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The Cook in Me: Cut that Out! Danish Brown Sugar Cut-Out Cookies (Sirups Kager)©
One of the many benefits of marrying is that you suddenly become a part of an entire new family. Now to some, this may not seem like a benefit. But in my case, I loved the fact that I now had in-laws, including not only my husband's parents but a brother and two grandmothers as well. I had no brothers of my own so I was thrilled at the fact that I had gained a male sibling. And I already knew him because he and my sister were in the same class in high school, so I didn't have to go through that awkward getting-to-know you stage that comes once you are absorbed into your spouse's family. When we were first married, he was away at school in another state, so we didn't see him all that often. But he did come home occasionally, and always for the holidays. When he was home for Christmas break, he joined in the cookie baking process, which was a good thing because he was instrumental in the particular cookie recipe that I'm going to share with you today. My husband and his father were working so they could offer us no assistance for the particular task that was required. After receiving his degree from Michigan State University's Hotel, Restaurant and Institutional College in 1975, my Brother-in-Law went on to graduate from culinary school at Johnson & Wales in Rhode Island. He then launched a successful career as a Restaurateur, owning restaurants all over the country. I'm going to devote an article to him at another time, but let me just say that we were fortunate that he had a real interest in the culinary arts, and enjoyed assisting us in the baking process.
The other two major players in this story are my Mother-in-Law Alma, and her Mother, Annie. Because my husband and I had known each other for several years before we began dating, I had gotten to know both Alma and Annie even before we married. I was very fortunate in acquiring both of them as they were both very gracious, loving women who enjoyed all the simple things in life. Annie lived out in the country which at that time meant that the area had not yet been sectioned off into subdivisions. Her home was on the corner of the "Workhouse" property. There was a pig farm down the road, a creek for fishing across the street and corn fields surrounding her half-acre of land. The rest of the surrounding land was owned by the county in Northwest Ohio where we lived. The "Workhouse" was a county correctional facility for criminals who had six months or less to serve and were non-violent offenders, so it wasn't like Annie had Charles Manson in her back yard trying to escape.
Annie's husband, Priff (his real name was Walter), had passed on about two years before my husband and I met, so I never knew him. But from what I understand, he was as fun-loving as Annie. Priff worked as the over-night supervisor at the Workhouse, which was convenient given the location of their property. The house itself had formerly been a one-room schoolhouse. It was converted to a home but still maintained some of the characteristics of a schoolhouse. This was fitting because before Annie married, she was a school teacher in Southern Ohio. She used to laugh when she told about the circumstances under which she and Priff decided to marry. Apparently, it was not a long-planned event like weddings are today. Annie said that her students came to school one day and saw the sign that she had posted on the door which read, "School closed. Went to get married." Since at that time school teachers couldn't be married women, that day ended Annie's teaching career. After their marriage, she and Priff moved to Northwestern Ohio where Priff took the job at the Workhouse, and they bought the schoolhouse where Annie continued to live until her death in 1983.
As I understand, Annie was originally from Logansport, Indiana. Her family was of German heritage (Knapp) and although I never heard her speak German, the family Bible that she had was in German. That Bible, like all the old-time family Bibles, had the names of all the Knapp family members recorded, dating back into the 1700s. The dates of family marriages, births, offspring, and deaths were kept in the Bible. The Bible reported that Annie was born on February 29, 1896—the leap year day. When I met her, she claimed she was only 17-1/2 years old! That was because she would not celebrate her birthday on any other day than February 29th; not March 1st, not February 28th, only February 29th. And when she did celebrate, she celebrated! There was always a big party honoring her, and as she grew older the parties just got bigger. Annie loved a good party. In fact, try as I may, I cannot envision Annie with any other expression on her face than smiling or laughing. That was the kind of person she was and everyone that met her, loved her.
My Mother-in-Law and her Mother were very close. I suppose one reason was because Alma was the only girl in her family, and she had the only Grandchildren. Looking back, it seems like we spent either Saturday or Sunday each week out in the country at Annie's for picnics, dinners, or both. We'd spend the entire day, and sometimes stay overnight. Annie was a wonderful cook, and the house always had the aroma of something baking in the oven or cooking on the stove. For as good a cook as Annie was, and as much cooking and baking as she did, she still had the old-fashioned zinc-lined "ice box" and cast iron sink that she had gotten early in her marriage. Although time and again my in-laws would try to talk her into a more modern kitchen and updated refrigerator, she refused. With that old ice box, the cast-iron zinc sink, and leftover remnants from the schoolhouse, the home maintained a nostalgic charm. Hanging over the door between the kitchen and dining room, there was a sign that read, "No Dancing." I can see that sign as clear in my mind today as if I were standing there reading it, and it still makes me smile because one thing Annie liked to do was dance!
