As you know, I’ve been thinking a lot about traditions over the past few months. It started with the onset of autumn, which seems to be the most sensual of the seasons, with its crisp, quiet mornings and spice-laden drinks. A wealth of pears resulted in a few being sliced and used to line the base of a Swedish chocolate cake while rest of them simmered on the stove, breaking down into a luscious, sweet sauce with the right amount of sweetness and a pale pink hue.
Thanksgiving is still a week away, yet my focus has already transitioned from autumn to Christmas as I come up with ideas for holiday baking, block out periods of time to pick out a Christmas tree and celebrate holiday-season birthdays, and make a list of traditions I want to be sure to nurture.
One of those traditions is baking with my mom and grandmother. We’ve always baked together, ever since I was a child, but as time has gone on, the focus has shifted from Grandma being the primary baker with everyone else providing support to Grandma teaching us the tricks of the trade as she strives to pass on a lifetime of baking knowledge and expertise to the later generations who want to learn.
While we bake together throughout the year, the holiday season is a particularly important time, as we list the traditional treats our family has enjoyed throughout the years. My goal this year is to get through as many of them as possible–both to give Grandma the opportunity to bake them again, and to give my mom and me the experience and memories of baking these alongside such an amazing woman as my grandmother.
During one recent baking session, we tried out some old family recipes we hadn’t made in a long time. One of them was for Scandinavian almond bars. I remember baking these when I was a child, joining my mom in the kitchen while we mixed the batter and rolled the cookies into logs before baking, then cut them into slices and drizzled them with icing. They were flavored with almond extract, and just the thing to satisfy a young Norwegian’s tastebuds.
I’m not absolutely positive where the original recipe came from, aside from remembering a large, full-page photo of the cookies in a spiral-bound cookbook. My mom also has a copy of the recipe that came from a friend once upon a time. They’re all over the internet too, and seem to have an origin with Taste of Home. When we made them recently, we compared notes between two slightly different versions. Now we have a master list of ingredients. That’s one of the things I love about our baking tradition–as we work through recipes, we’re taking notes and compiling the recipes all in one place with plans to create a family recipe book. It’ll be fun to see what ends up in the collection–family classics such as these almond-flavored cookies, to be sure, but perhaps some new ones as well.
What cookies or bars do you do you still make from your childhood?
Scandinavian Almond Bars
Adapted slightly from a variety of sources; if you know where the original comes from, let me know!
For the cookies:
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoons salt
Milk, enough for brushing on the dough
1/2 cup sliced almonds
For the icing:
1 cup confectioners sugar
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1-2 tablespoons milk
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
Prepare the cookies by creaming the butter sugar and butter in a large bowl until light and fluffy. Add the egg and extract and mix until combined. Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt, and add to the batter, mixing until incorporated.
Turn out dough onto your work surface and shape into a ball. Divide it into fourths, then roll each section into a log about a foot long. Divide the logs between two cookie sheets. Using the palm of your hand, flatten the dough out until the log is an even 3 inches wide. Brush each log with milk and sprinkle on the almonds.
Bake until the edge start to tun golden, about 12 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool slightly, until still warm but cool enough to work with. Cut the cookies diagonally into slices 1 inch thick, and then transfer to wire racks and let cool completely.
Meanwhile, make the icing by combining the confectioner’s sugar, almond extract, and milk in a small bowl until smooth. Drizzled over the cooled cookies.
Makes about 4 dozen cookies.
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