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{8} Knäck

Had enough cookies yet? Then you’ll like today’s festive goodness – knäck, a traditional Swedish Christmas sweet. They are delicious caramels that are easy to make, and while the mixture simmers on the stove, you’ve got a kitchen that smells delicious.


To make knäck you only need to put cream, sugar and syrup in a pan. You cook it to the right temperature, then pour it into your preferred shapes. It is traditional to use little paper cups, and I’ve also made some paper cones from greaseproof paper. To stop the cones unravelling, I used some gold-polka-dot washi tape, and secured them with red and white baker’s twine. I’ve always had a bit of an aversion to piles of cookies tied with twine (seriously – who does that apart from in pictures?), but I feel pretty pleased with myself that it is entirely functional here. To note, I did not oil or grease the cups. The caramel did stick to the cups, but by the next day the caramel had absorbed a bit of moisture from the air, and the paper cups could be peeled off easily. The greaseproof paper was true to its name, and the caramel cones/spikes came right out.

The only “tricky bit” here is getting the caramel to the right temperature. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Get a candy thermometer. I’ve got a fairly basic electronic one, and it’s defiantly a great investment. Any time you are working with a sugar syrup (or doing things like tempering chocolate or making jam) it makes life a lot easier. I’ve tried testing whether something has reached the hard ball stage by dropping teaspoons of boiling sugar into cold water, and it’s far easier to push a button and check we’ve hit 130°C. If you don’t have one, perhaps you could ask Santa for a last-minute stocking filler?


If pouring the caramel into individual moulds is not your thing, you could just pour the caramel mixture into a single large sheet (called knäckbräck) and then break it into pieces later. This would be a good idea if you want to present it at a party and smash it up theatrically. Come to think of it, I remember that being a “thing” many years ago – you could buy a block of toffee, and it came with its own little hammer to break it up. Anyway, the single sheet approach is probably the best way to make knäck if you have kids and animals running around and not a lot of time to carefully pour hot syrup into fiddly containers.

One thing to watch is that you don’t end up with pieces of caramel you can’t eat. I recommend you opt for a “less is more” approach. If you fill the little cups too much, or your knäckbräck is too thick, you’re setting up yourself and any guests for dental problems. If the layer is thinner, you’ll actually be able to eat them.

The actual texture of this recipe is a hard caramel at room temperature, but they soften as you eat them. I recommend a little patience as you eat them, just to avoid cracking teeth and fillings being pulled out. I know I’m making the same point over and over, but I really don’t want people having dental issues over the festive period.

A good thing about knäck is that you have lots of scope to play around with flavours. I opted for simple toasted flaked almonds. I’ve also added some salt as I think this improves the taste and takes them away from simple sweetness to something more complex. Get creative! Play around with flavours – just before pouring, you can add citrus zest, or peppermint oil, or cocoa powder (or a combination of these) – or switch out the almonds for other nuts or dried fruit, or sprinkle the finished knäck with seeds, coconut, or even crushed candy canes for a properly festive twist. If you’ve got some helper elves in the kitchen, you could get a little production line going with different toppings.

To make Knäck (makes around 50 pieces)

• 200ml double cream
• 200ml golden syrup or Swedish light syrup (“ljus sirap”)
• 200g white caster sugar
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 20g butter
• 50g chopped or flaked almonds, toasted

1. Heat the oven to 160°C. Spread the almonds on a tray and bake until they are lightly golden and fragrant. When they are ready, just turn off the heat but leave them in the oven so they stay warm.

2. While the almonds are toasting, make the caramel. Put the cream, sugar, syrup and salt in a large saucepan. Heat and bring to the boil.

3. Keep the mixture on a gentle rolling boil until it reaches 130°C on a sugar thermometer. It took about 20 minutes for me, but focus on the temperature rather than the time.

4. In the meantime, line a baking tray with 50 small paper cups. If you are using paper cones, find a way to keep them upright – I pushed them through a cooling rack balances above a saucepan to hold them.

