by Janice Cook Knight
The Best Christmas Cookies
I never knew Bestamor, my husband’s grandmother. Johanna Johnsen lived to be ninety, and left behind a formidable reputation as a mother, grandmother, friend and cook. Speaking no English, she left Denmark in the early 1920’s with her three small children in tow, on a big ship headed across the pond. So many Danes left home in the early twentieth century, largely due to a terrible economy after WWI, that there are commemorative blue Danish plates from that time with ships and immigrant themes. She was coming to meet her husband, who had found in lovely Solvang, California, a Danish community that would be their new home.
In pictures, Bestamor looks strong. She thrived in Solvang, learned English, raised those children up to adulthood, and became the matriarch of a large tribe of grandchildren, including my husband, Jim. She mixed a mean martini. At Christmas, she made up a pitcher of martinis and served them in tiny glasses – providing guilt-free refills. We still have these glasses, and have several of her iconic Danish plates, as well as her cast-iron aebelskiver pan, for making the tender, spherical Danish pancakes often served at Christmas. She led dancing and singing around the Christmas tree, a tradition that was continued for many years in the family.
At one of the first Christmases I attended after meeting Jim, I tasted some unusually delicious cookies. They were small, tender sandwich cookies with a creamy raspberry filling. Yum. Cindy, Jim’s brother’s wife, had made them. She told me that these were one of Bestamor’s cookie recipes, and that Bestamor called them Danish waffles. Eventually Cindy became my sister-in-law, and shared the recipe with me. It apparently came from an old Better Homes and Garden Cookbook – 1961 – and was titled “Cream Wafers,” or “Pariserwafier”. The contributor was a woman from Minnesota who had brought the recipe from Sweden. Sweden, Denmark – close enough. I imagine these Nordic countries share more than a few recipes in common.
Sometimes we get to know people we never knew from the legacy they leave behind: their cookies; their martini glasses; and best of all, their grandsons. Thank you, Bestamor.
Bestamor’s Danish Waffle Cookies
(Or Cream Wafers – Pariserwafier)
1 c. soft butter
1/3 c. whipping cream
2 c. all-purpose flour or white spelt flour, sifted
Cream butter with flour; add whipping cream, and mix thoroughly. Shape dough into a flat disk, wrap and chill 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Roll dough 1/8” thick, and cut into 1 ½” rounds. Transfer to waxed paper heavily sprinkled with sugar, turning to coat both sides. Place on ungreased parchment-lined baking sheet. Prick in 4 places with fork. Bake 7 to 9 minutes, or until slightly puffy, but not browned. Cool on wire racks.
Put two cooled cookies together with Creamy Raspberry Butter Filling (follows). Makes about 5 dozen 1 ½” double cookies.
Creamy Raspberry Butter Filling:
½ c. soft unsalted butter
1 ½ c. sifted confectioner’s sugar
1 egg yolk (optional – it makes it creamier)
1 tsp. almond extract
¼ c. raspberry jam
Blend ingredients with an electric mixer or thoroughly by hand until very smooth and creamy. You will need about 1 Tbs. filling per cookie.