Annie also loved to bake, and she was an expert. She had a Lodi Apple Tree in her back yard, and because she made the most scrumptious apple pies, we all called her "Apple Annie." That is a story in and of itself, and I am going to save that for an article in July. That is when the Lodi Apple Tree bears its fruit. When we visited in July after the apples were ready, the heavenly aroma of apples and cinnamon emitting from Annie's kitchen engulfed you as soon as you parked your car. She also made the most beautiful and delicious sour cream Sugar Cookies. If you can believe this, and I saw it time and again so I know it's true, she used an empty coffee can as her cookie cutter for those cookies. When they spread a little during baking, they reached about 7-inches in diameter! They were as flaky and tender as you can imagine, not too sweet and not crispy, but soft. They melted in your mouth. What I wouldn't give to have one of those cookies today. Alma and I used to wonder how Annie was able to get them so tender and soft. We used the same recipe as Annie, but I have never been able to exactly duplicate the tenderness of those sugar cookies. Alma made a pretty close second to her Mother's, and they were pretty hard to differentiate, but Annie's had that extra something.
The cookies that I've chosen for today are Traditional Danish Brown Sugar Christmas Cut-Out Cookies. We made these the first time I joined Alma and Annie for Christmas Cookie baking in 1972, the year I was married. These cookies are the complete opposite of Annie's sour cream Sugar Cookies. When you first bake them they are hard and crispy. It is only after they are iced and sealed for at least a week that they soften up. For forty years I thought they were a German cookie, but I couldn't locate a German recipe that mirrored the ingredients. My oldest sister has a much broader knowledge of International Pastries than I do. She and her family have been extremely fortunate to have lived in several European countries, including Italy, Austria and Poland. When I asked her if she was familiar with a German brown sugar cookie and gave her the other ingredients, she suggested that they might be Brune Kager.
With that lead and a little more research, I found that they are Sirups Kager, a Danish Christmas Cut-Out Cookie, "as brown as a reindeer." Annie's cookie is a slight variation on the traditional Sirupes Kager. I wish I had thought to ask Annie about the origin of the recipe as I am not aware of any Danish heritage on that side of the family. But sadly, at time I wasn't thinking about the origin of the recipe, only of its exquisite taste. Brune Kager, unlike Sirups Kager, calls for molasses and honey, similar to Lebkuchen. Sirups Kager do not. Their sweetness comes from corn syrup and brown sugar. Annie's recipe calls for finely ground pecans, but most recipes for Sirups Kager that I have seen do not call for nuts at all. Annie's recipe does not call for butter, but other recipes do. And while hers calls for an egg, other recipes do not. So aside from there being an egg in Annie's and butter in others, I do not see a difference. Because some of my Grandchildren do not like nuts of any kind, I make some with and some without nuts. Try them both ways and see which way you like them. I'm going to give you both recipes for this cookie. One is Annie's, the other is the recipe that calls for butter and no egg. I have tried them both, and must confess that I really can't really tell the difference. I prefer Annie's recipe, and I'm sure it's because I used to make them with her, and I have warm memories of the experience surrounding the end result. But you decide. Either way, you may have a new Christmas Cookie that you can add to your holiday baking repertoire.
Do not fear. This is a simple recipe. The most difficult thing about the cookies is mixing them. At least it used to be. When I first began making the cookies (at a time before Kitchen-Aid and Viking stand mixers with paddles and other attachments), incorporating the last of the flour by hand required that you have some pretty good biceps. When I made them the first time, Annie could no longer do the mixing, Alma had difficulty, and because I am not what you'd call the most muscular person, we had to enlist the assistance of my Brother-in-Law. Today it's not a problem. For one thing, I don't make as many and don't need to try to incorporate 7 or 8 cups of flour into the already stiff dough. For another, we have better kitchen equipment. So don't let the mixing scare you off.
