11 Scandinavian Christmas Cookie Recipes
Sweetness and light
Across the sea, winter darkness cloaks frosty fjords and snow-capped glaciers. But Scandinavians (and their brethren who settled the upper Midwest) have an antidote for the long nights: sugar, spice and candlelight. Inspired by old-world flavors and traditions, our cookies will brighten your home and sweeten your holiday season.
According to Scandinavian folklore, mischievous red-capped tomtar or nisser (like the artfully iced ones on the wedges pictured) lived at every house, caring for farm animals or, in some tellings, leaving gifts. In return, the bearded elves asked only that a bowl of buttered julegrot (rice porridge) be left in the snow on Christmas eve.
Click ahead for recipes for the cookies pictured and other Scandinavian treats.
Rye flour lends whole-grain nuttiness to Finnish ruiskakut. The cookies are usually wreath shape, but we made triangle tomtar elves (shown on previous slide) and square picture-frame cookies.
To paint these little masterpieces, we mixed food coloring or gold luster powder (an edible, fabulously sparkly splurge sold at crafts stores) with vodka to make a paint to brush on Royal Icing. (We use vodka because it dries fast, but water would work.) A few tips: Use a small brush. Keep designs simple. Have fun—Jackson Pollock cookies look just as cool as Rembrandts.
￼Orange-Saffron Stamp Cookies
On Saint Lucia’s Day (December 13), Swedish girls don crowns of candles and serve coffee and rolls before dawn. The flickering flames and soft, saffron- tinted lussekatter buns warmly herald the Christmas season. Saffron also lends its sunny hue and floral flavor to our tender cookies. Press them with a stamp, a glass or a fork.
Ruby-red lingonberries grow in Scandinavia’s mountains, and sweet-tart jam made from the fruit is a regional staple. Our buttery cookies are crisp on the first day but soften as they meld with the preserves. (Lingonberry jam is available at some large supermarkets or online. You can use raspberry, too.)
Honey-Spice Waffle Cookies
Waferlike Norwegian krumkake cookies, made in an ornate press, inspired these waffle-maker treats. They have the best texture on the first day, so the recipe makes a small batch, just right for whipping up when friends and family visit.
Norwegian tosca cake layers caramelized almonds on sponge cake; a bar-cookie version swaps the cake for shortbread and has icing on top. We married the two and added our own gooey twist to these rich bars: buttery cookie crust, baked almond filling and warm caramel drizzle.
In Denmark, the golden kringle (pretzel) is an old guild symbol that often hangs outside bakeries. Our sweet version uses browned butter for deeper, nutty flavor.
Triple-Almond Haystack Wreath
Almond butter and extract, plus slivered nuts, flavor a sweet- and-salty, no-bake cookie that looks like woven straw ornaments. Make a big wreath to slice at parties or small ones for gifts. Or just drop haystack-style mounds.
Blueberry-Almond Fika Toasts
Wild blueberries thrive in Sweden, where fika refers to a midday break for coffee—often accompanied by a treat like these biscotti-style cookies. Like biscotti, these coffee-spice flavor cookies bake twice to crisp thoroughly—perfect for dipping in hot drinks.
The nose-tickling scents of ginger and clove float from ovens as pepparkakor bakes. Gingerbread is a Scandinavian holiday staple, with crisp cookies shaped into animals, hearts or petite cottage walls.
Our recipe yields cookies sturdy enough for houses but delicious for snacking in any shape. Whether you use a gingerbread house cookie cutter as we did or improvise, here are a few pro construction tips: Measure and trim the warm cookies for clean edges. Then decorate all pieces (walls, roof, chimney) separately and let them dry. Use soup cans or crumpled foil to support the joined walls from the inside as they dry, and wait until the walls are fully set to attach the roof. (Insert pins until the roof dries, if necessary.)
Ground almonds and cardamom transform the fudgy American classic. For wintry flair, use a cut-out paper snowflake as a powdered sugar stencil.
We traded Scandinavia’s beloved almonds for toasted hazelnuts in spice-kissed, six-ingredient drop cookies that look like little snowballs. We love these simple cookies plain, but if you want to dress them up, dip the bottoms of the cooled cookies in melted bittersweet chocolate.
Love our cookies? Here's our inspiration:
￼Read Before dreaming up these recipes, we consulted The Great Scandinavian Baking Book by Duluth resident Beatrice Ojakangas. It’s an outstanding guide to traditional Nordic breads, cookies and cakes ($19). upress.umn.edu
Shop We ordered our gingerbread house cutter ($12.50) and snowflake cookie stamp ($10) from Ingebretsen’s, a treasure trove of Scandinavian gifts and baking gear and a Minneapolis institution since 1921. (800) 279-9333; ingebretsens.com
Decorate Kansas paper artist Angie Pickman created most of the snowflakes, paper trees and luminaria featured in our photos. She has made similar pieces available for Midwest Living readers on her Etsy site. ruralpearl.etsy.com