There’s usually been some sort of cookie effort each winter holiday, overambitious at the outset, quite modest by the end, and nothing like the fabled concerted undertaking of my grandmother. As my dad describes, the holidays always necessitated the tart-shaped sandkaker, rolled ginger cookies and the small buttery mounds filled with a dollop of jam.
On the other hand, my mum’s only requirement for the holiday cookie spread was tart lemon bars, while my sister would take the lead on any supplementary baking. My sole contribution began in elementary school when, pouring over the enticing glossy photo spreads from a Company’s Coming cookie book, I became enamoured with the swirled icebox cookies–the perfect slices reminded me of the hidden designs in Pillsbury slice and bake cookies. More recently, Bouchon Bakery‘s speculoos have become the lemon bars’ (the one constant) companion.
This year, I was thinking of what I could do for my lab and realized that there was an opportunity here. This would be the year, I decided, where I would make all my haunting and unfulfilled cookie dreams come true through The Workplace Cookie Box.
Over the course of a few pre-dawn baking sessions, I put together a box for the lab. Quite a few of the recipes are drawn and adapted from Beatrice Ojakangas’s Scandinavian Baking, while others were previous favourites (linzer and cookies rolled in icing sugar) and others I had meant to try to make for a while (kinako shortbread and gevulde speculaas ). It was certainly a lot of butter, but any concerns easily justified away because it and all the sugar were to be diluted over many people.
They’re all cookies of the more dry and crumbly sort–which also travel the best, last longer, and aren’t likely to dry out. There are some classics–jewel-toned linzer cookies are perfect on the second day and the vanilla wreathes, while a pain, are actually possible to pipe (some tips included in the recipe). The ginger cookies are a bit spicy and so very, very numerous. It’s a robust dough–it only gets smoother after being rolled out multiple times, and they’re baked so thin and crisp that there is no worry about toughness.
As shortbread are so amenable to a variety of flavours, I made a couple variations, one with kinako (which were simple, sandy, and subtly nutty) and one with black tea and rose (which could have used a bit more of both flavours). While the floral orange blossom snowballs were fun, my favourite cookie was the crescent-shaped walnut and anise cookies. I find them really fun, with a strong assertive anise flavour right at the outset. Otherwise, the rye cookies, which I knew I wanted to like but wasn’t sure I actually would, were surprising delicious as well. Finally, the gevulde speculaas stand out a bit in the box due to their heft, but they’re delicious, mostly solid marzipan and spices.
Now, the other convenient consequence of the cookie box is this holiday cookie post. From an efficiency standpoint, cookie posts are quite a feat (nine recipes in one for you today). I also realized how wonderful holiday baking is because of the sheer abundance of props! And not just any props, but relevant props, merely by a shared association with holidays…
recipes are below
cardamom linzer cookies
See here; for filling used strained cloudberry jam, ligonberry jam and black cherry jam (for a fun array of colours). I love the cookies themselves! They’re delicate, crumble easily, and delicious…and luckily they are also wonderful when sandwiched with jam.
Adapted from Beatrice Ojakangas’s Scandinavian Baking. Makes a lot of cookies! They are pretty much just like the orange and ginger cookies from the supermarket–thin and crunchy.
1 stick butter (1/2 c)
100g granulated sugar
1/2 beaten egg
zest of 1 navel orange
1 tbsp molasses
1-2 capfuls dark rum
177g whole wheat flour
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
generous 1/2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp baking powder
Cream butter with sugar, then mix in the egg, orange zest, and rum until smooth. Separately, combine the remaining ingredients, then add to the butter and mix until you have a soft cohesive dough. Give it a few kneads until it is smooth. Pat into a round, wrap in plastic, and chill completely.
Roll out thinly on a floured surface to around 1/8″ thick. Cut out cookies, place on a parchment lined baking sheet, and bake until beginning to brown around the edges, around 8-10 minutes.
ragkakor (rye cookies)
They’re really delicate and have a good little bit of flavour thanks to the rye flour. From Beatrice Ojakangas’s Scandinavian Baking. Makes around 28 small cookies.
1/2 stick butter (1/4 c)
2 tbsp sugar
28g dark rye flour
1/4 tsp salt
40g a.p. flour
1/2 tbsp water
Cream the butter with the sugar, then mix in the rye flour followed by the remaining ingredients, and lastly mix in the water. I was not convinced that the water was necessary, nor that it needed to be added where it did, at the very end–I’ll look into this again. Pat dough into a round, wrap, and chill completely.
Preheat oven to 375F. Roll out very thinly, ~1/8″ thick. Cut into 5-cm rounds, cut a small 1 cm hole from the centre of each and prick all over with a fork to make you ragkakor cookies look like ragkakor bread. Place on a lined sheet tray and bake for 10 minutes or until beginning to turn golden on the edges.
walnut and anise cookies
My favourite of the cookie batch due to their assertive flavour. Adapted from the almond crescent cookies by An Italian in My Kitchen. Makes around 24 medium-sized cookies.
1 stick butter (1/2 c)
50g granulated sugar
45g walnuts, finely chopped
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp ground anise
165 g a.p. flour
Cream the butter and sugar together, then mix in the nuts, salt, anise and finally the flour. Chill dough.
