about an inch and a half apart. Gently press a few almond slices or a halved almond onto the top of each cookie, and bake until the cookies have set and barely started to turn golden. Allow to cool; the original recipe calls for cooling on the baking pan, but I removed mine to a wire baking rack immediately to keep the bottoms from browning too much.

Danish Blackberry-Lemon Slices

Danish Vienna Fingers Horizontal

They say that good friends listen. And if that’s the case, then I’m lucky to have Rika as a friend. I arrived at her house on Monday with a plate of cookies I had made over the weekend. As we sat sipping a latte and tea out of the largest mugs I’ve ever seen, she asked me about my cookies.

These are Danish Vienna fingers, I explained. And these are Finnish Aunt Hanna cookies, though I don’t know why they’re called that. And these are Norwegian brown butter cookies.

Finnish Aunt Hanna's Cookies

Though I’m paraphrasing here, you get the point; I was telling her what the cookies were called, as briefly as possible so as not to bore her with details about my baking exploits. But then can you guess what happened next? She asked questions to draw me out. She wanted to know about my cookies–really know about them. How are they made? What makes each what they are?

Now that, friends, is a good friend. But what’s even more amazing is that if the same logic holds true for this blog, then you are good friends too. You listen even as I I ramble about food-related childhood memories or giddily tell you about my recent visit to Tartine.

Norwegian Brown Butter Cookies

And with that, since I mentioned the cookies I brought to Rika’s house, let me tell you a little more about one of the varieties, the jam-filled ones pictured at the beginning of this post. Something about these cookies just tastes decadent. They’re pretty, but not ornate. The lemon really comes through, giving a lovely bright contrast to the deep richness of the blackberry jam. Although I’m sure it would undo anything traditional about these cookies, I can imagine all sorts of flavor combinations–lime and blueberry, orange zest and marmalade with an almond glaze, chocolate cookies with raspberry preserves, and the list goes on.

Since we’re talking about friendship and cookies, let me take the opportunity to say thank you for being here. Thank you for checking out what’s on this blog and coming back again and again. Each time you leave a comment and let me know that somehow something I’ve said has resonated with you, it makes my day. I wish I could share some of these cookies with you.

Danish Vienna Fingers

Danish Blackberry-Lemon Slices (or Danish Vienna Fingers / Wienerstänger)
These cookies are adapted, barely, from The Great Scandinavian Baking Book by Beatrice Ojakangas, which is one of the first Scandinavian cookbooks I purchased and still one of my favorites. Traditional and authentic, each recipe I’ve tried has been a success, and the author does a great job putting the recipes in context of the cuisines from which they come.

2/3 cup butter
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup blackberry jam
1 cup powdered sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice

To make the dough, cream butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl, and then beat in the egg until the mixture lightens. Add the lemon peel, flour, and baking powder, and beat until a dough forms, then chill the dough for about 30 minutes (this is a great time to clean up the kitchen if you, like me, are trying to get into the practice of cleaning while you go).

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and divide it into quarters, rolling each section into a 15-inch log and placing at least two inches apart on baking sheets. Using a long, flat object such as a knife or ruler, press down gently down the center of each log, creating a lengthwise groove (you’ll fill it soon with jam).

Bake the logs for 10 minutes, then remove and spoon the jam down the groove. Return to the oven and bake for about 10 more minutes, until the logs’ edges turn a pale golden color.

To make the icing, mix together the powdered sugar and lemon juice with a little bit of water. When you remove the cookies from the oven, let them cool a little and then drizzle them with the icing and cut the cookies diagonally into 3/4-inch cookies while still warm.

Experiencing Tartine… and Reminiscing at Home

Tartine Exterior

On New Year’s Eve I found myself standing in line outside the deep green door–a little chilled but hardly noticing it amidst the crowd of people and the sunny skies–perusing the menu at Tartine with one of my best friends. It was a spontaneous outing on the last day of a spur-of-the-moment trip to the Bay Area. Before my friend and I parted ways and I headed to the airport, we made one last trip into San Francisco to discover for ourselves what makes the breads and pastries at Tartine the stuff of legend.

Tartine Box

Taking stock of the inventory is difficult when you’re moving along the line in one of the nation’s most esteemed bakeries at the pace and density of rush-hour traffic yet feel the need to order rapidly when it’s suddenly your turn. Matters get even more difficult when the man behind you breathes down your neck as he scooches in closer to visually grope the famous pastries. (I still feel a little guilty making my friend run interference–in the end it was her neck being breathed upon. Sorry, Sarah.)