5. When the caramel is ready, remove from heat. Add the butter and warm almonds, and mix quickly until combined.

6. Acting quickly but carefully, pour the mixture into the paper cups and leave to cool. If the caramel gets too thick as you are pouring it out, reheat it gently until it flows easily again.

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{3} Berlinerkranser

Every Christmas selection has a place for a good old-fashioned buttery biscuit. Stepping up to the role is today’s recipe from Norway. These twisty bakes go by the name Berlinerkranser, or “Berlin wreaths”. Completely logical for a cookies from, eh, not Berlin.


I mean, it’s not as if a Norwegian city name would do. Oslokranser? Bergenkranser? Trondheimkranser? Lillehammerkranser? Tromsøkranser? Really, would none of these have worked? Alas I have not found the origin of the name, but I wonder if the knot shape refers back to German pretzels? If you know, do enlighten me!

It can be very easy to think of butter cookies as not being very interesting. But as with many traditional recipes, it helps to think about where and when they came from. Think back to the late 1800s, and butter would have still been a luxury to some people. This would mean that at Christmas it really was a treat to have something sweet and buttery, rather than something made with lard. Times were hard back then, folks.


Berlinerkranser sometimes make an appearance as part of the Norwegian tradition of syv slags kaker (seven sort of cookies, say that quickly after seven glasses of eggnog), where bakers can get into the competitive spirit of the season. They try to dazzle their guests with their baking skills by filling every biscuit tin in the house with cookies. If you want to have a go at a few other Norwegian treats, you could also turn your hand to serinakaker and sirupsnipper.

There is also an odd feature to Berlinerkranser, or at least something that I’ve never seen in a cookie recipe. Just about every version I’ve seen uses fresh egg yolks as well as hard-boiled egg yolks in the dough. I’m normally happy to try anything, but this one struck me as just a bit too strange. It’s also more work…I’m all for a lazy approach that skips avoidable faffing about…all the more time to watch a schmaltzy festive made-for-TV afternoon movie, probably involving some scrooge-like character in New York who rediscovers the magic of Christmas from the innocence of a young child. So, in a testament to laziness, my recipe uses two fresh egg yolks, but if you want to have a go at the more traditional version, use one fresh and one yolk from a boiled egg.


In terms of flavour, I have kept these very simple and traditional. I’ve seen recipes that add vanilla or citrus zest, but these have just the richness of egg yolks and butter. The only concession I’ve made is to use salted butter, as I think it gives a better and fuller flavour than using unsalted.

One tip for making them – once you start to shape the dough, it is easier to work as it gets slightly warmer and softer. If it is too cold, it will break. Howerver, soft dough will collapse in the oven, so put the whole tray of shaped cookies in the fridge for 15 minutes before putting straight in the oven. Voila – cookies don’t break and they keep their shape.

Now…go forth and make another six types of cookie before your guests arrive. Enjoy!

To make Belinerkranser (makes 20)

For the dough:

• 2 egg yolks
• 80g caster sugar
• 185g plain flour
• 125g salted butter

To finish:

• 1 egg white, beaten
• pearl sugar

1a. If using a hard-boiled egg yolk: push the boiled yolk through a sieve to break it up as much as possible. Add to the other egg yolk and the sugar and beat well for a minute.

1b. If using only fresh yolks: put the yolks and sugar into a bowl and beat well for a minute.

2. Add the flour, mix, then tip in the butter and mix until it forms a soft dough. Add more flour if needed, but remember the dough will firm up when chilled.

3. Wrap the dough in cling film, flatten as best you can, and pop it in the fridge for 30 minutes.

4. Preheat the oven to 175°C (350°F). Line two baking trays with greaseproof paper.

5. Divide the dough into 20 pieces. Take each piece and roll to an 18-20cm rope, and shape the cookies. Place each one on a baking sheet.

6. Chill the shaped cookies for 15 minutes in the fridge, then brush with beaten egg white and sprinkle with pearl sugar.

