Whooboy. I’m in transition. Really, I’d like to hope I’m on the backside of transition. November brought an opportunity to work on a more permanent basis with one of my long time design clients. So I’ve been busy juggling freelance work while also settling into a new life in the marketing department at Northland College. It’s great, I love it, change is inspiring. I’m just a lousy juggler.
I knew going in that this year’s holiday baking regimen might be compromised. Realizing I had a limited amount of time in the kitchen, I thought long and hard about what would fill my holiday tins. My week 52 toffee for sure – it was the first (and last) thing I made. Another no brainer was a few batches of the Smitten Kitchen’s spicy brittled peanuts. And I painstakingly narrowed it down to just one cookie recipe. Great Aunt Mable’s recipe was a top contender, but in the end, I settled on a simple Swedish rye cookie – another nod to Grandma Myrtle and my Scandinavian roots.
I’ve been fussing with a rye cookie recipe that came attached to a Julebock cookie cutter I bought years ago. The Julbock is the popular Scandinavian Christmas goat – you know the one – usually made of straw and tied up with a red ribbon. In the playful spirit of the goat, “julbocking” is a Scandinavian tradition that involves going from house to house to make mischief and merriment. I didn’t grow up julbocking, but I did grow up with a red wooden goat, handmade by Grandpa Orville. It was, and remains, my favorite Christmas decoration. As a kid I think I was drawn to the shiny red paint. But as an adult, I relish the symbolism of playfulness and joy. It’s too easy to lose that in all the hoo-ha.
Which is precisely why I decided to mix up a batch of jolly Julebock rye cookies. They would be the perfect antidote to this extra helping of chaos I’ve been indulging in lately. All month I moved my marked up recipe card around the kitchen as a prompt to fire up the mixer. From the counter, into a cookbook to mark a page, inside the mixing bowl itself, and back into another book. Herein lies the problem. In all my toing and froing, I lost the recipe. At least three times I spent what should have been precious baking time ransacking the kitchen for the recipe. Did I mention I’m a lousy juggler?
The recipe eventually unearthed itself, a few days after Christmas, from a pile of neglected paperwork in my office. Better late than never when joyfulness is on the line. I galloped straight into the kitchen, put on some Johnny Cash, and got out my rolling pin. I love this cookie. It’s complex, and not too sweet – which means it isn’t for everyone. But for me, it means not being able to keep my hand out of the tin. It’s also a perfect afternoon tea cookie. And, as with all cut-out cookies, don’t limit them to the Christmas season. Think valentine hearts, four leaf clovers, flying witches, and showy turkeys.
Swedish Rye Cookies
I’ve made this recipe a handful of times, altering here and there as I go, and I’m finally 100% satisfied. The biggest change I made is to swap in honey for white sugar. If you’d rather use sugar, omit the honey and use 1/2 cup sugar. The dough might seem a little sticky after chilling, but it is very forgiving. Just don’t be shy about rolling it out on a well floured surface. It makes all the difference. Feel free to play with spice combinations as well.
3/4 cup butter
1/3 cup honey
1 large egg
1 1/3 cups rye flour
2/3 cups white flour
1 teaspoon ginger powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
Cream the butter and honey together. Add in egg and blend well. Mix together dry ingredients in a separate bowl and slowly add to the butter mixture. Mix thoroughly. Form the dough into two flat rounds and chill for at least an hour, or overnight. Roll out the dough rounds on a well floured surface to about 1/8 inch thick. Cut out cookies and transfer them to baking sheet with thin spatula (you can re-chill and re-roll the scraps once – more than that and they run the risk of getting too floury). Bake at 350º F, 5-6 minutes for smaller cookies, 8-10 minutes for larger shapes. Watch carefully – they brown quickly! (Makes about 6 dozen, smaller 2″ cookies)