For a lot of Norwegian-Americans, sandbakkels (the plural in Norwegian is actually sandbakkelse, but we can Americanize) remind them of Christmas. The crisp, buttery cookies are essentially dense tart shells, similar to shortbread, but more crumbly. Meaning "sand pastry," sandbakkels are baked in special fluted tins and contain either ground almonds or more commonly in the U.S., almond extract.
Despite the fact that they are usually served plain here in the states, those little tart shells just begged to be filled. So when I was planning my Scandinavian Midsummer Porch Party, I thought they would make the perfect little dessert. The problem was, what recipe to use?
One of my best-loved talks is on the history of Christmas cookies, and I've got a whole section on Scandinavian ones. So I turned to my former research and remembered the PAGES of sandbakkel recipes from Recipes from Many Lands, a little cookbook of recipes submitted by North Dakota housewives and home economists around the state and published in July, 1927 as Circular 77 of the Agricultural Extension Division of North Dakota State University.
I've clipped all the Sandbakkelse recipes (also Americanized to "Sand Tarts") and posted them below.
The vast majority of these recipes are very similar - almost all call for a mixture of butter and lard, sugar, an egg or two, almond extract, and flour. The instructions are usually quite vague. Some don't even include amounts of flour. Some just say to press into tins and bake. So I decided to take the best advice from all the recipes and the Swedish Sandbakkelse recipe (which actually had measurements for everything) and go from there.
But first, I had to find my sandbakkel tins! At some point I either stole them from my mother (she always had too many and never used them), but I had a little original box of vintage sandbakkel tins in mint condition hiding in the bottom of a kitchen drawer. Alas, I only had a dozen of them, so I had to make due with the recipe in other ways, which you'll see below. But how cute is this box? With the original hardware store price tag!
Scandinavian Sandbakkelse Recipe (1927)
The recipe is pretty straightforward, and if you don't have sandbakkel tins, never fear! There's a hack suggested in the historic recipes that I'll outline below.
1 cup softened butter (2 sticks)
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon almond extract
2 cups flour (plus more to knead)
Preheat the oven to 350 F. In a large bowl, cream the butter and the sugar together, then add the egg and extract and mix until smooth. Add the flour, a little at a time, until the dough starts to come together, then knead with the hands until smooth. Take half dollar sized pieces of dough and press into the tart tin, pressing the dough all the way out to the edge of the tin, but not over the edges. Make sure to press well to ensure good fluting. The dough is buttery enough that you won't need to grease the tins.
Place tins on a sheet pan and bake 12-15 minutes or until golden brown. Let cool in the tins.
Uhoh - you've still got a ton of dough left, and your sandbakkel tin set only came with 12 tins! What do you do? Well dear reader, you follow the advice of those sage 1920s North Dakota farm wives, who maybe didn't have sandbakkel tins either, and you press the dough into a pie plate, and bake it that way. And instead of filling the adorable individual tarts with jam and whipped cream, you fill a whole pie worth and cut it into slices to serve. Easy peasy! You could probably also use muffin tins, in a pinch. But the fluting is the pretty part, so if you can find sandbakkel tins, use them!
I actually took a fair number of photos this time, so enjoy the process via the power of film:
In all, the sandbakkelse were among the easiest of the Scandinavian cookies to make. Which is probably why in Norway they are traditionally the first Christmas cookie that kids help make. But they're not just for Christmas! They were delightful as a summer treat. You could also fill them with pastry cream, fresh fruit, chocolate, or whatever you like! But berry jam and whipped cream felt the most appropriate for Midsummer.
If you'd like to buy your own sandbakkelse tins, Bethany Housewares makes the round kind, and you can get the fancy shapes from Norpro. And if you are a whipped cream fiend like my husband (and to a lesser extent me), and you admired the pretty piping, I can't recommend enough getting a professional, reusable whipped cream dispenser. We love this one. When you factor in buying the heavy cream and the nitrous oxide cartridges, they're not much cheaper than buying the disposable cans, but the whipped cream is some of the best you'll ever taste and you waste a lot less packaging. Plus the cream, once charged, keeps in the fridge for as long as the heavy cream was good. A little shake and it restores to fluffy deliciousness. Happy baking, happy eating!
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Sarah Wassberg Johnson has an MA in Public History from the University at Albany and studies early 20th century food history.