The search continues: Grandma D.’s lost cookie recipe

Thanks for all of your interest in helping me recreate an old cookie of Grandma D.’s. Last year I embarked on a search for a lost recipe: a traditional Norwegian cookie that my late grandmother used to make. She would bake these cookies–shaped into an untraditional parallelogram–each year before Christmas and we’d keep a tin of them wrapped tightly in the refrigerator. My mom asked Grandma for the recipe years ago, but for some reason we never got it. Not knowing the original name, I was stuck searching the entire wide world of Scandinavian butter-style cookies until a couple of you offered clues. Thanks to the tips Oda and Jo left in the comments of my initial post, I’m exploring one type of Norwegian cookie for now: sandnøtter.

Sandnøtter are made with potato flour, which gives the cookies a delicate, somewhat sandy crumb. It’s fitting, therefore, that their name translates to sand nuts. (The Italian torta sabbiosa–sandy cake–is also made with potato flour.)

Here’s a photo of my first batch of sandnøtter. As you can see, the base darkened much more rapidly than desired, perhaps due to the hot oven (410 degrees Fahrenheit) the recipe called for. The cookies also rose more than Grandma’s did, although my mom says Grandma made hers flatter than the original version called for, so we might still be on the right track.

Sandnøtter are often made with hjortetakksalt (ammonium bicarbonate, also known as hartshorn or hornsalt), but since I didn’t have any on hand I chose a recipe without it. Could that make a difference? Maybe. I’ll try to track some down.

The final essential part of my search is finding a recipe that replicates the flavor of Grandma’s cookies. These aren’t quite right, but I’ll give another sandnøtter recipe a try. I hope you’ll keep following along as I continue my search!

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The search for a lost recipe begins

I’m on a mission to recreate an old Grandma D. classic. When she died nearly two years ago, most of her recipes died with her, including a Scandinavian butter cookie that I grew up eating each year during Christmastime. A cookie shaped into parallelogram, with horizontal ridges made from the tips of fork tines, these cookies were a sign of the holiday season in our family.

Finding a similar recipe requires detective work. The clues are few, the evidence intangible.

What were the cookies originally called? The family doesn’t know. Were they a classic Norwegian cookie? Most likely, if I know anything about Grandma. Further complicating the search, I’ve been told that the parallelogram was Grandma’s artistic touch for an otherwise traditional cookie.

Where does that leave me? With having to bake–and taste–my way through an assortment of Scandinavian butter cookies until I find one that’s close.

The resources are endless. From books like The Great Scandinavian Baking Book to the countless recipes online, I’m sure to find a similar recipe somewhere along the line. Will you stick with me through the process?

Here’s my first attempt, a simple recipe called “Norwegian Butter Cookies” from Gourmet. (Note: As I bake, I’m searching for a flavor rather than a shape; once I have a few recipes in the running, I’ll recreate them using Grandma’s striped parallelogram shape and give them a side-by-side taste test.)

The verdict? These cookies are good–really good, in fact. With a satisfyingly crisp crunch, these seemingly unassuming cookies would go perfectly with a cup of afternoon tea or a glass of cold milk at the end of a long day. The flavor isn’t quite what I was hoping to find, though, and the texture may be a little too crisp–at least on the first day–for Grandma’s old cookies. So I need to keep baking. Maybe these will come back, with a little flavor tweaking, for round two, but only time–and more tasting–will tell.

Do you have any ideas? Whether it’s the name of a traditional cookie or a recipe that you think might be similar, I’d love to hear from you. In the meantime, here’s the first recipe.

Norwegian Butter Cookies
Adapted from Gourmet (March 1983, reprinted in December 2001), based on a recipe from Carrie Young

1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1 large egg, lightly beaten
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
Rounded 1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Using an electric mixer, beat together the butter, sugar, and extracts at moderately high speed for about 3 minutes. You want it to turn pale and fluffy, like whipped butter. Add the egg and continue to beat until well combined.

Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt, then add to the butter mixture, mixing at low speed just until incorporated.

Form dough into 1 1/2-inch balls and place 3 inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet. Using the back of a fork, make a crosshatch pattern on each cookie, flattening them to about 1/3 to 1/2 thick.*

Working in batches, bake cookies on the middle rack of the oven until the edges turn golden. Depending on the thickness of the cookies, this may take up to 17 minutes, but start checking after 12–you want them to be just golden around the edges, not brown. Remove the cookies from the baking sheet and let them cool on a rack.

Yields approximately 2 1/2 dozen cookies.

*If you have a cookie press, this may be a good time to use it. You’ll find instructions for making these cookies with a cookie press online at