7. Bake the cookies for around 12-14 minutes until pale golden.  turning the tray around during baking to get an even colour.

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{3} Sirupsnipper

Today I’m going to go back to more “traditional” festive baking, and that involves looking north, to our neighbours in Norway.

As it turns out, Norway is home to some very unique and interesting recipes for Christmas. I’d always assumed they were very much like those of Sweden and Denmark, but they have their own personality. In addition, there is a festive tradition called Syv Sorter (“seven sorts”) whereby you bake – you guess it – seven different things in order to have a properly generous Christmas spread. Some suggest there is a fixed list of items to choose from, but there seem to be about twenty different traditional bakes. While the list of what people include varies rather a lot, today’s recipe – sirupsnipper – seems to feature in most people’s lists. If you want to see some of the other recipes in the list, see here.

How I have missed these biscuits is, frankly, beyond me. They include lots of spices (which I love), and the dough should be cut into a diamond shape using a fluted pastry cutter (which I did not own, and thus had to make a fruitful trip to the wonderful Divertimenti kitchenware store). In order to be authentic, they also require one of my favourite (and rather odd) baking ingredients, good old baker’s ammonia. It makes sure that the biscuits are properly light and crisp, even if it does cause your kitchen to smell of ammonia while baking (the resulting biscuits are perfectly safe to eat though). You can use baking powder if you don’t have baker’s ammonia, and the biscuits will still taste good.

sirupsnipper

The flavours in sirupsnipper are cinnamon, ginger, aniseed and white pepper, but the resulting taste is surprisingly subtle. None of the spices is too strong, and the overall flavour is a mild gingerbread with the rich flavour of syrup. I thought they tasted a little like Belgian speculoos biscuits – very crisp and lightly spicy, which are great with coffee.

The dough is made one day, and the baking happens the next day, so that the flavours can develop a little before baking. Rolling out the dough and cutting into shape was all very easy, and I ended up with some smart-looking biscuits before baking. While in the oven, however, the sharp edges got a little less sharp, and I wondered what I could do.

Finally, and out of curiosity, once I had a table groaning with cookies, I left the last batch of six to dry overnight. I reasoned that letting the cut biscuits sit, uncovered, might mean that they would hold their shape better when baked. Well, as it turned out, this had two effects. The shape did indeed stay sharper, but the crisp “snap” was gone in the baked biscuits. I have no idea why this happened, but the biscuits were far better when not left to sit overnight. So there you have it – a little test by me so that you’re not left wondering what if…

And with that, we’re one-quarter of the way through out Twelve Bakes of Christmas. However, if I were a Norwegian having a go at the Seven Sorts challenge, I’d be almost half-way there. Maybe next year!

To make Sirupsnipper (adapted from tine.no):

A word of caution – this recipe makes about 100 biscuits! It is easiest to make batches of these cookies, rather than trying to bake them all in one go.

• 150ml double cream
• 150g golden syrup
• 150g white sugar
• 100g butter
• 450g plain flour
• 1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
• 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
• 1/4 teaspoon ground aniseed or star anise
• 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
• 3/4 teaspoon baker’s ammonia or baking powder
• 3/4 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
• flaked almonds, to decorate

1. Put the cream, syrup and sugar in a saucepan. Bring to the boil, then turn off the heat. Add the butter, stir until melted, then leave to cool until lukewarm.

2. In the meantime, mix the flour, spices, baker’s ammonia and bicarbonate of soda in a bowl until fully combined. Add to the syrup mixture and mix to smooth dough. Cover well and leave to sit overnight.

3. The next day, preheat the oven to 175°C (350°F). Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper.

4. Roll out portions of the dough (thickness of 3mm) and use a fluted pastry cutter to shape into diamonds (or just use a knife). Transfer to the baking sheet, then dab a little water in the middle of each biscuit and lay a piece of flaked almond in the middle.

5. Bake the cookies for around 5-6 minutes until golden (turn half way). Remove from the oven, cool for a moment, then transfer to a wire tray to cool.

