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When I was growing up, the only time of year we ever, ever had cookies was at Christmas.
It made the weeks leading up to Christmas even more intensely special—the evenings spent standing next to my mother, referring to the notes scrawled in Norwegian in her tattered folio of treasured recipes, helping to weigh out flour and butter and sugar, mixing and rolling the cookies into their appropriate shapes.
We never had a single sprinkle in our house or a bag of icing. All of our cookies were traditional Norwegian recipes, simple, rustic, and, for us, the very essence of Christmas. The lineup was usually pretty simple: nøttekaker (hazelnut cookies), krumkaker (cone shaped cookies), sandbakkelse (“sand tarts”), and serinakaker.
Serinakaker, which are buttery, vanilla thumbprint cookies, have always been, and will always be, my favorite. The ingredients couldn’t be simpler—butter, sugar, flour, vanilla—but they make a classic, stout, homey cookie with a surprising complexity from the overnight rest in the fridge.
They are also one of the very most quintessential Norwegian Christmas cookies. For many families, it isn’t Christmas until they have serinakaker in their house. I would say it’s one of those recipes where everyone has their own version from their grandmother, but I have a suspicion that the formula for these cookies is so old and so perfect, everyone has precisely the same recipe as everyone else.
Sturdy and compact, serinakaker are also excellent for packing into a small pouch and carrying with you to give you energy on the long holiday cross-country skiing or snowshoeing outings we invariably find ourselves on at this time of year. Around Christmastime, the pockets of my mother’s ski jacket are always bulging with serinakaker.
And thank goodness for that! One time, a couple of years ago, a friend of ours was out on a particularly long ski expedition with his wife (she has more stamina than the rest of us mere mortals) and he had run out of steam. He stepped to the side of the trail and began to pout, saying he wouldn’t go any further unless he could eat a serinakake. Miraculously, just moments later my parents skied by. Of course they had cookies and of course they gave him one. The ski outing ended happily thanks to butter, sugar, flour, and vanilla.
- 4 cups (500 grams) sifted all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 cup plus 6 tablespoons (300 grams) softened salted butter
- 1 1/3 cups (250 grams) granulated sugar
- 2 medium eggs, lightly beaten (or one big old American-sized egg)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla sugar (or vanilla extract if you have no vanilla sugar)
- 1 egg white, for brushing the cookies with
- Pearl sugar and/or chopped almonds, for sprinkling