Have you guys decided which cookies you’ll be baking for the holidays yet? Have you narrowed it down to just one recipe, or are you making a few different kinds?
When I was little my grandma would always have a big tray of homemade cookies on the counter every Christmas, and it was always so much fun to choose which kind to try first. Being the chubby little dough boy that I was, by the time we were done opening presents you better believe that I’d tried each and every recipe she had on that platter, sampling a few of them more than once, you know, just to be sure.
This year I signed up for a cookie swap at work and I couldn’t be more excited about it. I’ve always wanted to host one myself but never thought enough of my friends would be interested to make it work. This year though, one of my coworkers suggested it and to my surprise, so many people signed up that I’m actually worried about how many batches I’m going to have to make. The more people who sign up though, the more varieties of cookies I’ll have for my holiday spread this year. An embarrassment of riches y’all!
Originally my plan was some kind of spicy gingerbread cutouts, but after Nordic Ware reached out to me to ask if I’d be interested in a project they’re working on with the Minnesota Historical Society, I might just have to change my plans!
To celebrate their Scandinavian American roots this holiday season, Nordic Ware joined forces with the Minnesota Historical Society and Mill City Museum to help them promote a special holiday cookbook they’ve just released.
Nordic Ware has been a major part of Minnesota’s heritage and history since 1946, and they’re still a family owned company! The Minnesota Historical Society helps preserve Minnesota’s past, shares the state’s stories and connects people with history in meaningful ways. They play an important role in Minnesota’s historic preservation, education and tourism; and provide the public with award-winning programs, exhibitions and events. Part of the historical society, The Mill City Museum was built into the ruins of what was once the world’s largest flour mill, located in Minneapolis on the historic Mississippi Riverfront. They teach their visitors about the intertwined histories of the flour industry, the Mississippi river, and the city of Minneapolis.
Written by self proclaimed Nordic food geek and meatball historian Patrice M. Johnson, and published by Minnesota Historical Society Press; Jul: Swedish American Holiday Traditions focuses on the Christmas food traditions of Swedish Americans in the Midwest.
From smörgåsbord and St. Lucia processions, to Christmas Eve gatherings with family and friends, Swedish Americans are linked through the generations by a legacy of meatballs and lutfisk. Throughout the Midwest where Swedish immigrants settled, holiday dishes placed on the julbord (Christmas table) tell stories about who they are, where they come from, and where they are heading.
In exploring Swedish American holiday customs, Johnson begins with her own family’s Christmas Eve gathering, which involves a combination of culinary traditions: allspice-scented meatballs, Norwegian lefse served Swedish style (warm with butter), and the American interloper, macaroni and cheese. Just as she tracks down the meanings behind why her family celebrates as it does, she reaches into the lives and histories of other Swedish Americans with their own stories, their own versions of traditional recipes, their own joys of the season. The result is a fascinating exploration of the Swedish holiday calendar and its American translation.
Jul is full of recipes that are perfect for holiday celebrations, even if you don’t have Swedish or Scandinavian roots. The are tons of mouth-watering recipes for celebratory savory dishes, drinks, and desserts, but I went straight for the cookies when I was deciding which recipe to try out and share. Coming from a German American family, I share the author’s love for heavily spiced holiday treats and it didn’t take me long to zero in on a fun and unusual recipe for spice cookies she calls “Ginger Pinchies”.
These two-tone cookies were named after Johnson’s cat Pinchy, and inspired by her daughter’s love of ginger and her aunt’s well-worn copy of a Swedish Tabernacle Church Cookbook. Although they’re rolled up differently, the recipe is similar to a traditional pinwheel cookie. Rather than chocolate though, the dark part is a ginger-heavy spiced molasses dough and the light is perfumed with fresh citrus zest and a touch of vanilla. It reminds me so much of an Old-Fashioned marble cake recipe that I found in an old cookbook from the 1940s, which I made into this stunning holiday bundt a couple years ago!
Reading that this recipe was a 2015 Minnesota State Fair Gold Medal Flour Cookie Contest Blue Ribbon Winner was all I needed to see to know this was the one for me.
The results are in y’all, these cookies are amazing! The light part is citrusy and delicate, soft and chewy, and I absolutely love the contrast with the rich and spicy molasses dough. Taken all in one bite they balance perfectly, and because I’m a nerd I also tried eating each dough separately in small bites to see how I liked them on their own. Just perfect! Thanks to my new Nordic Ware half sheet pans, the cookies baked up perfectly tender with delicately and evenly browned bottoms. While dark non-stick pans can sometimes overheat and burn the bottoms of cookies, these professional grade pans heat evenly and consistently producing perfectly baked cookies every time!
These cookies are absolutely ideal for your holiday spread, and they’ll be great for my cookie swap. You should definitely check out this cookbook for yourself, but so you don’t have to wait to make these cookies, I’ve shared the recipe below.
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg yolk, beaten
3 tablespoons milk
1 1/2 cups plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour (divided)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
zest of 1 orange (about 1/2 teaspoon)
zest of 1 lemon (about 1/2 teaspoon)
2 tablespoons molasses
1 teaspoon ground ginger (or 2 to 3 tablespoons grated fresh ginger)
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon allspice
Use a stand mixer with paddle or a hand mixer to beat butter on low speed for about 30 seconds. Gradually add sugar and bead on medium speed until fluffy, about 3 to 4 minutes. Turn mixer to low and add egg yolk and milk and mix well. In a small bowl, whisk together 1 1/2 cups flour, baking powder, and salt. Gradually add flour mixture and continue beating until dough forms.
Divide dough in half (there will be just over 2 cups total) Add half of the dough back to the mixing bowl along with vanilla, orange zest, and lemon zest. Mix until incorporated. Form dough into a ball and wrap in plastic wrap. Set aside. Place remaining dough in mixing bowl along with remaining 1 tablespoon flour, molasses, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, allspice, nutmeg, & cayenne. Mix until incorporated. Dough will be very soft. Form dough into a ball and wrap in plastic. Chill both dough balls at least 30 minutes. (I froze mine for 30 minutes)
Place parchment paper over work surface and roll each dough ball into a 1/4-inch-thick, 8×5-inch rectangle. (It’s important to try to get as close to a rectangle as possible, rather than an oval shape, so that your finished cookie log isn’t hollow at the ends.) Place one dough rectangle over the other, aligning the dough as perfectly as possible. Starting at one of the narrow ends of the dough, use the parchment to help you gently roll the dough into a spiral, stopping a little more than halfway up the rectangle. Flip the dough upside down and roll the other end into a spiral so that the dough resembles and S-shaped log. Wrap in clean plastic wrap and chill at least an hour. (Again, I froze mine)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line baking sheets with parchment paper. Slice chilled dough into 1/4-inch-thick slices for about 16 S-shaped cookies. (I sliced my log in half, then into quarters, then sliced each quarter into 4 slices to get 16 evenly sliced cookies) Place on prepared baking sheets about 1 to 2 inches apart. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until evenly browned on the bottom. Cool on rack.