Preheat oven to 375F. Roll into crescent shapes; I made 24 cookies that were ~16g each and baked for 17 minutes or until beginning to brown. But they expanded more in the oven than I expected–so smaller would be also be nice. Roll in icing sugar while still warm, and then once more when they are cool.
black tea and rose shortbread (above right)
Based on the 3:2:1 ratio for shortbread. Makes 20 small biscuits.
20g vanilla sugar
scant 1/4 tsp finely ground black tea
loosely heaped 1/4 tsp crushed dried rose petals
few pinches kosher salt
90g a.p. flour
Cream the butter and sugar, then mix in the tea, rose, salt and flour. Between sheets of parchment, roll out into a rectangle around 18x14cm and 1/4″ thick and chill completely.
Preheat oven to 375F. Cut into rectangles (dividing into 5 along the width and 4 along the length). Space apart on a parchment lined tray and bake for around 10 minutes or until just a bit golden on the bottoms.
kinako shortbread (left)
Subtle, but a bit nutty. Based on the 3:2:1 ratio for shortbread. Makes 25 small biscuits.
30g granulated sugar
few pinches kosher salt
75g a.p. flour
Cream the butter with the sugar, then add the salt and kinako, and lastly, the flour. Between two sheets of parchment, roll out a bit thinner than the rose tea shortbread above, to a rectangle 18 by 22 cm, and chill completely.
Preheat the oven to 375F. Cut into 25 rectangles, diving each dimension by 5. Spread out the cookies on a parchment-lined sheet tray. Poke with the blunt end of a wooden skewer for a pointless but cute either three or five dot pattern and bake for 10 minutes.
orange blossom & almond snowballs
Adapted from the almond crescent cookies by An Italian in My Kitchen. Makes around 25 small cookies.
1 stick butter (1/2 c)
15g icing sugar
generous 1/4 tsp salt
1 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
generous 1/2 tsp orange blossom water–or to taste
1/2 c ground almonds
150g a.p. flour
additional icing sugar, to coat
Cream the butter with the honey, sugar, vanilla extract and water. Mix in the ground almonds and flour and chill dough.
Preheat the oven to 375F. Divide the dough into small walnut/large hazelnut (13-14g) portions and rolled them into small balls. Place on a parchment-lined sheet pan and bake until lightly browned on the bottom, around 10 minutes. Roll in icing sugar while still warm and then once more again once cool.
vanijekranse (vanilla wreaths)
From Nordic Food & Living and Beatrice Ojakangas’s Scandinavian Baking. They’re pretty wonderful!
3/4 c butter
2/3 c sugar
5cm length of vanilla bean
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/4 c ground almonds
1 3/4 c all purpose flour
Cream the butter with the sugar. Mix in the seeds scraped from the vanilla bean and extract, then the salt and ground almonds, and finally the flour.
Chill the dough briefly, just to bring down the temperature a little, but not to harden it, then transfer to a piping bag fitted with a large star tip. I used a stitched piping bag to bypass the fear of the bag bursting open (which has certainly happened before, such as with chunky chestnut puree). Then pipe rounds, around 3″ in circumference, on a parchment lined baking sheet. I found it much easier to pipe when the dough was closer to room temperature as opposed to fully chilled. Chill the cookies fully before baking.
Preheat the oven to 375F and bake for around 8-10 minutes or until lightly browned
Based on the gevulde speculaas from Koken in de Brouwerij and the recipe in Sweet by Yotam Ottolenghi & Helen Goh. It makes for a good substantial breakfast slice with coffee. These ones should be stored in an airtight container to keep the marzipan soft, and if they’re going to be stored a long term, preferably on their own.
spice mix: I direct you to Koken in de Brouwerij for a speculaas spice formula. This is just in a general a fantastic post; the blogger also acknowledges that Dutch spice mix came to by way of violence and colonization. It does start to feel a bit complicated when you realize so many rather delicious foods carry such a legacy with them.
60g brown sugar
1 tbsp milk
1/2 tsp baking soda
2.5 tsp spice mix
1/2 tsp salt
200g ground almonds
125g granulated sugar
zest of 1/2 lemon + 2 tsp lemon juice
To make the dough, cream the butter, sugar and milk. Whisk together the remaining ingredients, add to the butter, and mix until you have a cohesive dough, adding a bit more milk if necessary. Knead a few times to ensure the dough is malleable and smooth. Chill.
To make the marzipan, combine the sugar and ground almonds in the bowl of a food processor and process a bit to ensure everything is quite fine. Add the remaining ingredients and process until a ball is formed.
Preheat the oven to 375F.
Roll out dough on a sheet of parchment paper to around 38 by 24 cm. Flatten the marzipan on top along the length of the dough in a strip around 1.5-2″ wide. Wrap the flaps of dough around the marzipan so that they overlap a bit and completely envelope the marzipan, it’s easiest to do this by lifting up the parchment and using that to press the dough against the marzipan. Then flip over the log so that the seam side is down. Brush with a bit of beaten egg and then arrange almonds on top, spacing them evenly to delineate your slices. I arranged the almonds with two in each row for 14 rows.
Bake for around 30 minutes or until browned. Let cool completely before slicing into around 14 slices. Store in a sealed container. I overbaked mine a bit as the cookie part was a bit dry, however they were much improved by the second day once the moisture from the marzipan had equilibrated with the speculaas dough.