Norwegian Christmas Cookies: Fattigmann


Gathering the dough into a ball, I inhaled the scent of the cardamom and butter, warm in my hands. Like all those memories from my childhood, the feelings stirring in my heart filled me with a sense of love, a security in belonging.

My family’s roots burrow deep into Norwegian and Norwegian-American history. With a dad who immigrated as a preteen and a mother who’s also Norwegian, by way of North Dakota, the culture and heritage of my family’s past was as familiar to me as the sandwiches, salads, pizza and burgers that were part of my American childhood. Though I could identify many of the flavors and treats as Norwegian–probably because they came directly from my grandmothers–I knew them well. I loved the flavors, too, even though it would take many years to realize just how special they were. Today, I keep an empty spice jar in my office. Recently containing cardamom, it was too precious to discard it when I replaced the spent stash. A whiff of nostalgia awaits, with the unscrewing of the cap.

I write about Norwegian food (and if you’re new around here, that’s where I’ve directed my energy as a former news journalist turned food writer) because I believe with all my heart that one of the most profound ways we can show love and extend hospitality and acceptance with those around us is at the table. I never could have realized as a child at any of those family dinners that I was receiving a gift–one of unconditional love and of selfless hospitality, of my Norwegian-American heritage, and of my family itself. But I felt it in my heart. When I was mature–or perhaps wise–enough to realize it, I discovered a truth that I will always cherish.



So today I bring you a recipe for fattigmann, a cardamom-scented Norwegian cookie that somehow brings all those memories of childhood back with just its aroma. To many, fattigmann–which can be translated as “poor men”–are an essential part of Christmas, a requisite member of the syv slags kaker, or seven sorts of Norwegian Christmas cookies. These represent an important element of the baking tradition in that they’re fried. Norwegian Christmas cookies fall into three camps: baked (like Berlinerkranser and pepperkaker), cooked on irons (like krumkaker and goro) and fried (like fattigmann, smultringer, and rosettes).

Though they’re known as fattigmann amongst Norwegians, people in other Nordic countries know cookie, or crullers, of this type as klenäter, klejner, kleina, and kleynur. I could go on about the history and cultural context–and I will someday–but for now, I’m hoping that the personal and familial significance resonates with and perhaps inspires you. Because it’s never just about the food. We need to eat for sustenance, sure. But I think that those of us with Scandinavian-American backgrounds (including those who appreciate the culture for other reasons) value the food of our heritage because it reminds us where our families have come from. It prompts memories of special times and people in our lives. No matter what those recipes or dishes are for you, I’m hoping that I’ll inspire you to make some of those and to reflect on the people you cherish.


As with many of the Norwegian Christmas cookies, you’ll want to plan ahead for these: Mix up the dough on one day, fry the cookies the next. Ideally you’ll use a fattigman roller (available at Scandinavian supply stores and online), although you can use a pastry wheel as well. As for the Cognac, if you have it, then go ahead and use it. Bourbon will also work in a pinch.

5 egg yolks
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup whipping cream
1-2 Tb Cognac or brandy
1 3/4 cups flour
1/2-1 teaspoon freshly-ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon 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, cardamom, salt 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.

When you’re ready to make the fattigmann, 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. I find that it’s helpful to hold one end up and give it a slight shake to let gravity gently elongate the dough before placing it in the hot oil.

Heat about two inches of oil to 350-375 degrees in a heavy pan. Working in batches so they fit in a single layer, fry the fattigmann, 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. These are best the day they’re made.


Celebrating a Family Tradition in Nordic Design’s Christmas Magazine

Nordic Design Christmas Magazine 2013 Cover

One of my favorite holiday traditions is baking with my grandma and mom. Each November we start a months’ long routine of gathering in the kitchen to bake through our family’s traditional recipes. There’s lefse, krumkaker, sandbakkelse, and much, much more. I had the opportunity to share a little about the tradition–along with my grandma’s recipe for sandbakkelse–in Nordic Design’s Christmas magazine this year (find my story on pages 73-76). In addition to my story and some other great recipes, editor Catherine Lazure-Guinard has put together a great compilation of gift suggestions, ideas for decorating, and more. I hope you’ll check it out as you prepare for your Scandinavian Christmas this year!

My Article in Nordic Design Christmas Magazine 2013

Recipe in Nordic Design Christmas Magazine 2013

Images are screenshots from the magazine. Read the story–and check out the whole issue–here.

Family Classics: Grandma Adeline’s Pizzelles

Pizzelles on Spring PlateFor some unknown reason, actually probably for no reason at all, I haven’t written often enough here at Outside Oslo about a rather important part of my life. Maybe it’s because it’s easier to distill a recipe than an integral part of life down to a blog post, but I haven’t told you enough at all about my regular baking sessions with Grandma Adeline. It’s about time I change that.

Stacks of Pizzelles

For years, Grandma has been passing down culinary and baking traditions to my mom and me. We meet regularly throughout the year–weekly during Christmastime, a little less at other times of the year depending on the season–and we bake our way through family classics. We make lefser, potato dumplings, krumkaker, and sandbakkelser. We talk, we drink wine and eat appetizers, and we bake.

Ostensibly, the goals are to learn and to have an abundance of cookies and other baked goods on hand. But the motive for me is more in the experience. I have the privilege of baking with my 94-year-old grandmother, learning the recipes and techniques that she gleaned from a lifetime as a Norwegian-American who worked in restaurants both in North Dakota and in Seattle.

Cup of Coffee with Pizzelles

Stacks of Pizzelles

Last week we made a batch of pizzelles. Though far from the Norwegian and American recipes that comprise most of Grandma’s cooking repertoire, these anise-flavored Italian cookies have been part of our family’s cookie trays for decades. Grandma tells me that this particular recipe comes from the 1940s when she worked at a restaurant in North Dakota. Grandma’s old spiral notebook with browning pages includes her handwritten list of ingredients and instructions for this recipe. I’ve adapted it here only so much as to elaborate on the somewhat sparse instructions–written for someone who instinctively knew what to do–and add specific notes on quantities for the flavorings, which Grandma left somewhat vague in her original notes.

Pizzelles and CoffeeTins full of these cookies are sitting in my house right now, and they are a welcomed accompaniment to coffee. With a delicate anise flavor and a light, crisp crunch, I can’t imagine anyone saying no to these, even after the heartiest and most substantial of dinners. In my family, they were a staple at Christmastime, but I don’t see why they can’t be enjoyed year-round.

Scattered PizzellesGrandma Adeline’s Pizzelles

6 eggs
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup margarine, at room temperature
3 1/2 cups flour*
4 teaspoons baking powder
2 tablespoons pure anise extract**
2 1/4 teaspoons anise seed**

Beat eggs until fluffy. Add sugar gradually, beating until smooth. Add margarine and stir. Combine flour and baking powder, then add to the egg mixture and beat until fully incorporated. Add anise extract and anise seed and stir to mix. Dough will be sticky enough to drop by spoonful on the iron.

Heat pizzelle iron. When ready to bake, drop dough by teaspoonfuls onto the iron, close and cook until golden. Transfer immediately to your work surface and repeat with the remaining dough. Store in airtight containers.

*Grandma measures the flour, sifts it, then measures it again with the scoop method, filling the cup lightly and shaking it to ensure the proper amount. She reserves the remaining flour in case the dough needs a little more.

**These are the quantities we used, and they give a delicate, pleasant anise flavor. Next time we’re going to try adding a little more–perhaps 2 1/2 tablespoons extract and 3 teaspoons anise seed. If you like the taste of anise you might want to add a little more too, or just try it as it’s written, which is certainly delicious.