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Thursday, 15 December 2011

Belsnickel Cookies

The name of these cookies raised a discussion amongst my friends, some of them of Germanic background. I thought "belsnickel" was some sort of gnomish or tomte-nisse figure. Some others said he was more like Father Christmas or Santa Claus. Again, others said the belsnickels were like mummers, dressed in costumes and going from house to house. Apparently it depends on the region of northern Europe or Deutsch Pennsylvania from which one hails.

So "belsnickel" cookies might be made in the shape of the belsnickel, or made to reward good children in December or in the Christmas festival, or they might be to serve to the belsnickelling neighbours who are proceeding from house to house in disguise.

Here's a warning about these cookies: they are a rich little butter and sugar cake. They burn. They burn fast. I had to adjust the cooking time and temperature from the original Amish recipe of a "hot oven" for ten minutes. The first batch was in for about seven minutes and was heralded by a  cloud of grey sugar-butter smoke.

I am not one to indulge in rich cookies very often, but at the Christmas holiday, why not? These are a small indulgence and there is no way to make them a health cookie.

Utensils: Mixing bowl, electric handmixer or sturdy wooden spoon, rolling pin, shiny baking sheets (I use well-washed aluminium foil pizza pans), cookie cutters.

Ingredients: 1 cup white sugar, 1/2 cup real butter, melted slowly, 2 eggs, 1 1/2 cups white flour, 3/4 tsp. Baking soda, 1/8 tsp plain table salt, 1/2 teaspoon rosewater. If you can't find rosewater, use vanilla or almond extract, but the rosewater is so lovely and old world.

Directions: Put the sugar in a large mixing bowl, pour the melted butter into it, and beat it until well blended. Add the eggs and beat in well, then stir the soda and salt into the flour and add that to the sugar mixture, stirring well after each addition. Blend in the rosewater. The dough should be cohesive but a bit sticky; don't add too much flour. Refrigerate for an hour or overnight, covered tightly - press a  piece of plastic, foil or a damp tea towel right down onto the dough.

Flour a board or counter top well, and if you have a marble rolling pin, chill it, too. If you have a glass pin, fill it with ice and cold water. Roll out about half the dough, cut into fancy shapes or simple circles, and place on a buttered cookie sheet. Bake at 350F for about 7-9 minutes, watch carefully, These should not even brown, just seem no-longer-raw; your index finger should make a minor dent, but not a hole - then they are done. Let them sit on the cookie sheet for a couple of minutes, and then gently pry loose with a thin spatula or knife blade before transferring to a wire rack to cool. They firm up considerably, so don't be scared of them. Scrape down and re-butter the cookie sheets if you need to re-use them for the next batch.

Everyone knows - it's a law everywhere - that damaged cookies belong to the baker.

These are good just like that - a plain sugar cookie with an exotic taste. I frost mine with a little buttercream flavoured with more rosewater. Try this: 2 tablespoons soft butter, one cup icing (confectioner's) sugar, a tablespoon or so of milk, a 1/4 teaspoon of rosewater. Beat the soft butter well, beat in the sugar, thin slowly with the milk to the right consistency, and add the flavouring. Tint if you like. I spread this on the cookies and then sprinkle with coloured sugar or jimmies or non-pareils.


  1. These look really good... You got the tea pot on? I'll be right up..

  2. Oooo, rose water! I knew someone who would put a drop or two in her iced tea. Where can you find rose water? The one rose water extract that I found in the Indian foods section of a international food market was not rose extract but a grouping of unmentionable chemical concoctions! Rose or Rose geranium essential oil won't work, will it? I've got that on hand.

  3. These look so lovely and Christmasy!

  4. These sound yummy Magdalena. I may have to give them a try. You have a bit of a typo though. You say to bake the cookies for 709 minutes. I know you mean 7-9 but a new baker might not.

    To your other poster, my extracts and rosewater is a brand called Horton Quality (it's Canadian). I buy mine at Bulk Barn. Hope that helps.