When it comes to Christmas cookies, the Scandinavians do it best. I continually find myself amazed by how a seemingly simple recipe can turn out so delicious, whether it yields the perfect balance of buttery and sugary flavors or a delicate crunch. Sandbakkels fit into both categories, with a flavorful, subtly-sweet dough and a finished product that needs to be handled carefully yet is sturdy enough to be packed into tins until Christmas.
Sandbakkels are the second cookie (the first was serinakaker) in my list of syv slag—seven sorts of Norwegian Christmas cookies–that I’m baking this year. These aren’t the sort of cookie you whip together and slice off chilled dough whenever you need a small portion of cookies to serve to last-minute guests. Rather, these must be made with patience and love, ideally in the company of someone special (in my case, my mom and grandma Adeline).
Each cookie must be carefully formed into a little tart-like shell (the molds are available at Scandinavian stores). While the process is time consuming, it’s simple once you get the hang of it.
The dough comes together like a typical cookie dough: Cream softened butter with a cup of sugar, then mix in an egg and flavoring. Add flour and salt and mix until the dough comes together and separates from the sides of the bowl, and then chill for a while.
The fun starts when it’s time to shape the cookies.
Here’s how to make them:
- To start, pinch off a little dough and roll into a ball about 3/4 of an inch in diameter.
- Place into the center of the mold, using your thumbs to flatten the dough into the mold.
- Rotating the mold as you go, work the dough out from the center of the mold and up the sides. You’ll want the dough on the bottom to be as thin as it can be while still holding up when baked.
- As you work, take special care at the ridge where the bottom connects to the side. Dough tends to collect here, and it’s easy to let this part be too thick. Delicately continue to work the dough from this ring up the sides.
- Using your hand, scrape off the excess dough from the top of the mold, and set aside while you form the rest of the cookies.
- When it’s time to bake, arrange the sandbakkels on a cookie sheet (if you’re using different shapes of tins, try to keep the like tins together in a batch so they cook evenly) and place in a preheated oven.
- Watch closely as the cookies bake, as they quickly go from done to overdone. When they’re just starting to take on a slightly golden hue, remove from the oven and take the molds off the cookie sheet to cool.
- Allow the cookies to cool for a while, and then carefully remove from the tins. This is done by inverting the molds onto your work surface and giving a little tap. The cookies should pop right out.
Some people serve sandbakkels as tarts, with fillings such as sweetened whipped cream and fruit preserves, while others serve them plain, arranging them upside down to showcase their shape.
My family has always preferred to serve them plain, as a cookie rather than a tart. How do you enjoy yours?
Adeline Halvarson’s Sandbakkels
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
Cream butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl until light and fluffy. Add egg and vanilla and almond extracts and stir until combined. Add flour and salt and mix until incorporated and the dough comes together. Gather the dough together, flatten into a disk, wrap in plastic, and chill for 15 minutes.
Shape cookies according to the details above, preheating oven to 375 degrees partway through the process.
Bake until cookies just start to take on a slight golden hue, then remove the tins from the cookie sheet and allow to cool. To remove cookies from tins, invert the molds and tap them on your work surface. The cookies should pop out easily
Yield: About 5 dozen cookies, depending on size of tins