Today’s recipe hails from Iceland, which in previous years has provided some unusual and delicious ideas for Christmas. These things are called hálfmánar, or half-moons (far easier to type). I got this recipe from The Great Scandinavian Baking Book by Beatrice Ojakangas.
If you’re a bit of a fan of Nordic baking, then I highly recommend this book. It’s fair to say that this is a rather traditional tome, with lots of recipes and a few illustrations (sadly no pictures), but it is an absolute gem when it comes to pies, breads, crispbread, cakes and buns. It is packed with ideas from Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Iceland and Finland, so it’s a great source of inspiration and lots of tidbits about baking history and culture.
These little delights are made from a rich, buttery pastry flavoured with cardamom, and filled with prunes. While Beatrice’s orignal recipe uses just prunes, I added a dash of cinnamon while they were cooking, and then a spoon of brandy at the end. Not so much of the stuff to leave your head spinning, but enough to add a little flavour to the prunes. Thanks to a little baking powder in the pastry, they are soft and slightly crumbly, encasing the right prune filling.
These half-moons look quite fancy, but they are actually a doddle to make. You just need to roll out the pastry, then cut circles of dough to fill with whatever you want. A plummy filling is traditional, but you could really use any type of jam or marmalade, as long as you go for something that is fairly solid and won’t melt and leak out of the pastry during baking. I happened to have some quince paste that worked really well, and I filled a couple of them with damson jam. The flavour of damson was super, but the jam was a little runny, so I wasn’t able to add enough of it to the biscuits. The result looked like I had been mean and tried to skimp on the filling. In case of doubt, this is the time to use the jam you’ve got lurking in the cupboard that’s probably a little too solid to spread on toast!
If you’re feeling a little bit festive, you could even add some mincemeat, or chopped sultanas soaked in liqueur with some spice and orange zest. Indeed, nothing to stop you getting a little creative and making one batch with different flavourings to inject a little surprise into your biscuit selection.
Now, one little thing that I think I have to talk about. You may have noticed the rather bright blue background here…I was keen to do something on a red-white-blue theme (the Icelandic flag) and I had some art paper in a brilliant blue colour that I thought would do the trick. I assure you, this isn’t a trick, it really is this incredibly intense blue colour. Think those blue paintings by Yves Klein and you’ll get the idea. When sunlight shines on it, it positively glows with a bright, intense colour. Possibly a little bright for everyday use, but I think it makes quite a nice contrast to all that gold, silver, red and green that you see everywhere at the moment.
To make Hálfmánar (makes 20-24):
For the pastry:
• 180g plain flour
• 1 teaspoon baking powder
• 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
• 110g unsalted butter
• 65g caster sugar
• 1/2 egg
• 1 teaspoon lemon juice
• ice water
For the filling:
• 120g pitted prunes
• 120ml water
• 2 generous pinches cinnamon
• 1 tablespoon brandy
1. First make the pastry. Combine the flour, baking powder and ground cardamom. Work in the butter until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Mix in the sugar. Add the egg, lemon juice and a tablespoon of ice water. Work until just combined, adding more flour or ice water as needed. Wrap in cling film and chill for at least 2 hours or overnight.
2. Make the filling. Chop the prunes, and put into a saucepan with the water and cinnamon. Cook for around 15 minutes until the mixture is fairly thick and seems a little too dry. Remove from the heat and stir in the brandy. Puree the mixture and leave until completely cooled.
3. Preheat the oven to 190°C (375°F). Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper.
4. Make the biscuits. Roll out the pastry to 1/4 cm thickness, then cut out 8cm diameter discs of pastry. Put a scant teaspoon of the prune mixture in the middle of each. Moisten the edges of the pastry disc, them fold in half. Press lightly to seal and put on the baking tray. I tried crimping the edges, but as the pastry puffs up slightly during baking, the detail was lost on most of the cookies.
5. Bake the half-moons for 10-15 minutes until golden. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire tray.
Worth making? A clear yes! These have a night, fresh flavour from the cardamom in the pastry, and make a nice companion to morning coffee. The flavour can also be easily adjusted to cater for all tastes.