Tartine Croque Monsieur

In the end I opted for a frangipane tart filled with almond cream and blueberries, a croque monsieur with shitake mushrooms, and a solitary chocolate salted rye cookie. I could gush on and on about each item–and I will over at Nooks & Cranberries, when Sarah and I write our Destination Inspiration review in the coming weeks–but for now I will focus on the cookie.

Wanting to taste a range of Tartine’s products while avoiding gluttony prompted me to order just one of those chocolate salted rye cookies, but looking back on it, that was a mistake. The flavor–not too sweet, not too salty, with an earthy undertone bringing it all together–warranted sharing a bit with each of the adults in our party. That tiny cookie was divided quickly into four little morsels, which we savored while sipping our house wine–a Côtes du Rhône, which, I might add, was a delicious steal at $5.50.

On the topic of rye, it turns out that Tartine has a connection to Scandinavia, with Chad Robertson taking cues from his time getting to know Scandinavian farmers and bakers and their wheats and ryes and techniques. (You can read more about it here.)

Chocolate Salted Rye Cookies

It’s rare to find a cookie–or dessert for any matter–that my husband raves about, so when I do, I try to recreate it at home. It sometimes takes a little bit of effort, as most things worthwhile do, but I got this one almost right away. While nothing compares to the excitement of standing in line at Tartine and contemplating what to order, the cookies I’m about to share with you are a fine way to relive a little bit of that experience while back at home in Seattle. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

Chocolate Salted Rye CookiesChocolate Salted Rye Cookies
To create cookies inspired by Tartine, I used this recipe as a guide; although the original recipe looks and tastes nothing like this one, it is equally delicious if you like the idea of baking with rye.

2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt, plus 1 teaspoon for topping
2 cups whole (dark) rye flour
1/2 cup cocoa
1 1/2 tablespoons demerara sugar

Cream butter and the granulated sugar together in the large bowl of an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add egg and 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt, continuing to beat until combined. In a separate bowl, stir together the rye flour and cocoa, then gradually beat into the batter, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a spatula as you go. (The dough will be thick and sticky, so this may take a few minutes.) Cover the dough and refrigerate; an hour would probably be sufficient, but if you choose to chill it overnight as I did, remove it from the refrigerator about a half an hour before you plan to start baking.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking pans with parchment paper. Shape the dough into 3/4-inch to 1-inch balls then flatten each slightly with your hand and place them about 1 inch apart on the parchment paper.

In a small bowl, combine the demerara sugar with the remaining teaspoon of kosher salt. Sprinkle the mixture over the entire top of each cookie.

Bake for about 16 minutes. Immediately remove the cookies from the baking pans and allow to chill on a wire rack.

Pepperkakor? No, Homemade Graham Crackers!

Homemade-Graham-Crackers

On one hand, my son is a discriminate eater (he’s too young to be labeled picky, as he’s still learning about flavors and textures). But on the other, he’s showing signs of becoming quite a food-lover, just like his mama. I have to be careful in the kitchen, as he zeroes in on the cinnamon and the large plastic bottle of vanilla extract, opening the baking cupboard, finding those two containers, and carrying them around. Out of all the substances that children have spilled on their train sets, I would suspect that vanilla extract has rarely been one of them, except in our house.

The other day when I was rolling out a batch of homemade graham crackers for him, he reached forward from his high chair–which I had positioned so he could “help” me make the crackers–and swiped some of the dough. He truly is his mother’s son. And he liked it. Then he swiped more. Before I knew it, I was actually handing some of it to him–and eating some myself. It contained no egg, after after all.

I realized that since I was cutting the dough into snowflakes, these crackers would be a nice alternative to the abundance of cookies offered this time of year (they look remarkably like h). Of course, one should be able to eat cookies–don’t get me wrong, it is Christmastime after all–but I enjoy them most when I consider them a treat, something to be enjoyed on occasion. For those times when one just wants a little snack, these crackers have a delicious slightly-sweet flavor that’s reminiscent of the graham crackers I used to eat out of a box, with a crunch that’s just right. But I know exactly what’s gone into them, so I have no reservations when feeding them to my son. And with a fun shape such as a snowflake, what’s not to love?

Homemade Graham Crackers
Adapted from Weelicious

1 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup unsalted butter, chilled and cut into cubes
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine dry ingredients in a food processor. Add butter and continue to pulse until you have a mixture with a consistency resembling coarse meal. Add honey and water and continue to mix until well combined.

Shape the dough into a disk and roll between two pieces of parchment paper until it’s 1/4-inch thick. Cut into simple rectangles or get creative with fun cookie cutters. Place the crackers on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and bake for 15 minutes. Remove and place the crackers on a wire rack to cool; they will continue to firm up while they cool.