Worth making?This is a great recipe, and I’m just confused I’ve never seen it before. Simple crisp, spicy cookies, and perfect if you need to bring a large box to feed colleagues.

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{11} Mor Monsens Kake

I was looking over my recent festive posts and I noticed that the “Twelve Cookies of Christmas” posts have been a bit of a gastronomic tour around Europe – we’ve covered Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, Iceland, Sweden and Britain. So where next?

Well, I feel we need to show some solidarity with the good people of Norway, who are in the middle of a butter crisis. Some blame a recent craze for low-carb (and thus high butter) diets. Some blame a poor summer, which resulted in lower dairy yields. But whatever the reason, this is having a major, major impact on Christmas baking. People are bringing butter back from trips aboard. People are getting into frenzied online bidding wars. I mean – people are getting arrested for butter smuggling. Arrested! All for butter! 

So, let’s show the burghers of Oslo, Bergen, Lillehammer and Tromsø that we’re thinking about them. Today’s post completes the Scandinavian family (we’ve done Sweden and Denmark) with Norway’s  (apparently) famous Mor Monsens Kake (Mother Monsen’s Cake). And yes – this majors on the butter!

Now, the obvious question – who is Mother Monsen? If I’m going to make her cake, it seems only polite to make at least an attempt to find out.

Well, it seems the answer is…eh…no-one really knows. The Norwegians love her cake, but it’s not clear who she was. I’ve found out that the recipe is over 160 years old, and it seems to be famous after being name-checked in a famous cookbook written by Norway’s first female novelist, Hanna Winsnes, back in 1845. If anyone knows more, do leave a comment!

To the relief of many, I’m sure you’ll be happy to know that this recipe does not involve any weird or wonderful ingredients (potassium carbonate and salt of hartshorn – I mean you!). No leaving dough to sit for hours, days or weeks (as is the case with Aachener Printen!). No elaborate preparations involved (Honninghjerter spring to mind…). Nope, this is a simple if somewhat buttery cake with currants, almonds and pearl sugar. It’s actually quite a nice contrast to all those rich, sweet, spicy biscuits  and mince pies at this time of year, so great in the morning with a cup of coffee before or after a bracing walk.

One thing about this cake that was a little unclear was what I should add to flavour the batter. Leave it plain? Add vanilla? lemon zest? Cardamom even? Different recipes do things differently. After a not-very-representative poll via Twitter, I got some views and settled on both lemon zest and a hint of vanilla extract. I actually really like lemon and vanilla, so that pairing suits me down to the ground, but go with what you prefer.

There are a lot of versions out there, but I’ve worked out one that has a texture akin to that of the Dutch boterkoek – dense but crumbly, and very, very buttery. Light and fluffy this ain’t! You spread the cake mixture in a large tray, then sprinkle over the currants, almonds and pearl sugar. During baking, it will puff up a little, and some of the fruit and nuts will sink down into the batter (like magic – no mixing involved!). Once golden, remove from the oven and cut into pieces – diamonds or triangles are the traditional shapes.

This can be stored for a few days in an airtight container, but also freezes very well for those times you fancy a bit of cake at short notice.

So as they say in Norway – Gledelig Jul! And let’s hope the butter crisis comes to an end soon. Norway – we’re thinking of you!

To make Mor Monsens Kake:

• 225g butter (yes…precious butter!)
• 225g caster sugar
• 2 eggs
• 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
• zest of 1/2 lemon
• 130g plain flour
• 1 teaspoon baking powder
• 25g blanched almonds, cut into slivers
• 40g currants
• 20g pearl or granulated sugar

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Grease and line a deep baking pan (30 x 20 cm / 12 x 8 inches).

In a bowl, mix the flour and baking powder and set aside.

Put the butter and sugar into a large bowl. Beat until the mixture is light and fluffy. At this stage, and electric mixer or hand blender will be your friend – you want fluffy, fluffy, fluffy!

Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Stir in the vanilla extra and lemon zest, then fold in the flour.

Spoon the batter into the baking tray and spread level. Sprinkle over the currants, almonds and pearl/granulated sugar. Bake for 20-25 minutes until the top is golden brown. Remove from the oven and leave to cool.

Cut the cooled cake into diamonds or triangles to serve.

Worth making? This is a quick and easy recipe to make, using mostly store cupboard and fridge ingredients. While it’s a traditional Christmas bake, it’s also a lovely rich cake  that goes fantastically well with a cup of coffee.

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{6} Honninghjerter (Danish Gingerbread Hearts)

For the sixth day, we’re heading towards the north of Europe, to enjoy these tasty Danish honninghjerter. These are delicious little gingerbread hearts made with honey and spice, and coated in dark chocolate. From Copenhagen, with love!

This recipe is similar to Aachener Printen that I made recently – you make a syrup with honey and some brown sugar, pour into a flour/spice mixture, and leave it to sit for a few days so that the aromas can develop. Then add a little egg yolk and potash, roll out, cut, bake and – whoosh! – they puff up in the oven.

They honey is a key part of this recipe (more so than with the Printen), so what you use has a direct effect on the flavour. If you use something very light (such as acacia honey) the delicate flavour can get lost amidst the spices. However, if you go for something with a very pronounced aroma and flavour (such as thyme or chestnut honey) this will carry through to the cookies too. On balance, I would recommend a mixed floral honey that has a balanced flavour.

It is also traditional to let the mixture sit for at least seven days (or possibly longer!) at room temperature before baking. This allows the aroma and flavour of the spices to develop, so even if you’re in a hurry, it’s worth leaving it to sit for at least a couple of days. It is also said that this allows the enzymes in the honey to do something funky to the flour, but I’m not too sure that this actually means (!). But if you’re worried about leaving dough sitting on the kitchen worktop, don’t be – honey is antibacterial, so it won’t go bad, and in any event – we’re going to be baking these cookies in a hot oven.

Traditionally, these are glazed with icing or sugar syrup. However, I think the flavour goes stunningly well with dark chocolate to give what I think is one of the classic flavours of Christmas. The complexity of the spices and bitter chocolate works well with a glass of mulled wine fortified with rum.

To make honningjherter (makes around 30):

Stage 1: The dough

• 225g honey
• 25g brown sugar
• 225g plain flour
• 10g mixed spices

In a bowl, mix the flour and spices. Put the honey and sugar in a saucepan. Heat gently until the sugar dissolves.

Carefully add the warm honey to the flour. Mix well with a spoon until smooth. The dough will be soft initially, but will start to become firmer as it cools.

Place the dough in a plastic container, cover, and leave at room temperature for at least two days. Seven is traditional!

Stage 2: baking the cookies

• Basic honey dough (above)
• 5g potash (1 teaspoon)
• 1 tablespoon water
• 1 egg yolk

Pre-heat the oven to 180°C (355°F). Lightly grease a sheet of greaseproof paper.

Dissolve the potash in the water. Combine with the egg yolk (if it gets dry, add a little more water). Add to the dough and mix until smooth. It doesn’t seem like much, but it turns from being very stiff to quite pliable. This is easiest if you use your hands.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to 1/2 cm thickness. Use a heart-shaped cutter to form the biscuits. Place on the baking sheet, and bake for around 10 minutes until risen and brown. Turn the baking sheet half way through if needed. The cookies should be light brown, but not get dark at the edges.

The cookies will be quite hard just after baking, but will soften if left for a few days in an open tin (you can also cheat – place on a rack, and wave them over a pan of boiling water – the steam will help them soften).

During baking, the hearts will expand a lot. If you’ve used a smaller cookie cutter, you may want to trim them slightly with a sharp knife to get a better shape.

Stage 3: dipping the cookies in chocolate

• 450g dark chocolate

Melt the chocolate in a bowl. If you want to temper the chocolate for a glossy, shiny coating, see here or here.

