Last week we shared our recipe for brown Christmas spice cookies – Danish ‘brunkager’. Here’s another wonderful recipe for Christmas cookies, this time straight from my great grandmother Inger’s old recipe book. I guess most people are familiar with the Danish vanilla butter cookies that you can buy in typically blue tins, often with photos of famous Danish places on them. Whether these mass produces cookies leave a positive or negative impression of Danish baking on those who try them, is not for me to judge, but these homemade ones are definitely a much more interesting taste experience, and I think far more worth the calories. And they are super easy to make too, and make great gifts for friends and family you visit over the holidays.
The story of the Danish vanilla butter cookies, ‘Vaniljekranse’, starts around the mid 1800s when the cast iron stove became available to more people. Built into the cast iron stove was a proper oven where the heat was more evenly distributed and easier to control, making it possible for more people to make delicate pastries and cookies. Baking vanilla butter cookies was still, however, quite a fancy thing, as the amounts of sugar, butter, almonds and not least vanilla were quite expensive.
Why the hole in the middle? First of all the shape of the cookie ensures a larger baking surface, making the cookie more crisp and richer in taste as more of the dough is allowed to take on color when baking. Secondly the hole has a practical purpose: in the old days it was common to decorate the Christmas tree with treats, like for example cookies. After having danced around the tree while singing Christmas carols, the children could find a little treat on the tree to enjoy. And with a hole in the middle, well, this cookie just calls for being put up on that tree!
Danish Christmas vanilla butter cookies (Vaniljekranse) – yields about 150 cookies
3 cups (before sifted) or 16.8 oz (475 g) all purpose flour
1.8 cups/1lb/4 sticks (450 g) salted butter, room temperature
1 1/4 cup/8.8 oz (250 g) sugar
2 whole vanilla beans
4.4 oz (125g) almonds (sleeved), finely chopped
1. Cut the vanilla beans lengthwise with a sharp knife and scrape out the vanilla seeds. Mix with a bit of the sugar to separate the vanilla seeds. Now cut off the hard ends of the vanilla beans and discard these. Then finely chop the rest of the whole vanilla beans.
2. Mix the butter, sugar, vanilla seeds and chopped vanilla beans, using an electric mixer. Next, add the eggs one at a time and mix well. Then add the chopped almonds and stir together and then finally sift the flour in a little at a time.
3. Gently mix or knead the dough, but do not add more flour even if the dough seems quite moist. If you like, you can leave the dough to cool a bit in the fridge, or, you can even let it rest in the fridge till the next day if you prefer.
4. Preheat the oven to 400 F (200 C). To make the vanilla rings use either a piping bag with a star-shaped decorating tip or a cookie press with a star-shaped pattern. Put the dough into either a bit at a time and make little rings of about 2 inches (5 cm) in outer diameter on a parchment clad baking tray.
5. Bake the vanilla butter cookies at 400 F (200 C) for about 10-12 minutes till they are light golden brown. Let them cool well on a cooling rack before you store them in an airtight cookie tins or containers.
More Christmas to come! Here’s a bit of Christmas cooking inspiration:
Danish ‘Glögg’ – mulled wine. The perfect drink with your cookies. Sure to get you into the right Christmas spirit!
My favorite Christmas cookies: ‘brunkager’ – cookies packed with aromatic Christmas spices, almonds and pistachios – yum!