Baking seven kinds of cookies for Christmas has long been a tradition in Norway. And why exactly seven, you ask? The number seven was regarded a lucky number in the old days, which is why people felt the need to fill their cake boxes with this many varieties. While the seven types vary from region to region and family to family, generally speaking they were smultringer, sandkaker, sirupssnippper, berlinerkranser, goro, krumkaker and fattigmann.
Today, the selection in people’s homes may look a little different as we don’t measure our happiness by how many types of cookies we have in our cookie boxes. Recipes have been updated to more modern or international palates (brownies, biscotti and Sarah Bernhardt cookies to name a couple of popular examples) while other old fashioned cookies have remained. What is most important is creating great childhood memories for our kids by spending time with them, making something fun and delicious, or baking with friends as a way of bonding, relaxing and getting away from the stress of every day life.
Image from spar.no
For my series of cookies this year I want to showcase what my family in Norway typically makes, as I think it’s a nice mix of both the old and the new, traditional and not so traditional. I will include non dairy alternatives in each recipe for those that are lactose intolerant and/or vegan.
Today I’m kicking off with “Julemenn”, literally translated as “Christmas Men” . These are for the most part made in the region of Sunnmøre where I am from, but they can also be seen in the eastern and southern part of Norway where they are called “kakemenn” (“cake men”). These are cookies traditionally meant to please the little ones as kids love participating in the making of these. The recipe is simple and the cookies are cut out in shapes resembling men, women, Christmas trees, reindeer, etc. and are painted with edible paint afterwards.
It’s a fun activity for the whole family and plus the children love the simple flavor of these. Christmas is simply not the same in my house without a tray of these on the table! They can be enjoyed plain (most common) or with a slice of cheese or some jam on top.
125 grams (roughly 1 stick) unsalted butter or margarine or vegan butter, melted and cooled
2 cups (or 5oo grams) granulated sugar
2 cups (5 dl) milk or plant based milk
2 tsp hornsalt (or baking soda if you can’t find hornsalt)
1 tsp ground cardamom (optional)
4 cups (or 1 liter) all purpose flour
Note: the dough is better if you leave it in a cold place overnight, before baking.
Combine butter, sugar, milk and half of the flour with the hornsalt and optional cardamom. Gradually add the rest of the flour until you have a firm, smooth dough of appropriate thickness. You may not need all the flour. Cover the dough with plastic and let rest in a cool spot for a couple of hours or overnight.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (175 degrees Celcius). Roll out the dough until it’s 1/2 cm (about 1/4 inch) thick.
Cut out shapes using cookie cutters of various shapes and place onto cookie sheets coated with cooking spray.
Let cookies bake for about 7 minutes – remove them before they get a golden color (they should be pale). They can easily become too dry so I typically take them out before I think they are done – don’t worry – they will continue to bake on the sheet after you remove them from the oven. Let the cookies cool completely before painting them with red, green and any other food color and decorative pattern of your choice! 🙂