Dessert

Lithuanian Grybai (Mushroom Cookies) From Harriet Hardy

December 14, 2020
4 Ratings
Photo by James Ransom. Food stylist: Anna Billingskog. Prop stylist: Gerri Williams.
Author Notes

Their name may sound savory, but these spicy-sweet, sour-cream cookies combine warming cardamom, cinnamon, and cloves with sweet citrus peel and honey—making them a lovely addition to a wintertime cookie spread. Mushroom cookies are instead named for their 3-dimensional fungi shape, which resemble the snow-frosted homes of Smurfs when finished.

I don’t know exactly when or how this fanciful Lithuanian cookie recipe came to be in the possession of my late mother-in-law’s mom Harriet, but through the years, they stubbornly cemented themselves in my husband’s holiday eating tradition. My own journey to embracing the annual ritual of baking them at Christmastime was a bit—ahem—harder won.

After mixing, kneading, and resting, the sturdy, fragrant dough is divided and formed into short stems and round cookie caps indented with the rod end of a wooden spoon. Once baked till just brown and firm, the stems are glued to the caps with icing. The caps get a second dip in the same glaze, after which their tops are sprinkled liberally with crunchy poppy seeds.

My mother-in-law, a confident and enthusiastic baker, always tackled mushroom cookies solo, reveling in the hours-long process (and even baking a few other cookies simultaneously, because why not?). I, on the other hand, prefer confronting them with a sous baker—preferably the level-headed sort with a knack for measuring and assembly line-setup.

In the 10 years I’ve been baking them, I freely admit that I’ve rarely strayed from the handwritten brief on its small, stained notecard, nor have I learned many tricks beyond dangling the finished cookies in the gaps of baking racks as they dry (I’ve seen other home bakers lean them diagonally inside muffin tins for support). More than anything, these warming, tender cookies represent a few hours back in the generous, joyful company of my late mother-in-law—meaning I cherish the whole damn, messy process just as it is.

While they indeed demand considerable time, counter space, and patience to prepare, you won’t find a more enchanting, delicious, or special result. My only advice is to bake as many mushroom cookies as you can tolerate at once; you’ll want to keep as many for yourself as you give away. —Maggie Hennessy

  • Prep time 3 hours 30 minutes
  • Cook time 20 minutes
  • makes 36 to 40 cookies
Ingredients
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cardamom
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons freshly grated lemon zest
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated orange zest
  • 2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons full-fat sour cream
  • 2 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/2 cup poppy seeds, plus more as needed
In This Recipe
Directions
  1. Heat the honey in a large pan over medium heat until it bubbles at the sides of the pan. Remove from the heat; stir in the granulated and light brown sugars, butter, egg, spices, and zest.
  2. Combine the flour, baking soda, and salt into a mixing bowl; stir in the honey mixture alternately with sour cream. Turn onto a lightly floured board; knead until the dough is easy to handle and not sticky (firm enough to hold the impression of your finger), about 5 minutes. Allow the dough to rest for 20 minutes.
  3. Heat oven to 350°F. Divide the dough into four equal parts. Make mushroom “stems” from one part. Shape into two rolls, each 25 inches long about ⅜ inch in diameter. Cut into 1-inch lengths, reshaping ends of each “stem” if necessary. Place 1 ½ inches apart on an ungreased baking sheet. Bake until firm and light brown on bottoms, about 7 minutes. Cool on wire racks.
  4. From the remaining dough, make the same amount of “caps” as “stems.” Form the “caps” by shaping dough into 1 ½-inch balls. Make an indentation about ½-inch deep on one side of each ball with the handle of a wooden spoon. Place caps, indented side down, ½ inch apart on an ungreased baking sheet. Bake until light brown on bottoms, about 12 minutes. Cool on wire racks.
  5. Make the icing: Mix together the confectioners’ sugar and 1 tablespoon water. Add another 2 tablespoons water a little at a time, beating well in between, until the icing is combined.
  6. Line a baking sheet with foil, and fit with a wire rack. Enlarge the indentation in the cooled caps with a small pointed knife. Dip one end of each stem into the icing and insert in the cap. Dip the cap into the icing, sprinkle the top with poppyseeds, and set the cookie on the rack to dry. Repeat until you’ve glued together all the stems and caps, and decorated the caps. Let dry for at least 15 minutes.
  7. Store the cookies in an airtight container for up to six weeks or in the freezer for about three months, though I’ve never seen them hang around this long.

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