My friend Shanna has the gifts of cooking and hospitality and come Christmas time, these two gifts go into overdrive. For the last several years she has baked cookies for friends and family, but not just Grandma’s sugar cookies. No, she’s put together a sampler of Christmas cookies from all over Europe to reflect her heritage. We’re talking ELEVEN different types of cookies that she bakes by the dozens. Yep, she’s amazing, and I thought you might want to hear more about her International Cookie Project.
Shanna, thanks for taking time out of all the baking to write my blogpost for me…I mean, to do an interview! Tell me about your Christmas cookies and how this tradition got started.
Shanna: I have always been fascinated with my heritage. I wonder what my ancestors’ lives were like in the ‘old’ country, what did they do? What did they wear? Where did they worship? What did they eat? I decided to find a Christmas cookie/treat from the countries of my heritage: Denmark, Norway, Sweden, England, Scotland, Ireland, & Germany. My husband’s grandfather was Polish, so I also added Poland.
I should’ve known you were Scandinavian. I could almost tell just by looking.
Every Christmas you introduce us to some new cookies as well as some old favorites. What was on the list this year?
I have changed it up from year to year, some cookies are not favorites, so I look for others. The Polish Almond Cookies have become a family favorite. Scotch Shortbread & English Toffee Squares are fairly similar, so I may change things up next year. The Irish Cookies seem to come out flat, I don’t know if Oklahoma humidity has anything to do with it. Is it humid in Ireland? As I was getting my Norwegian Wreath Cookie ingredients together, my husband said, that he wasn’t a fan of them. So, this year I made Norwegian Christmas cookies, he approved so I think those will be back next year. From Germany I make Caramel Almond Wafers, but for some reason they bake flat. The flavor is good, but they don’t look right. I may have to figure out a different recipe, but I hate admitting that a recipe beat me! I ended up making two cookies from Sweden, Pepperkakor, which is a type of Gingerbread & Swedish Dream Cookies. This year I made three Danish cookies: Danske Smakager, Musner & Danish Pastry Cookies. I will probably get it down to one Danish cookie, but I don’t know which one. What were your favorites?
I don’t care how the German Caramel Almond cookies looked, they were my favorite this year! Of the three Danish cookies the Smakager is my favorite. They are so moist and have great flavor, but of course they are all good!
So, if you could eat foreign cookies in a foreign land, where would you go?
Scandanavia, I would love to visit Norway, Denmark & Sweden. I had a Swedish Great-Grandmother & a Danish Great-Grandmother, ever since I found that out, I have been fascinated with the countries. I love cold & snow (many of my Oklahoma friends want to disown me), I tell everyone it is my Viking heritage! I keep thinking that I can find a cheap flight in the middle of winter. Who knows, one day all my friends might get a postcard from Scandinavia at Christmas instead of my Christmas cookies.
I’m torn. Usually I’d insist on going with you, but I’m not a fan of sub-freezing temperatures. If we can plan a trip for the summer, count me in, but Christmas will find me further south. Speaking of location, what are some of the more unusual ingredients you’ve had to find and have you had trouble getting them locally?
The ingredients have not been too difficult, although, I have not been able to find Candied Citron in Oklahoma. I substitute Candied Orange Peels, but I think next year I will actually order some online. I also usually, substitute dried cranberries for dried currants (I don’t even know what a currant is).
Were there any unexpected difficulties in making these recipes?
The most difficult thing for me is understanding the instructions. Many recipes use the metric system, so I have to convert that and there are other issues, too. Did you know that a hard-cooked egg is the same as a hard-boiled egg? Apparently, it is common in European recipes to use hard-cooked eggs instead of raw eggs. I spend a lot of time looking up cooking terms (I should have paid more attention in Home Ec.) Maybe making these cookies will make me smarter?
Metric conversions? I should send the kids over for math. And you might get smarter cooking them, but eating them improves my attitude.
So this year you made eleven different kinds of cookies – not to mention Uncle Guy Candy, but that’s for another post—how long does it take you to make all the cookies?
It usually takes 2-3 days of all day baking. First I lay out all the ingredients on the kitchen counter.
Some cookies have to be chilled overnight, so I try to mix them first. Then I arrange the cookies by oven temperature. The cookies that have to be baked on a lower temperature go first, then I increase the oven temperatures. Thankfully, I have a double oven, so that helps with the time. If my family did not insist on eating breakfast, lunch & dinner, I could probably get everything done faster. Although, during my baking marathon, we do visit other countries for Pizza & Chinese Food.
Which cookies are your favorites?
I don’t know if I have a favorite, I really don’t eat a lot of cookies. I just love making them & giving them away. I wonder when I am making the cookies if my ancestors made the same cookies? What were their favorites?
Isn’t it fun to speculate about people from the past? It’d be so cool to spend a day in their kitchen, wouldn’t it? Well, thanks for the great interview and thanks for all the yummy cookies! Everyone at my house has their favorites—it’s like a smorgasbord. Can you share a recipe with us?