Sirupssnipper; a spiced and uniquely shaped Norwegian Christmas cookie

Have you ever wondered what exactly the origins of Christmas cookies are? And perhaps, even more specifically, the traditional Norwegian Christmas cookies?

Many of the cookies we bake today weren’t even Christmas cookies originally.

By the 19th century, ovens were commonplace in almost every household in Norway.  This is also when cookbooks were written and published for the general masses, the term “Christmas cookie” was originated and the list of which cookies to bake for the holidays was formed and started to look like the ones we have today.

The Christmas cookies we have today can be divided into three categories:

The oldest cookies we know are the “iron” cookies.  They are baked in different irons, like goro and krumkaker.  It’s unclear how long these irons have been used in Norway, but in Europe we can trace it back to the 15th century.

Another form of cookies are the “smult”, or lard, cookies, like smultringer and fattigmann.  Lard cookies most likely stem all the way back to the Middle Ages. Fattigmann arrived in Norway and the end of the 18th century, or beginning of the 19th century.  The name is misleading, (fattigmann translates to “poor man”) because the ingredients to bake the cookie were both expensive and exclusive.

The last type of cookies are the ones that require an oven to bake them. Pepperkaker, sirupssnipper, berlinerkranser and sandkaker are in this category, and they arrived in Norway around the 17th century.  Before ovens were commonplace in people’s homes, these kind of cookies had to be bought in bakeries or were made on farms that had big ovens.

Today I wanted to give you my family recipe for sirupssnipper, which of course, I’ve veganized.  They are a unique looking triangular shaped cookie that uses a specific pastry wheels to arrive at the jagged edges.  Of course, no self-respecting Norwegian Christmas cookie is without an almond, which is placed whole in the center.

Sirupssnipper was a staple in my childhood home in Norway growing up, my mom always had dozens and dozens of them, and they were always part of the multi-layered cookie tray.  This is also the first time I’ve covered them on my blog, so I’m excited to bring you my version!

Happy baking and as always, let me know what you think if you decide to give them a try!

 

SIRUPSSNIPPER (vegan)

1 1/4 cup (250 g) sugar

2 sticks (200 grams) vegan butter

2 tbsp ground flax seeds mixed with 6 tbsp water (2 flax ‘eggs’)

1 cup (250 g) light syrup

1/2 tsp ground black pepper

1/2 tsp ground ginger

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp ground cloves

1 1/4 tsp baking soda (or if you have “hjortetakk salt add 1/4 tsp of that plus 1 tsp baking soda)

about 1 lbs (500 grams) flour

a scant cup (100 grams) blanched almonds

a little non-dairy milk for brushing the cookies

Directions:

Whisk the sugar and vegan butter  until light and fluffy in a standmixer. Add the flax eggs.
In a small pot, gently heat up the syrup, mix in the spices and add to the sugar-butter mixture and fold in.  Finally, add in the baking soda and flour until you have a firm dough.   Cover the dough and place in fridge for several hours, preferably overnight.

Prepare a couple of cookie sheets, lined with parchment paper or lightly oiled.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (180 degrees Celcius).

Roll out the dough until it’s about 1/2 inch thin.  Using a ruler and a ribbed pastry wheel, cut out cookies into triangles, about 2 1/2 ” x 2 1/2″ (5x5cm) in size.  In Norway you have a special cookie cutter called trinsle that cuts on these triangles for you:

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Place a blanched almond in the center of each cookie and brush them with a little non dairy milk:

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Bake the cookies in the oven for 5 minutes.  The cookies will keep about a week in an airtight container preferably made of metal and stored in a cool, dark place.

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Homemade caramels to bring you holiday happiness

Most of the time I’m happy to share the recipes I come up with on the blog, but this time there was something in me that thought I should just keep this one a secret and perhaps profit off of starting a caramel business. The caramels came out that good.  I didn’t exactly re-invent the wheel with my recipe, however I was just amazed at how amazing the caramels turned out, and no “real” butter or cream was used.

