Norwegian

It's Not Christmas Until You Bake These Norwegian Butter Cookies

December 16, 2015

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.

Photo by Emily Vikre

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.

Photo by Emily Vikre

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.

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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.

Photo by Emily Vikre

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.

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Top Comment:
“I learned to bake most of the cookies mentioned here while standing at my Granmother's side. She was from Karmoy off the coast of Stavanger and she believed in 7 kinds at Christmas. She has long since passed and I long for a recipe for Harrevaflor (spelling?), a not too sweet, cardamon heavy cookie made in a heart shaped iron. You wouldn't by any small miracle happen to have a recipe for such?”
— Michele W.
Comment

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.

31 Comments

Brini November 15, 2017
Any suggestions on making these vegan? I have cultured, salted vegan butter, but am curious if you have a suggestion for the egg portion. I usually use a “flax egg”. Thanks!
 
Connor B. October 24, 2017
Can I use margarine in this recipe?
 
Katie P. December 26, 2016
Here is my email- and thank you!
 
Katie P. December 26, 2016
 
Katie P. December 26, 2016
Hello, I would love to know a few things about these cookies. How does one properly pronounce the name and when you put the dough in the refrigerator is it in a log shape or just in the bowl itself? Lastly, what temperature is the oven and for how long do you bake them. I am really excitd to try these "rustic" yet delicious cookies!!
 
cndomino December 20, 2016
Our family came from Bergen on both sides. We had krumkaker,butter slices, kjotabaker(hard donut like with tails fried -Dad's favorites-guessing on the spelling), and a fruit /nut,pecan snow balls, chocolate chip cookies ,oatmeal raisins. Always seven cookies in our Norwegian-American family. I have fond memories of making cookies with my bestemor and Mom. god jul til alt!
 
Barbara C. December 19, 2016
Just curious.....why salted butter? Most recipes call for unsalted.
 
n C. December 18, 2016
I made a half batch this weekend (yield 24 - 1 TBS cookies) and they are a wonderful addition to our holiday treats. Wow - just delicious. They are the best parts of a sugar cookie and shortbread - not too sweet not too buttery. Thank you for sharing this wonderful recipe and story!
 
Cheryl D. December 9, 2016
My mother used to make a cookie she called ludendeker or something like that. It was a butter cookie that she made sandwich cookies out of. Has anyone heard of it?
 
Lorna December 21, 2015
OH My what have I been missing all these years?? my family is from Norway but the only things I have gotten...and absolutely look forward to every year are Krumkake and Lefsa, not so much the lutfisk though but to keep my great grandmother happy I choke down a bite every year. May I please have these recipes for the cookies as well please? Oh my I can't wait! and I haven't even had any before... how do I get my email address to you without letting the whole internet know it?
 
Alexis V. December 21, 2015
I'm not sure how to do this, Lorna, perhaps contact Food52 directly for those instructions.
 
Shai December 30, 2015
Maybe you could just post the recipe here
 
Alexis V. December 31, 2015
see recipes below from 13 days ago
 
Shai January 4, 2016
Thanks, Alexis... :)
 
Michele W. December 17, 2015
I learned to bake most of the cookies mentioned here while standing at my Granmother's side. She was from Karmoy off the coast of Stavanger and she believed in 7 kinds at Christmas. She has long since passed and I long for a recipe for Harrevaflor (spelling?), a not too sweet, cardamon heavy cookie made in a heart shaped iron. You wouldn't by any small miracle happen to have a recipe for such?
 
Alexis V. December 18, 2015
Hi Michelle, I checked on Google Norway and found a recipe for havreflarn, a cookie using oat, butter salt and baking powder. Would that be the type of cookie that you remember? Do you read/speak Norwegian?
 
Alexis V. December 18, 2015
I've also found a recipe for havrevafler, Do you have an electric waffle iron that makes the heart shaped vafler? If youu want either recipe , let me know and I can send you the recipe in Norwegian, or translate it into English for you.
 
Ingvild L. December 18, 2015
I think you might be thinking of "harde vafler", meaning "hard waffles". The are basically a sort of crispy waffle, made in a waffle iron (Norwegian waffle irons make a round waffle that can be separated into 4 or 5 hearts).
 