Dip the hearts in the chocolate. Shake lightly to remove any excess, then leave in a rack or sheet of greaseproof paper to set.

Store the cookies in an airtight container.

To get Pottasche (potassium carbonate) in London, you can buy this from: (1) the German Deli at Borough Market (3 Park Street, London SE1 9AB), tel: 020 7378 0000. Tube: London Bridge; and (2) Scandinavian Kitchen in the city centre (61 Great Titchfield Street, London W1W 7PP), tel: 020 7580 7161. Tube: Oxford Circus.

Worth making? I think these cookies are great. They take a little time just because you need to leave the mixture to sit for a few days, but the method is very simple and the taste is sensational. You can play around with the spices too according to your preferences.

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{5} Lussekatter

On the fifth day of Christmas…this cook began to make…Swedish saffron buns! (Sing it to the theme of the Twelve Days of Christmas – it works!)

Lussekatter are typically eaten in Sweden for St Lucia on 13 December. This is a celebration of light in the middle of winter, with processions and candles. The dubious highlight (to an outsider at least) is the rather alarming scene of a culture that sends a  girl out in public with lit candles in her hair, but I guess there’s enough snow out there in case you detect the aroma of singed hair…

Pyrotechnics to one side, these saffron buns, however, are great.

In fact, it’s fair to say that they engage all the senses. First of all, they do look pretty – attractive shape, and the amazing colour, bright yellow tinged with golden brown. When you break the bread, you are struck by the vivid yellow colour of the dough, practically neon – it really is daffodil bright. As they bake, the kitchen is filled with the sweet aroma of saffron and yeast. Once they are baked, the buns are light and soft, and they have a lovely rich, buttery flavour highlighting the aroma of saffron. And as for sound…I guess you hear people making mmmmm noise as they eat them? So…all five senses duly engaged!

While I have not basis for saying this, I can see how lussekatter became so popular at this time of the year – they promise sunshine and the coming of spring. I mean, look just how yellow the dough is! But in the meantime, they make for a tasty snack to enjoy while it’s warm indoors and chilly outside.

To make lussekatter (makes 12):

• 1/2 teaspoon saffron threats (0.5g)
• 80g sugar
• 250ml milk

• 2 eggs (1 1/2 for the dough, 1/2 for glazing)
• 85g butter
• 1 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
• 450g flour

• 1/2 teaspoon salt

To make the dough:

Start with the saffron – place on a plate and bake in a warm over for 1-2 minutes until the strands are dry. Mix the saffron with a tablespoon of the sugar, and grind until fine.

Next, bring the milk to the boil, then turn off the heat. Add the saffron sugar mixture, stir, and leave to sit until the milk is lukewarm – it will will take on a glorious sunny yellow colour.

[If using a bread machine] Put 1 1/2 of the eggs and the rest of the ingredients (apart from the sultanas) into the bread machine, add the milk mixture, and run the dough cycle.

[If making by hand] In a large bowl, rub the butter into the flour. Add the sugar, yeast and salt and mix well. Add the milk and 1 1/2 of the eggs, and knead well (around 10 minutes) until the dough is smooth and elastic. Cover and leave to prove in a warm place until doubled in size.

To shape and bake the buns:

Knock back the dough and divide into 12 portions. Roll each into a long thin sausage, and then form into a reverse “S” shape. Place the buns onto a greased baking sheet, cover with a damp teatowel and leave in a warm place until doubled in size. In the meantime, heat the oven to 200°C (400°F).

When the buns are risen, brush with the reserved beaten egg, and place a sultana or raisin in the middle of the swirls. Bake for around 15 minutes – the buns should just be developing golden-brown patches, but the yellow colour should still dominate.

Worth making? This recipe might look a little complex, but it’s actually a breeze – just think of an enriched bread with saffron added! The flavour and aroma really make it worth the effort – the lussekatter are fantastic if eaten while still warm with a cup of tea or a glass of mulled wine.

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