You might ask “why bother making my own caramels when I can buy delicious ones in the store? I’m here to tell you: bother. There’s nothing more satisfying than to see that sugary liquid turn into a golden brown and the liquid magically transform into chewy, delightful caramel.  Making your own candy for the holidays is magical; it brings extra joy to the house and since it’s not perfect looking or uniform in size, extra charming too!

I used my tried and true Earth Balance for butter and to replace the heavy cream I used full fat coconut milk. For those of you who are not crazy about coconut don’t fret, there is absolutely no coconut flavor left in the finished product, only the creamy, rich thickness reminiscent of cream.

Norwegians have a love for many things caramel flavored.  Of course we have the best chocolate covered caramel candy, but there is also “karamellpudding”, our flan /creme caramel/creme brulee, and all kinds of caramelized almonds and fudge we put on our decadent cakes.

During Christmas,  it’s customary in many homes to make your own caramels. It wasn’t in my house growing up, but it’s a tradition I’m happy to adopt.  While I’m not one to eat candy on a weekly basis, I allow myself a little extra during the holidays and I also think it makes for a wonderful gift.  Personally I find it much more touching to get a gift that somebody took time out to make rather than get a gift gard or some other no name present. Then again, it’s also the thought that counts …

You can flavor the caramels with chocolate, vanilla, cardamom and anything else you desire… I decided to just make them plain this time and topped them with some coconut flakes and walnuts.  Yum!

For the below recipe you will need 2 sauce pans; a smaller 2 quart pan (2 liters), and a larger 4 quart (4 liter) pan., as well as a candy thermometer or an instant thermometer you can read the temperature of the sugar mixture. This is important for the success of the recipe!  Here’s my candy thermometer at work:

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VEGAN CHRISTMAS CARAMELS

1 x 13 oz (about 400g) can full fat coconut milk

4 tablespoons vegan butter

1/4 tsp salt

1 1/2 cup (3.5 dl) organic sugar

1 cup (2.5dl) organic light brown sugar

heaping 1/3 cup (1 dl) organic light corn syrup

1/4 cup water

1 tsp vanilla extract or vanilla pasta

Directions:

Dress an 8×8  baking dish with parchment paper, leaving some paper hanging over the edges. Brush the paper with a little oil and set aside.

Heat the coconut milk, butter, and salt in the 2-quart saucepan until the butter melts. Remove from heat.

Combine the sugar, corn syrup, and water in the larger 4-quart saucepan, and stir until the sugar is blended in and you have a thick grainy paste.  Clip the instant-read thermometer to the side of the pan so that the heat sensor is immersed in the sugar. Don’t stir the sugar after this point.  (Note:  The sugar will bubble up and increase in volume when you add the cream which is why you use a larger pan.)

Place the pot with the sugar mixture over medium to medium-high heat.  Let the sugar syrup come to a boil without stirring.   When the syrup reaches anywhere between 250°F and 325°F (125-165 degrees Celcius), turn off the heat and carefully pour in the coconut milk-butter mix while whisking. Once it has been added, return the pan to medium-high heat and let the caramel come to a boil without stirring.   Remove from heat when caramel reaches about 245-250 Fahreneheit (120-125 degrees Celcius) and quickly whisk in the vanilla before pouring the caramels into the prepared baking pan.

Place the caramels aside for at least a couple of hours or overnight.  Once the caramels have cooled down, you can cover the pan.  When the caramels have set you can remove it from the pan and peel off parchment paper and using a sharp knife, cut into small squares.  Top with anything you desire. Store in an airtight container – keeps for about 2 weeks (but I doubt they will last that long!).

