It’s time to start planning which Christmas cookies to bake this year! Danish ‘brunkager’, literally ‘brown cakes’, have always been my favorite Christmas cookies. With all their warm aromas from cinnamon, cloves, ginger, all spice and nuts, these wonderful little treats smell and taste like real Christmas to me. Just wait till you put them in the oven, and you’ll see what I mean. There are tons of variations of these cookies, and you can find cousins of these all over Scandinavia and northern Germany. But since this recipe for these spicy Christmas cookies comes from my ancestors, of course I think it’s the best.
A ‘brunkage’ is also a very practical cookie, if I may say so. The dough really benefits from resting for at least a day or longer before you start baking, but the dough can also very easily be kept in the freezer. Thus you can simply produce as many roles of dough as you like, freeze them, and take them out and make freshly baked cookies whenever you feel like it. You don’t even need a cookie press! These are rustic homemade cookies, so simply slice up the dough roles, and bake the slices into delicious cookies. Once baked, the cookies will even keep well in airtight containers for weeks.
The story of Danish ‘brunkager’ (spicy Christmas cookies)
‘Brunkager’, or spicy Christmas cookies, also happen to be one of the oldest of all the classic Danish Christmas cookies. It’s history actually goes all the way back to the Middle Ages, which makes sense, because in those days it was considered very posh and fashionable to cook with lots of warm spices like cinnamon and cloves. Back then it was definitely a way of showing off wealth when you could flash being able to afford expensive exotic spices in you cooking. Today, however, it’s a different story, and you can get spicy Christmas cookies (‘brunkager’) that fit every budget in the stores.
But the store bought ones are a completely different experience, and they certainly won’t spread that amazing smell of Christmas in your house like these will do when you bake them. The original recipe only included almonds, but I really love pistachios, so I decided to add some. And, I guess modern versions do tend to include pistachios to update the classic recipes just a bit.
Also, in Denmark you’d typically use a substance called potash (potassium carbonate) instead of baking soda as a leavening agent because of it’s unique ability to make the cookies crisp. Realizing, though, that potash is not something that you can easily get your hands on in northern America, I tried making these with baking soda, and the result, honestly, wasn’t really that different. I think it just as much depends on your oven. But feel free to try with both types of leavening agents, and see which one you think works best.
Brown cookies with Christmas spices and nuts (Danish ‘brunkager’) – makes about 200 cookies
1 1/4 cups/9 oz (250 g) granulated sugar
1 cup/8 oz (225 g) butter
4 oz (125 ml) molasses/dark syrup
1 1/2 tsp baking soda (or potash – potassium carbonate)
3 cups/14 oz (400 g) all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 1/4 tsp ground cloves
1 1/4 tsp ground ginger
1 1/4 tsp all spice
1.75 oz (50 g) whole, sleeved almonds
1.75 (50 g) unsalted shelled pistachios
1. Put the butter and sugar into a pot and pour in the sirup. Gently heat up over low to medium heat until the butter melts. Make sure it doesn’t start boiling. Stir and mix well together and then take off the heat.
2. Mix in the cinnamon, cloves, ginger and all spice and let cool till almost room temperature.
3. Add the baking powder. If you use potash instead, first stir it into about 1 tbsp water before adding it. Now add the whole almonds and pistachios. Then add the flour a little at a time and finally knead the dough together until it becomes smooth.
4. Divide the dough into 2-3 rolls about 1.5 inches (4 cm) in diameter. Cover each individual roll with cling film and store in the fridge or a cool place for at least 24 hours. Or, store in the freezer until you want to bake the cookies.
5. Preheat the oven to 350 F (175 C). Using a very sharp knife, slice the dough roles while cold into very thin slices and place these on baking trays clad with baking parchment. (If the dough is too warm, it’s harder to cut nicely through the nuts. If the dough gets too soft along the way, just put it back in the fridge until it hardens again.) Bake one tray at a time in the middle of the oven for 7-10 minutes until the cookies are golden brown.
6. Leave to cool off completely on a cooling rack. Then keep the cookies in airtight containers for up to three weeks.
The perfect drink to pair with your spicy Christmas cookies? Well, try this classic Danish mulled wine, or Glögg, as we call it. It’s sure to bring out the Christmas spirit and keep you warm on a cold winter’s day!