Klejner / Danish Christmas Cookies

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I am way, way in the Christmas spirit! I’ve more or less got all my Christmas shopping done already (got most of it done in the first week of December (??!) – new record for me), I’ve started writing Christmas cards, and I even have my first batch of Christmas cookies in the bag. I really don’t know what’s come over me this Christmas season. It may simply be procrastination.

In Danish we call cookies ‘småkager’, which means little cakes. Christmas cookies are ‘julesmåkager’
(jul = Christmas), and klejner (pronounced ‘kleiner’) fall into this category. Klejner is one of the oldest type of Danish Christmas cookie, dating all the way back to the Middle Ages! The name ‘klejne’ stems from the Low German word for little (klein). So klejner are litterally ‘littles’ 🙂

Klejner are traditionally cooked in oil, resulting in a deliciously crispy texture, but I’ve come to find them a bit too heavy , especially in combination with all the other rich foods that are around during the festive season, so even though I couldn’t find any recipes for a baked variant I decided I wanted to try to bake them in the oven this year (using this recipe as my point of departure). The result is a softer, lighter cookie, but no less delicious in my opinion, especially when covered in lemon icing (this is more customary for Norwegian klejner, which are larger and softer than Danish klejner, and not for the smaller and more crispy Danish klejner; since mine are small, but not super crunchy, I decided to try and make a little Danish-Norwegian klejne-baby 🙂 ).

The cookies have a trademark twist that looks complicated but really isn’t. I may make the deep-fried version too, but I have a feeling the baked one will do me just fine this season 🙂 I hope you try
them out!

You will need:

  • 2 eggs
  • 125 g butter  (just over 1/2 a cup), softened + about 50 g melted ( just under 1/4 cup) for brushing over the cookies (this butter-brushing step isn’t necessary if you decide to deep-fry the klejner, rather than baking them)
  • 125 g (2/3 cup) sugar
  • 150 ml (2/3 cup) heavy cream
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 450 g (about 3 and 3/5 cups) flour, plus some for dusting the table when rolling the dough out
  • zest of one (untreated) lemon
  • 300 g icing sugar  (about 2.5 cups) + juice of about one lemon for the icing (omit this if deep frying the klejner)
  • Optional: about 750 ml vegetable oil for deep-frying, should you decide to do this instead 🙂

Because the recipe is originally in Danish and not easily adapted to cups, I would really advise you to use kitchen scales to measure out the ingredients, although I’m sure it will be fine even if you don’t 🙂

In a large mixing bowl, cream together the granulated sugar and softened butter. Whisk in the eggs (preferably one at a time – do as I say, not as I do…). Mix the flour, baking powder and baking soda, and stir half of this into the butter and egg mix.

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Grate in the lemon zest, then whisk in the heavy cream. Add the remainder of the flour mixture and knead the dough with your hands until you have a soft, elastic dough that is still slightly tacky to the touch.

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Roll out about 1/4 of the dough on a floured surface, and cut long strips about 3 cm / 1 inch wide. Cut across at an angle, making the strips about 5 cm / 2 inches long. Peel off the scraps and make a scrap pile.

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Cut a slit about 2 cm / 2/3 inch long in the middle of each dough strip. Pull one end of the dough strip through the slit, pulling gently to make the signature shape.

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Place the cookies on a well-greased baking tray. Melt the extra 50 g of butter, and slather the cookies in melted butter before baking for about 5-6 minutes at 200°C / 400°F.

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Don’t overbake them, take them out of the oven when the edges are just beginning to brown. Transfer to a cooling rack to cool.

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Repeat with the rest of the dough (no need to re-grease the baking trays, but do repeat the slather-in-melted-butter step). Make sure to roll the scraps into a ball and use this too.

Let cool, then mix the icing sugar and lemon juice into a thick icing (you want an icing that will stay on the cookie and hold its shape, not a glaze). Ice your cookies. Be sure to let the icing set before transferring the iced cookies to an airtight container/cookie jar.

The iced cookies keep for a few weeks at least in an airtight container 🙂

Makes for about 36 cookies.

P.s.: If you decide to deep-fry them, heat your oil in a wide sautéeing pan, then fry your klejner in batches of 10-15 or so, however many fit in your pan without it getting too crowded, for about 2-3 minutes, turning them over mid-fry. Remove from the oil with a slotted spoon, and transfer to a plate covered in kitchen towel, to absorb the excess oil. Let cool off slightly, then enjoy 🙂 Keep in an airtight metal tin.

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