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Peppernøtter; a Norwegian Christmas cookie with a deceiving name

Continuing my yearly holiday series of Norwegian cookies, I realized I have never shared my recipe for these delightful, two-bite sized cookies called peppernøtter.  Perhaps it’s not a coincidence, as they are a bit anonymous compared to the other famous seven kinds we insist on including in our baking repertoire every Christmas.  Which again is ironic, because they are just like potato chips; you can’t stop at just one!

Peppernøtter are in many ways similar to gingerbread cookies, or pepperkaker, as we call them in Norwegian.  I read somewhere it can be described as a smaller, angrier version of pepperkaker, which made me laugh.  Filled with the warming holiday spices of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and clove with a healthy dose of black pepper, they are positively addictive and easier to bake than pepperkaker.  While they may not be as popular as their cousin, they are certainly not less delicious.

Peppernøtter are also more doughy as opposed to crispy, and have a savory element to them which makes you not feel too guilty if you happen to eat them for breakfast… hey, I will definitely not judge you!

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The name of this cookie is quite deceiving, as the recipe doesn’t call for nuts at all (nøtter means nuts in Norwegian).   The cookies were so called, because when they were created back in the 16th century they were made without baking powder and consequently they turned hard as nuts.  The generous addition of spices was not done only to add flavor to the cookies, but also to symbolize wealth and power, which was common in the Middle ages.  Still to this today, the aromas of cinnamon, ginger, clove and cardamom is what signify Christmas.

Old fashioned they may be, but peppernøtter remain incredibly popular among Norwegians to this day.   They are also super simple to veganize, because the original doesn’t contain nuts, and substituting plant based butter and milk is as easy as a walk in the park and produces the same flavor and texture as dairy products.

(Shameless plug and gift suggestion: If you are interested in seeing how Norwegian dishes can successfully be veganized, I highly recommend getting my latest ebook which is a collection of my favorite Norwegian  recipes from this blogg and beyond. Makes for a perfect gift too and will turn any skeptic into a believer if you thought meat, fish and dairy was necessary to create authentic tasting Scandinavian food)

Don’t forget to enjoy peppernøtter with a glass of gløgg, it is guaranteed to put you in the holiday spirit!

(P.S. they also make for a wonderful, edible gift! Just put them in mason jars and put a bow on it and voila, you’ve got a personalized, delicious Christmas present!)

VEGAN PEPPERNØTTER

Makes about 30 pieces

1 stick (113g) vegan butter (I used Earth Balance)

heaping 1/2 cup (150 grams) organic sugar

1/4 cup organic light corn syrup (50 ml)

1/4 cup (50ml)  coconut or soy based half and half

2 tsp ground cardamom

1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper

2 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tsp ground cloves

1 tsp ground ginger

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

2 cups (400 grams) all purpose flour (add more if dough looks wet)

Whisk together the butter, sugar and syrup in a small sauce pot and heat up until sugar is dissolved.  Add in the half and half, spices, baking powder, soda and flour and combine until you have a smooth dough.  Let rest in fridge for about an hour or so.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (180 degrees Celcius),  Dress two baking sheets with either a silpat or parchment paper.

Using a tbsp cookie scooper, roll out the dough pieces in the shape of a small ball and place on cookie sheets.  Lightly press them down with the back of a fork.

Bake for about 15 minutes until lightly golden on top.

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A Mackerel-less spread perfect for your smorgasbord

I’ve been speaking of and writing a lot about baking, cookies and cakes around the holidays as being a very big Norwegian tradition.  But what about the savory dishes? Don’t they get any love?

Of course. In fact, this time of year, long, leisurely breakfasts we call “julefrokost” are cherished (we’re talking hours),  and nobody does breakfast spreads better than the Norwegians.  Well, maybe the Swedes and Danes are up there too, I guess you can say we just love this meal in Scandinavia!  We love our open-face sandwiches and get very creative with the toppings.   Savory spreads are typically preferred over sweet, and one of the classics are “makrell i tomat”, or “mackerel in tomato sauce”.  These are sold in stores in cans and are widely popular.  The production of this product started in 1950s, and several surveys have shown this is one of the most preferred toppings in the country.  Even small kids love it and ask for it in kindergartens.