The other characteristic that is unusual is that when they are first baked they are hard as rocks! But take my word, once they are iced and stored in air-tight containers, they will mellow and become soft and chewy. Make sure you ice them right away and get them stored and they will not disappoint you. Another interesting fact is that these cookies will keep for months, as long as you store them in air-tight containers. They are an excellent choice for sending overseas as gifts to our troops, or to relatives in distant locations who miss the taste of home and holiday sweets. I hope you will give these a try. They are a nice diversion from the standard Christmas Cut-Out Sugar Cookie. I know both Annie and Alma would be so pleased that their recipe is still being shared and enjoyed!
©2012, 2013 Cut That Out! Annie's Danish Brown Sugar Cut-Out Cookies (Sirups Kager) by Kathy Striggow
This article may not be reproduced in whole or in part without the express written permission of the author.
ANNIE'S BROWN SUGAR CUT-OUT COOKIES
- 1-1/8 cups Brown Sugar, firmly packed
- 8 oz. Light Corn Syrup
- 1 Large Egg, beaten
- 1 tsp. Baking Soda
- 1 Tbsp. Vinegar, white or cider
- 1/2 tsp. Ground Cloves
- 1 tsp. Ground Cinnamon
- 3-3/4 to 4 cups Flour, approximately
- 3/4 cup Pecans, finely ground
- 4 cups Confectioners' Sugar
- 4 Tbsp. Water, or enough to make icing easy to spread, but not runny
- 1 tsp. Vanilla Extract OR Almond Extract, OR a combination of both
- Assorted Food Colorings, if desired
- Decorative Sprinkles, Colored Sugars, Non-Pareils, etc., for decorating
- Preheat oven to 400° F. Grease cookie sheets or coat with non-stick cooking spray.
- Mix together the brown sugar, corn syrup and egg.
- Stir the baking soda into the vinegar and add to the egg and sugar mixture.
- Add the cloves and cinnamon and stir to incorporate.
- Add the flour a little at a time, mixing well after each addition. If you are adding ground pecans, mix them in after about half the flour has been added.
- Continue slowly adding the flour and mix flour until a VERY stiff dough forms.
- With a lightly floured rolling pin, roll the dough to 1/8 to 1/4-inch thickness on a lightly floured surface.
- Cut with cookie cutters into desired shapes.
- Bake on ungreased cookie sheets until lightly browned, about 6-10 minutes. Do NOT overbake. Because ovens vary, watch to make sure that they do not burn.
- Remove to cooling racks and prepare icing.
- For icing, combine the confectioners' sugar, water, and coloring if desired. Add water as necessary to make a spreadable, but not runny icing.
- When cookies are cooled, ice with the confectioners' sugar icing and decorate.
- When icing has completely set, store in airtight containers in a cool place. Give them at least a few days to mellow before serving them. The longer they are kept in an airtight container, the softer they will become.
- The cookies may be stored for as long as two months if kept in an airtight container in a cool place.
Traditional Sirups Kager
Preparation Time: 45 minutes
Chilling Time: 1 hour or overnight
Baking Time: 8-10 minutes
Yield: About 5 dozen
1 cup Butter (or Margarine), softened, not melted
1 cup Sugar
1 cup Dark Corn Syrup
2 tsp. Ground Cinnamon
1 tsp. Ground Cloves
½ tsp. Baking Soda
1 tsp. Vinegar (either white or cider)
3-3/4 to 4 cups Flour
4 cups Confectioners' Sugar
4 Tbsp. Water, or enough to make icing easy to spread, but not runny
1 tsp. Vanilla Extract OR Almond Extract, OR a combination of both
Assorted Food Colorings, if desired
Decorative Sprinkles, Colored Sugars, Non-Pareils, etc., if desired
1. Cream the butter, sugar and corn syrup. Stir in the cinnamon and cloves.
2. Stir the baking soda into the vinegar and add to the sugar-syrup mixture.
3. Add in flour a little at a time, mixing well after each addition.
4. Slowly continue adding flour until a stiff dough forms.
5. Cover dough and chill till hard.
6. Heat oven to 400° F.
7. With a lightly floured rolling pin, roll the dough to 1/8 to ¼-inch thickness on floured surface. Cut with cookie cutters into desired shapes.
8. Bake on ungreased cookie sheets till lightly browned, about 8 to 10 min. Because ovens vary, watch to make sure that they do not burn.
9. Remove to cooling racks and prepare icing.
10. Combine the confectioners' sugar, water, extract(s) and coloring if desired. