Cookies Dessert Recipe Testing

In Search of My Grandma’s Cookies: Serinakaker

Maybe I’ve mentioned it before, but I’ve been searching for decades for a cookie recipe like the plain, crumbly sugar cookies my paternal grandma always had on hand. I shouldn’t really call them a sugar cookie, because if there was anything on the outside of the cookie, it was some leftover flour, probably used to mold the dough into balls for baking. They baked into a soft, slightly crumbly (maybe even doughy) mounded cookie, with just a slightly sweet flavor. I think most people would say they didn’t have much flavor at all, but I really liked them and wish I could reproduce them. Once, after it was too late to ask my grandma, I asked my aunt who lived her entire life with her if she had the recipe, but she said it was not written down anywhere. That tells me it must have been handed down in a memorable formula. But that’s as much as I could figure out, trying out recipes for crumbly or soft sugar cookies to no avail.  They were either too crisp or too sweet.

I only recently discovered through my Ancestry.com DNA test that I have 20% Norwegian ancestry, and that both my grandmothers had Norwegian maiden names, Mong and Aga. So, just for the heck of it, I searched for Norwegian cookies and found the Serinakaker cookie that I’m writing about today. Unlike all the web recipes for Serinakaker, I did not put nuts or sugar or any other topping on the batches illustrated here, because I was trying to recreate the cookies in my memory, so they will look a little too plain for a Christmas cookie.

I made my cookies in a stand mixer, just putting all the ingredients in the bowl and mixing slowly until it all came together—this is not a recipe where the butter and sugar are creamed together first, and I think that makes a difference. But if you want to see it mixed by hand, which is probably how my grandma did it in the 1950s and 1960s, here’s a wonderful version of that method:

I settled on this recipe from Food52, which I made a couple of times before I changed it to fit my idea of a recipe someone might have committed to memory, and also to make it just a bit less sweet, which better fits with my memory. At first, I did roll the dough into neat balls and make the fork imprint on top. They were lovely little cookies, but my grandma’s cookies were never so uniform. Hers were so roughly shaped that they almost resembled a drop biscuit more than a cookie, so I have tried to replicate that shape in later attempts, just to humor myself, but for Christmas this year, I’m going to make the smaller, shaped cookies with the fork impressions, egg wash, and decorating sugar, because no one else remembers my grandma’s cookies, so they’re mine now.

For full instructions, see the original recipe on Food52: Serinakaker.  Here is the list of ingredients from that recipe:

  • 4 cups (500 grams) sifted all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 cup plus 6 tablespoons (300 grams) softened salted butter
  • 1 1/3 cups (250 grams) granulated sugar
  • 2 medium eggs, lightly beaten (or one big old American-sized egg)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla sugar (or vanilla extract if you have no vanilla sugar)
  • 1egg white, for brushing the cookies
  • Pearl sugar and/or chopped almonds, for sprinkling

I used these ingredients for two batches, and while I liked the resulting cookies, I felt they were a little too sweet for the cookies I remembered. Plus, I figured that a memorized recipe is probably a simple recipe—1 cup plus 6 tablespoons butter? 1 1/3 cups sugar?—I think those two, at least, could have easily changed without affecting the cookie too much.  Here are the ingredients I finally used and that came the closest to what I remember:

  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2.5 sticks (1 cup plus 4 tablespoons) salted butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

I think this batch is plenty sweet, and the dough had the same texture as the original—both are easy to mold and shape, as long as you take the time to mix the ingredients well, whether by hand or with a mixer. The resulting cookies, from either list of ingredients, are soft, sweet, and just a little crumbly. I think they will be even better with the egg wash and decorative topping.

Anyway, I’m putting the search for my grandma’s cookies to rest

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