What better way to kick off a season of Scandinavian Christmas inspiration than by offering you a recipe to add to your list of Christmas cookies? As I plan my holiday activities, one tradition I’ll be following this year is that of syv slag, or seven sorts of traditional Norwegian Christmas cookies. In Norway, it’s just not Christmas without a spread of at least seven types to serve friends and family.
Growing up in a Norwegian-American home in the Pacific Northwest, I didn’t hear about the syv slag tradition per se, but I did reap the benefits of elder generations who must have known all about it. On both sides of my family, Christmastime was full of cookies–traditional Scandinavian sandbakkels and krumkake alongside family specialties such as caramel balls, gumdrop cookies, and molasses cookies. I never knew to count to make sure there were seven types.
As I’ve been learning about the tradition, I’ve discovered that people have varying opinions on the syv slag. To some, there is a defined list of seven cookies. To others, it doesn’t matter what one makes as long as there are at least seven varieties.
Between now and Christmas, I’ll be baking through some of the many cookies typically included in the traditional list. The first is serinakaker.
As with most traditional recipes, opinions abound on the proper way to make them. Some recipes direct bakers to roll them into balls and then flatten them slightly while baking, either with the tines of a fork or with a thumb, while others suggest rolling the dough into logs and chilling them before cutting them into thin wafers. I’ve tried both the ball and log approaches and prefer the latter. The ingredients in this recipe are based on this recipe, but the technique is my own, developed through research and trial and error.
Do you follow the tradition of the seven sorts? What seven cookies are on your list?
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons hornsalt*
1 cup cold butter, diced
1 egg, lightly bean
1 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla sugar**
1 egg white
1/4 cup finely chopped almonds
1/8 cup pearl sugar
Combine the flour and hornsalt, either with a whisk or by giving it a whirl in the food processor. Add the butter, cutting it in a pastry blender or food processor until you have a mixture that resembles small breadcrumbs. Add egg and combine to form a soft dough, then mix in the sugar and vanilla sugar. Roll into logs about 1 and quarter inches in diameter, cover in plastic wrap, and chill for at least 2-3 hours.
Preheat oven to 375 and transfer the logs to the freezer while you set up your baking station. Giving yourself plenty of room to work, set up a cutting board, cookie sheet (ungreased or lined with a silicone baking mat), and bowls containing the egg white, the chopped almonds, and pearl sugar. When you’re ready to go, take a log out of the freezer and cut it into thin disks, a little less than a quarter inch in diameter. Place on cookie sheet, spacing at least an inch and a half apart, as they will spread significantly during baking. Brush each with egg white and then liberally sprinkle chopped almonds and pearl sugar on top. Return unused dough to the freezer while the first batch bakes. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes on the center rack of the oven, rotating halfway through to ensure even baking. Cookies will be done when they are slightly golden. Cool slightly on the cookie sheet until crisp enough to transfer to a plate or wire rack. Repeat with the remaining dough.
*Hornsalt, also known as harshorn or baker’s ammonia, is an ingredient commonly used in Scandinavian baking. It is available at Scandinavian stores such as Scandinavian Specialties in Seattle. If you can’t find it, baking powder is sometimes used as a substitute. Hornsalt has an ammonia odor, which you’ll notice as the cookies bake, but it does not impact the flavor.
**Like hornsalt, vanilla sugar is a common Scandinavian baking ingredient and can also be found at Scandinavian specialty stores. You can make your own the next time you bake with vanilla bean by mixing the unused pod with some white sugar and storing it for a while. Alternately, the original recipe says you can substitute 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract.
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