Sunday, December 18, 2011
Vaniljekranse - Denmark's Christmas Wreath Cookie
If only one cookie is made in Danish homes at Christmas time it would likely be vaniljekranse. (The English would say vanillakranse. My mother often wrote it as vanillekranse.) Pronunciation is always a challenge for young children. As such, we just took it upon ourselves to use our own pet name, 'hole cookies'. (Or would that be 'whole cookies'?)
When we were just wee, I remember my mother making so many Christmas cookies that she kept them in large cherry pails. This was one of those cookies that was made en masse. I would only be guessing, as a small child's sense of perspective is often grander than reality, but I would say that she made at least 4 batches of vaniljekranse. After all, it was my father's favourite.
As it was in many homes, my mother took on the leadership role of creating the spirit of Christmas in ours. The month of December was brimming with anticipation as we all did our part to prepare and develop the feeling of 'hygge'.
There was the trip to the back woods to find the perfect spruce tree. She had final say before it was cut down and hauled home on the toboggan. She picked out the ornaments, many of them home-crafted with her supervision.
The collection of Christmas decorations were strategically placed about the home. Some did not survive our small hands or clumsy moves. One St. Nicolas in particularly was almost fully decapitated. But every year he was again tenderly placed out on the shelf with his head readjusted in place, secured only by a small section at the back of his neck.
The Christmas dinner itself had many traditional dishes reserved for special occasions and sometimes just this once a year.
But it was really the steady flow of Christmas baking throughout the year's closing month that had us feeling the special day nearing. That feeling of 'hygge' was easily achieved.
When she passed away, we made a pact to keep the tradition of her beautiful Danish Christmas cookies a part of our celebration time together, each picking our own favourite to make for our day of gathering. My choice was made for me since it was agreed that I would 'inherit' the implement that actually produces the wreath-shaped cookie.
It has been 8 Christmases now that we have been striving for our mother's perfection. I sense that she would be very pleased.
I buy my ammonium carbonate at the Swiss Pastries store at Carlingwood Mall. It comes in a glass test tube. They also sell ammonium bicarbonate in a similar tube. Read the label carefully. Ammonium carbonate is an important ingredient as it is what gives the cookie its crisp snap while allowing the cookie to not be dry. I have also seen the ingredient at middle eastern grocery stores such as the Mid East Food Centre on Belfast Road near St. Laurent Blvd and the Queensway.
*** UPDATE *** Swiss Pastries is no longer open in Ottawa.
If you can't find vanilla pods, use 2 teaspoons of pure extract. In fact make sure the almond extract is also pure. Artificial extracts will not yield the rich flavours that make this cookie so unique. Using a vanilla pod is worth the effort though.
I buy my ground almond at Rainbow Natural Foods on Richmond Road near Britannia. They keep their product refrigerated vs. in the dry bins to maintain its freshness and keep it from going rancid.
If I want to make double the cookies, I still make each batch singularly as not to over handle the dough. When I made two batches this year, I decided to count the cookies. We made 35 dozen.
2 vanilla pods
500 grams all-purpose flour
250 grams sugar
125 grams ground almonds
1/2 teaspoon ammonium carbonate
375 grams salted butter
2 teaspoons pure almond extract
2 eggs, lightly beaten
Cut the vanilla pod lengthwise and scrape out the seeds with the tip of the knife. Put in with a wee bit of the sugar to be used for the recipe to help mix it through the dough and avoid clumping, as it is quite moist.
Measure the flour, sugar, ground almonds and ammonium carbonate. Mix well. Cut in the butter with a pastry cutter until the butter is in the form of very small pebbles. Drizzle the extracts and egg mixture over the dough. Incorporate the wet ingredients. Work the dough with your hands until it forms a ball. If it feels a bit sticky, add just a dusting of flour. If it is too sticky, the cookies won't hold their ridges. Do not overwork the dough. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for at least an hour.
Use the small star hole in the press plates for the meat grinder.
Put the chilled dough through the grinder and push out a long rope of dough through the small star pattern. Try to keep the dough as chilled as possible, keeping portions in the fridge until you need to refill the hopper. The ridges of the star pattern will stay intact more so when the dough is still chilly. To keep the long rope consistent, the hopper needs to stay reasonably full and you will need to push down on the dough in the hopper to keep forcing the dough into the grinder. Watch your fingers though!
The ropes are then cut into 4" lengths. I create a 'jig' in order to move very quickly with my 4" cuts. It ensures a consistent size and shape of cookie. If you have a piece at the end of the long rope that is much shorter than 4", it goes back into the hopper.
Join the ends to form a wreath. Try to minimize the handling of the rope as you do this. Place on an ungreased baking sheet. (Some prefer to cover their pans with parchment paper.)
(I was thrilled to have my niece helping me this year!)
Bake the cookies at 350ºF for 10-12 minutes or until they are slightly golden. Let them rest and cool on the pan for 5 minutes before removing.
Store in an air tight container. Vaniljekranse cookies freeze well.