We virtually never baked or had cookies around when I was growing up. I HATED this when I was little. (I thought my family was totally lame, and I pretty regularily snuck over to my friends’ houses to eat the treats they had.) The only cookie baking my mother ever did was Christmas cookies, which made the cookies super special. Now that I’m older, I’ve become more grateful for this. I did internalize the message that cookies are special treats, not something you have all the time – but I’m not going to lie, I still definitely eat them more often than once per year these days. I also learned how much harder it is to eat something that isn’t around, so I make a point of not baking regularly myself. I know the weakness of my own willpower! But, I also still make an exception for this time of the year, when I go home to Minnesota and right away begin to fill evenings with baking, churning out a variety of cookies (my grandmother apparently felt that you had to have at least six types of cookies to make a decent cookie tray, and so I find myself creaming bowl upon bowl of butter, sugar, and eggs. I kind of thought six was a lot, until a Christmas party I went to today where there were literally at least two dozen different kinds of cookies. Holy trays of sprinkles Batman! That’ll pretty much be the death knell for anyone’s attempt to not eat too many cookies in one sitting. It may also be the reason I’m awake writing at a time I generally consider to be way past bedtime. Mega sugar high – yes, I know there’s no serious scientific proof for the phenomenon of sugar highs, but tell that to me in an hour when I’m still awake…).
We’ve introduced a variety of interesting cookies to our repertoire over the years, though still none that take the patience to roll out and cut into shapes! However, we always include some of the traditional Norwegian cookies that also happen to be everyone’s favorites. I mean, hey, you can’t mess with perfection. And, though this blog is supposed to be more cooking focused than baking focused, since baking is way more of a science, well, ‘tis the season to share cookie recipes. So, I thought I would share my all time favorite, serinakaker, which are buttery vanilla thumbprints. The ingredients for these cookies are so incredibly simple, they belie the utter amazingness of the end product. The dough has to be made the day before baking and stand in the refrigerator overnight. This, I think, is what leads to the development of extra flavor. I also particularly enjoy making these because the entire process is not just done by hand, but actually with your hands. You have to get in there and mush all the ingredients together with your fingers and palms – I’m always a fan of literally getting in touch with your food. My recipe for these is scribbled in Norwegian, in an oooold notebook that is falling apart, and all the measurements are in metric. So, I’ve done my best to translate it into something more useable for others!
- 4 cups all purpose flour (500 grams)
- ½ tsp. baking powder
- 2 sticks plus 6 Tbs. room temperature butter (300 grams)
- 1 1/3 cups sugar (250 grams)
- 1 (or 2) egg, beaten
- 1 tsp. vanilla sugar (this is a vanilla flavored powdered sugar available in Scandinavian specialty stores) OR 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- egg white for brushing and pearl sugar or chopped almonds for decorating (or sprinkles, I suppose!)
- Blend the flour, baking soda, and butter together in a bowl until it looks kind of like sand, using your fingers to rub the butter into the flour. Next blend in the sugar with your fingers. Finally, add the egg and vanilla, still with your hands, and mush, smash, rub, and stir the dough together. If the dough seems too dry to pat together into a ball, add an extra egg.
- When it is thoroughly mixed, form it into a ball, cover it with plastic wrap and put it in the refrigerator over night. When you are ready to bake, let the dough warm up a bit, otherwise it will be nearly impossible to work with.
- Break off pieces of the dough, and roll them into balls that are about 1 to 1 ½ inches across, and put on cookie sheets. Once all the dough is made into balls, press your thumb into each to make an indentation. Most of the cookies will crack around the edges as you press into them. If they totally fall apart, just smash them up and roll them into new balls, but if there are just some cracks, that’s part of the look. Brush the tops of the cookies with an egg white to glaze (it’s best to have a pastry brush for this, but I also sometimes just dip my (clean) fingers in the egg white and use them to rub the cookies). Then sprinkle some pearl sugar into each indentation. Pearl sugar is a special type of sugar for decoration that looks like tiny white rocks, or something of the sort. If you can’t find any, you can also use finely chopped almonds, or sprinkles that you like to decorate with (though I wouldn’t recommend using flavored sprinkles).
- Bake the cookies at 350?F for 16 minutes until golden. Move to a cooling rack and allow to cool. These cookies are delicious with a cup of coffee in the afternoon, or a mug of hot spiced wine. However, they are the absolute very best as a snack while you’re out on the cross-country ski trails, if you happen to be a cross-country skier.