Tag Archives: pearl sugar

{2} Finska Pinnar

As much as I love mince pies and things coated in chocolate, I also like more simple cookies, so that’s what we’ve got today.


These are Swedish butter biscuits called finska pinnar. The name translates cryptically as “Finnish pins”. I’ve tried to find out why they are called this but with no success. I did find an article on the website of the august Swedish Newspaper Svenska Dagbladet and even they don’t know the origin of the name. A mystery for the ages.

These are very quick and easy cookies to make – there is no elaborate rolling and shaping of cookies. You just roll it out, flatten with your hands, and cut into pieces, so this is a good one to make with children where you want to keep it easy. There is also no need to leave the dough to chill before you shape it, which is good when willing but impatient elves are keen to get going!


The dough itself is not that sweet, so you are relying a generous topping of chopped almonds and pearl sugar. You need an egg yolk for the dough, and then you use the egg white to glaze the tops. The art is then to get as much chopped almonds and pearl sugar on top, so you’ve got extra sweetness and some crunch to contrast with the buttery shortbread.

Of course, it would not by my Christmas basking selection if there was not some sort of random ingredient in here. Many recipes I looked at call for a bitter almonds to give finska pinnar their almond flavour. That’s the way to go if you’re keen on a bit of drama and some danger in your life, as apparently you need to be careful just how many you use. They contain cyanide and can be toxic if you eat too much! In the end I went for the easier option and just added a dash of almond extract to get all the flavour without the danger. Okay, so I might be exaggerating just a touch for dramatic effect…

To make Finska Pinnar (makes around 40)

For the dough

• 375g plain flour
• 250g unsalted butter
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 125g caster sugar
• 1 teaspoon almond extract
• 1 egg yolk

To decorate

1 egg white
40g whole almonds, roughly chopped
pearl sugar or granulated sugar

1. Preheat the oven to 200°C. Prepare three sheets of greaseproof paper.

2. Put the flour, butter, salt, sugar and almond extract into a bowl. Rub together until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add the egg yolk and quickly mix to a soft dough.

3. Divide the dough into 4 pieces. Roll each into a long rope, about finger thickness. Press them lightly to around 1/2 cm thickness. Cut into 4cm slices.

4. Transfer the cookies to the greaseproof paper. Brush lightly with the beaten egg white, then sprinkle generously with chopped almonds and pearl sugar. Put on a tray, and chill in the fridge for a few minutes.

5. Bake for 8-10 minutes until golden, turning half-way to get an even colour. Remove from the oven, allow to rest for a moment, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under Christmas, Recipe, Sweet Things

{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.

1 Comment

Filed under Christmas, Recipe, Sweet Things

{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.

4 Comments

Filed under Christmas, Recipe, Sweet Things