Passing on the tradition of holiday baking

When I was young, my family had our traditional favorites we baked every year, molasses kringles, cinnamon sticks, Mexican wedding cakes and sugar cookies. We were not of Scandinavian heritage, so we did not bake the butter cookies so familiar on...

When I was young, my family had our traditional favorites we baked every year, molasses kringles, cinnamon sticks, Mexican wedding cakes and sugar cookies. We were not of Scandinavian heritage, so we did not bake the butter cookies so familiar on Northland holiday platters, but we enjoyed them every Christmas just the same.

Our neighbor and grandmother substitute, Elsie Wicklund, always gave us a tin of her famous Berlina kranser, the pretty wreaths topped with sparkly, crushed sugar. Her best friend, Vi Boya, was known for sandbakkels, and my Mom always kept a few of these hidden from us to put out on her cookie plate when we had company for the holidays.

My mother also bought krumkaka, the thin, crispy rolled delicacy, from an elderly Norwegian man who came into the drug store where she worked and sold them every Christmas. She would buy a paper grocery bag full of cookies for $2. These disappeared immediately, despite my mom's best efforts to save some for company.

When I was in college, I realized if I were to keep these cookie traditions alive, I had best learn from the experts, so my mom and I spent several Saturday afternoons baking Berlina kransers with Elsie. She was very particular, and would holler at us if our wreaths were too big, or the sugar was sloppy. I had her recipe down after the first afternoon, but it has taken me years to perfect her technique.

When I got married, I asked my Norwegian mother-in-law to teach me how to make fyrstekaka, the delicious almond cake that is a traditional Scandinavian treat. She bought me my first spring-form pan, which I still use more than 20 years later, and showed me how to roll out the dough and save half to weave over the almond filling for its distinctive top crust.


I was puzzled when I looked at the recipe she gave me after that first baking lesson. It was all in Norwegian, and the measurements were in metric. It has taken me years to decipher that recipe, but fyrstekaka is now a tradition at my house on Christmas Eve, one my non-Norwegian brother looks forward to every year, (but, truth be told, it is best with coffee in the morning).

Because many of the best holiday baking traditions are complex, it is best to learn from the experts, or at least with friends who can help figure out old recipes that have little or no directions. My sisters-in-law agree, so every December, we pick a weekend and gather at one of our homes, with our daughters, for cookie baking weekend. It is a tradition we have been honoring for years now, and our girls have learned the lessons of good baking. They have the recipes for great holiday cookies to pass on to the next generations.

While we have met at different homes over the years, we all prefer to bake at my cabin on the south shore of Lake Superior, in my kitchen with a large counter and vast views of the lake.

We all have to travel, and we arrive with Kitchen Aid mixers, cookie sheets and cooling racks, pounds of butter, real vanilla and cardamom. Someone always brings a big pot of something, chili, spaghetti sauce or stew, and Friday night we eat, drink wine and plan our baking strategies.

We get up early Saturday and still in our flannels, coffee in hand, begin mixing up dough. We use recipes from my mother-in-law, old friends, and from Bea Ojakangas' "The Great Scandinavian Baking Book." It has become our bible, since many of the best cookie bakers from our past have passed on.

Most Scandinavian cookies use the same basic ingredients, flour, butter, sugar and eggs, so it is easy to mix up one batch after another with little cleanup in between. One trick we have learned over the years, label each batch, because Berlina kranser dough can look an awful lot like sandbakkel dough when wrapped in plastic and sitting on a shelf in the fridge.

We usually get several double batches done in the first few hours of baking. Our record: four pounds of butter mixed into cookie dough before 10 a.m.

Then we start baking, and knock off the sugar cookies first. Even with an army of helpers, it still takes hours to make, bake and decorate a few dozen painted cookies.


Sandbakkels are also very labor intensive, but our daughters have become experts at pressing small balls of dough into the pretty, fluted cookie forms. We like Bea Ojakangas' recipe with ground almonds, she calls them almond tarts, but we make Grandma Janna's traditional recipe as well. Getting them out in one piece is another challenge, but over the years, we have learned to be patient. Cool cookies come out of the tins with ease.

We also make molasses kringles, struggle and swear every year with the spritz gun, and try to throw in a new recipe every now and then.

By late-afternoon, several dozen cookies have been made. Along about the time we start stacking cookies in our tins, someone sneaks into the fridge and opens a bottle of champagne, another cookie baking tradition.

We usually have a batch or two to finish baking Sunday morning and by the end of the weekend, we each have enough cookies to last us through the holidays -- but I always have to make extra krumkaka. Just like when I was a kid, they just seem to disappear.

We have fun, laugh quite a bit, and teach our daughters, and sometimes boy cousins and dads who come to help, that traditions started long before us deserve to be passed on for years to come.

Here are a few of our favorite recipes.

Grandma Janna's Sandbakkels

1&1/2 cup butter


1 cup sugar

1 egg

1 teaspoon cardamom

4 cups flour

Cream butter and sugar until fluffy, add egg, then flour and cardamom. Chill dough for 30 minutes, or longer.

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.

Take a small piece of dough and press into fluted sandbakkel forms, (available at Scandinavian import stores). Use your thumb to press the dough to the top of the form and make sure all dough is even. Don't make it too thick on the bottom.

Bake filled forms on a cookie sheet until lightly golden brown, about 10 to 12 minutes.


Turn upside down on cooling racks. Gently squeeze the edges to remove cookies from the forms.

Marion's Krumkaka

If you have eaten krumkaka, you are no doubt addicted to them. They are delicious and because they disappear almost as fast as you can make them. If you are serious about this cookie, invest in an electric krumkaka iron. The single, metal irons that bake one cookie at a time over a stove burner are quaint, but they are a lot of work, and it is hard to get consistent heat and not burn the cookies.

Electric irons make two at a time, with consistent heat, and all the cookie bakers in my group have purchased one. They are available at Scandinavian import stores and are worth it. They come with recipe booklets, but this one comes from my mother-in-law's friend, Marion Cochrane, who was the top krumkaka maker in Eau Claire, Wis., when my husband was

growing up.

4 eggs

1 cup sugar

1&1/2 cup flour


1 stick butter, melted

2 tablespoons cornstarch

1 teaspoon vanilla

Beat eggs, add sugar, flour, cornstarch mix well. Add melted butter last.

Use 1 teaspoon batter per cookie in a krumkaka iron. If batter gets too thick, thin with milk or half-and-half. Roll hot cookies on wooden dowel.

LeRoux Molasses Kringles

It seems many families have a variation of this recipe. This one has been in my family for years and has been adopted by the bakers in my husband's family as well.

3/4 cup butter


1 cup sugar

1/4 cup molasses

1 egg

sift together

2 & 1/2 cup flour

1 teaspoon soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon cloves

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon ginger

Cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Add egg and molasses, then flour mixture.

Chill dough for 30 minutes or longer. Roll into balls and dip into sugar. Use red and green sugar at Christmas. Press down with a fork, cookie press, or the bottom of a small cut glass pitcher or vase to make a pretty design.

Bake at 350 degrees for 10 to 12 minutes, or until the tops begin to crack.

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