Here’s what the cans look like, Stabburet is one of the most widely sold brands:

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Fish for breakfast you might ask? Hmmm…  Well, I participated in this tradition for a long time, but now I choose to leave the fish alone, as our oceans are severely overfished and also heavily polluted. Fish that once might have been nutritious are now riddled with mercury, bacteria and a number of chemicals that have been linked to numerous health issues. Fish is high in cholesterol and most of the fat in fish is not heart-healthy, despite popular belief.  I’m sure I’ll step on many Norwegian toes now, as mackerel in tomato sauce has been touted as one of the healthiest things you can eat… Well the research and scientific proof is there… If you are concerned about the environment and the rapid depletion of our oceans, I recommend this site.   But I digress…

I long have wanted to re-create many of the traditional spreads I grew up eating, like liver pate (leverpostei) and smoked salmon with scrambled eggs which I’ve done successfully,  but I never thought I would be able to find a vegan recipe for ‘makrell i tomat’.

That is, until I came across the ingenious recipe from my friend and fellow Norwegian vegan food blogger, Jane Helen, who runs the widely popular blog Veganmisjonen.  Jane is one of the most inspiring, positive and creative cooks I know, and she has done more for the food world and vegan movement in Norway than perhaps anybody else thus far.

Jane graciously agreed to let me translate and re-print her recipe for the vegan faux mackerel in tomato sauce which she cleverly entitled “Sprell i tomat”.     She replaced the mackerel with sun-dried tomatoes and red kidney beans, and uses nori flakes to re-create the “fishy” taste in the spread.  Along with some tomato paste, and adding a salty taste with soy sauce, I can tell you the result is amazingly similar to the original!

Jane also recently released a fantastic cookbook all about vegan burgers, here I am with her book that she so kindly sent me as a present!

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I will be cooking up a storm from this book, and will blog about one particular Norwegian Christmas inspired dish soon.

If you don’t feel adventurous enough to try the faux mackerel for breakfast, I suggest offering this as a pate or spread at a holiday party with some bread or crackers if you want to serve something different than the typical hummus or pate.  I bet people will love it!

Click here for Janes original recipe if you would like to check it out (in Norwegian), and I highly recommend exploring the rest of her blog out too!

VEGANMISJONEN’S “FAUX MACKEREL” SPREAD  (Sprell i Tomat)

Makes about 1 quart

3.5 ounces (100 grams) sun-dried tomatoes

about 1 cup (2.5dl) boiling water

roughly 1/3 cup (50 grams) raw almonds

3-4 tbsp nori or dulse flakes (less if you want less fishy taste)

heaping 1/3 cup (100 grams) tomato paste

6 tbsp olive oil

2 tbsp soy sauce

2 tsp onion powder

2 tsp chopped chives

1 tsp smoked paprika

pinch of chili powder

3.5 ounces (100 grams) canned water chestnuts, drained

7 ounces (200 grams) canned red kidney beans, drained

Directions:

Place the sun-dried tomatoes in a bowl and cover with the boiling water. Let sit for 10-15 minutes.  Drain.

Add the nori/dulse flakes, almonds and drained sundried tomatoes to a food processor and roughly chop a few times. Don’t over process as you want texture to remain.

Dump the mixture into a bowl, and add the tomato paste, olive oil, soy sauce, onion powder, chives, paprika and chili powder and combine well.

Add the water chestnuts and beans to the food processor and roughly chop them by pulsing a few times. Add to the rest of the mixture, combine and you’re done!   The spread tastes even better if you leave it overnight in fridge so the flavors have a chance to blend.

Spread on your favorite whole grain bread  and enjoy for breakfast, lunch or an afternoon snack!