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fiveandspice December 18, 2015
I agree, they sound like harde vafler. We don't make those in my family, but I'm finding online recipes in Norwegian that I could translate and send.
 
Michele W. December 18, 2015
Yes, I have a heart iron. Sadly, no, I don't speak Norwegian. It is a hard, crisp cookie that I'm longing for not a soft waffle. I would so appreciate a translated recipe. I have Grandma's krumkake iron, sandkake tins, and her kransekake rings too. I wow my friends with her fyrstekake and would love to wow them with the harde vafler too. Thank You All
 
tch December 18, 2015
I would love the recipes! If you can translate to English, that would be great! I do have a heart-shaped waffle iron :)<br />Thanks,<br />Tove<br />[email protected]
 
Alexis V. December 18, 2015
Havregrynvafler (Oat Waffles)<br />2 dl sifted all purpose flour, 3dl quick oats, 4 - 5 TBSP sugar, 2 tsp baking powder, 1/2 tsp salt, 2 tsp cardamom, 6dl milk (either sweet or buttermilk), 2 eggs, 4 - 5 TBSP melted butter or neutral tasting oil,<br />- Mix together all the dry ingredients. Stir in the milk and continue stirring until there are no more lumps. Mix in the beaten egg and the butter. Allow the batter to rest for a minimum of 15 minutes before you cook the batter.
 
Alexis V. December 18, 2015
HAVREFLARN (OAT COOKIES )<br />75 GRAM BUTTER, 100 GRAM OAT(quick NOT INSTANT), 1 EGG, 125 GRAM SUGAR, 1 TSP BAKING POWDER. -
 
Alexis V. December 18, 2015
Continuation of Havreflarn recipe: Preheat oven to 200 C/392F and cover cookie sheet with parchment paper. Melt the butter and pour it over the oats, mixing the two together. Beat the egg and sugar together until no long gritty. Sprinkle the baking powder over sugar/egg mix, stirring slightly, then fold in the butter/oat until all is combined. Using a teaspoon, place cookie dough well apart on the parchment lined cookie sheet, as they will spread out during baking. Bake 6 - 7 minutes on middle rack of oven and until golden and slightly brown at the edges. Watch the cookies well during baking as they quickly can be overdone and oven temperatures vary. Cool the cookies on the cookies sheet before removing them to a cooling rack, If you remove them too early they will roll up. If you do want to bend the cookies, place them over the handle of a wooden spoon or something similar while they still are somewhat warm. Makes about 24 cookies
 
Laura December 6, 2015
These sound delicious! And simple which I appreciate. I can't wait to make these this year for Christmas!
 
cndomino December 4, 2015
My family is from Bergen on both sides and we definitely were a krumkaker fans crowd and ,we had 7 kinds of cookies at our table. . We had butter slices, Kransakaker,among others.Those cookies are new to me.<br />
 
Alexis V. December 4, 2015
I still bake kransekake for weddings, but do not even try to bake all the 13 kinds of cookies - our waists can't take all of that!
 
Author Comment
fiveandspice December 4, 2015
My mother always said we were supposed to have 13 kinds, but we never actually managed to make that many! More like 5, haha. I bet serinakaker are more popular in Eastern Norway. My family is very much east-landers on the whole (though my dad's family is from Narvik, but my mom is from Oslo, and we go with her traditions! :)
 
Alexis V. December 4, 2015
We moved to Norway from Canada in 1965, when my mother remarried, and she adopted all the Norwegian customs, actually out-Norwgianing the Norwegian housewives! She doesn't do all the baking and cooking now, but my brother does, making all the specialties. I'm sure he and I have so much interest in good food because of her great abilities and interest in good food and drink. But Norwegians never really need a special occasion to celebrate. Some make every day a celebration. God Jul!<br />
 
Alexis V. December 4, 2015
I was fortunate enough to spend my teenage years in Larkollen, Norway where it was the tradition that there should be 13 different kinds of cookies for Christmas ( in addition to all the lovely home-made sild, sylte, riskrem, og lingnende), but serinakaker were never one of the 13. Looking forward to trying this recipe. Tusen takk!
 
Kay December 4, 2015
I love your writing style. Sincerely enjoyed reading your story, and will definitely make these cookies. Thanks.