Store in a covered container at room temperature.

From My Childhood: Scandinavian Almond Bars

Scandinavian Almond Bars

As you know, I’ve been thinking a lot about traditions over the past few months. It started with the onset of autumn, which seems to be the most sensual of the seasons, with its crisp, quiet mornings and spice-laden drinks. A wealth of pears resulted in a few being sliced and used to line the base of a Swedish chocolate cake while rest of them simmered on the stove, breaking down into a luscious, sweet sauce with the right amount of sweetness and a pale pink hue.

Thanksgiving is still a week away, yet my focus has already transitioned from autumn to Christmas as I come up with ideas for holiday baking, block out periods of time to pick out a Christmas tree and celebrate holiday-season birthdays, and make a list of traditions I want to be sure to nurture.

One of those traditions is baking with my mom and grandmother. We’ve always baked together, ever since I was a child, but as time has gone on, the focus has shifted from Grandma being the primary baker with everyone else providing support to Grandma teaching us the tricks of the trade as she strives to pass on a lifetime of baking knowledge and expertise to the later generations who want to learn.

Scandinavian Almond Bar

While we bake together throughout the year, the holiday season is a particularly important time, as we list the traditional treats our family has enjoyed throughout the years. My goal this year is to get through as many of them as possible–both to give Grandma the opportunity to bake them again, and to give my mom and me the experience and memories of baking these alongside such an amazing woman as my grandmother.

During one recent baking session, we tried out some old family recipes we hadn’t made in a long time. One of them was for Scandinavian almond bars. I remember baking these  when I was a child, joining my mom in the kitchen while we mixed the batter and rolled the cookies into logs before baking, then cut them into slices and drizzled them with icing. They were flavored with almond extract, and just the thing to satisfy a young Norwegian’s tastebuds.

Scandinavian Almond Bars

I’m not absolutely positive where the original recipe came from, aside from remembering a large, full-page photo of the cookies in a spiral-bound cookbook. My mom also has a copy of the recipe that came from a friend once upon a time. They’re all over the internet too, and seem to have an origin with Taste of Home. When we made them recently, we compared notes between two slightly different versions. Now we have a master list of ingredients. That’s one of the things I love about our baking tradition–as we work through recipes, we’re taking notes and compiling the recipes all in one place with plans to create a family recipe book. It’ll be fun to see what ends up in the collection–family classics such as these almond-flavored cookies, to be sure, but perhaps some new ones as well.

What cookies or bars do you do you still make from your childhood?

Scandinavian Almond Bars
Adapted slightly from a variety of sources; if you know where the original comes from, let me know!

For the cookies:
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoons salt
Milk, enough for brushing on the dough
1/2 cup sliced almonds

For the icing:
1 cup confectioners sugar
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1-2 tablespoons milk

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Prepare the cookies by creaming the butter sugar and butter in a large bowl until light and fluffy. Add the egg and extract and mix until combined. Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt, and add to the batter, mixing until incorporated.

Turn out dough onto your work surface and shape into a ball. Divide it into fourths, then roll each section into a log about a foot long. Divide the logs between two cookie sheets. Using the palm of your hand, flatten the dough out until the log is an even 3 inches wide. Brush each log with milk and sprinkle on the almonds.

Bake until the edge start to tun golden, about 12 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool slightly, until still warm but cool enough to work with. Cut the cookies diagonally into slices 1 inch thick, and then transfer to wire racks and let cool completely.

Meanwhile, make the icing by combining the confectioner’s sugar, almond extract, and milk in a small bowl until smooth. Drizzled over the cooled cookies.

Makes about 4 dozen cookies.

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Cooking Up the Past

In the years since I started Outside Oslo, I’ve taken not only to cooking Scandinavian food in general but also to preparing some of my family’s old recipes. When it comes to learning about my family’s history, genealogy seems a bit daunting, at least at the moment, but preserving memories and history through food just requires some enjoyable time spent in the kitchen. I wrote about my experience in my latest column in the Norwegian American Weekly, and included a recipe for Grandma Agny’s Bryte Havrekaka (oatmeal cookies).

Grandma Agny–my dad’s mom–gave few recipes to us. Among those I wish I had are her raspberry jam, various cookie recipes–including the one I’m documenting the search for here–and rice pudding. I have found a few recipes, however, in an old church cookbook, including one for Bryte Havrekaka. With just four ingredients–oatmeal, sugar, butter, and an egg–these cookies are much different from the chewier, denser American oatmeal cookies. These are at once decadent and delicate, with the flavors of the oats and the butter being allowed to shine. Click over to the Weekly for the story and recipe!

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