Jane Helen is a vegan food blogger originally from Telemark but resides in Oslo where she works full time blogging and teaching cooking lessons around Norway. She is the author of two books, Veganmat På Sitt Beste (Vegan Food the Best Way) and  Kjøttfrie Burgere (Meatless Burgers).

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Serinakaker; one of the original Norwegian Christmas cookies veganized

Serinakaker is regarded as one of the original, classic Christmas cookies in Norway and are classified as “småkaker” (small cookies).  These are small butter-sugar-flour cookies with a ruffled pattern, topped with sliced almonds and sugar and are known as many Norwegians’ favorite among all the Christmas cookies baked during the holidays. They have been baked for over 100 years in Norway.

The term “småkaker”was not put into use until the 19th century, when it became more common for people to bake and ovens were introduced to the common household.   Whereas the classic cookies I’ve been sharing over the holiday period are considered classic Norwegian, many of the cookies we bake today in fact originate from other countries.   I will write more about this topic in a future blog

Before the 1800s, mostly breads, flatbreads and lefse were baked, and around the holidays people didn’t skimp on all the decadent ingredients that were otherwise used sparingly, such as sour cream and the best flour you could get.  Barley and oat flour were most commonly used, but in cookies wheat or rye was needed, which traditionally had to be imported. After 1880,  people got access to inexpensive Russian flour and this stimulated the interest and tradition of baking cookies.

Serinakaker have a generous amount of butter, and the traditional version has eggs, but I subbed a cashew based yogurt and with great results.   Eggs really aren’t needed in baking, as I’ve mentioned many times before, as it merely acts as a binder. I’ve used everything from applesauce to mashed bananas,  ground flax or chia seeds mixed with water, silken tofu and cornstarch to bind batters and doughs with the same exact outcome as when I used eggs.

This recipe was inspired by my friend and colleague, Mari Hult, who I’ve mentioned before and has one of the best vegan food blogs in Norway called Vegetarbloggen.

Thanks, Mari for spearheading making all the wonderful Norwegian Christmas cookies accessible to those who either can’t consume dairy or eggs or choose to be vegan!

Biting into these cookies really brings back fond memories of sitting around the coffee table with family and friends in a cozy, candle lit Norwegian home, drinking coffee and enjoying this time of year.  I hope I can bring a little comfort to your home too with this recipe!

If you love Norwegian food and are interested in a book that has a collection of all the classic dishes, including cookies and cakes for the holidays, don’t forget to pick up a copy of my latest ebook which as my favorite recipes. You can purchase it HERE.

Otherwise, I hope you enjoy the serina cookies as much as I do, I would love to hear your thoughts!

NORVEGAN SERINAKAKER

Makes about 25 cookies

  • 1 stick plus 2 tbsp (150 grams) vegan butter, cubed and room temp
  • 9 oz / 2 cups (250 grams) all purpose flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract or vanilla paste
  • 1/2 cup (100 grams) organic sugar
  • 2 tbsp non dairy yogurt (I used Forager cashew yogurt)
  • 3 tbsp water
  • 1 tbsp potato or corn starch
  • 1/3 cup (1 dl) sliced almonds
  • 1/3 cup (1 dl) pearled sugar

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit (200 degrees Celcius).  Grease two cookie sheets with a little oil or dress them with parchment paper.
Place the flour and baking powder in a big bowl, and crumble in the room temperature vegan butter with your hands.  Add in the vanilla extract and sugar as well as the non dairy yogurt and combine until you form a dough. If it’s a little wet, you can add a touch more flour and/or sugar.

Divide the batter into two and roll each part gently out to “sausage” looking links. Divide each link into 10-12 pieces or more, roll them into small balls, and place on the prepared cookie sheets.

With the back of a fork, press lightly onto each ball to flatten them, making a nice pattern.  Mix the potato/corn starch with the water in a small bowl and brush the top of the cookies with the mixture. Sprinkle with almonds and sugar and bake in oven for 10-12 minutes until lightly golden.

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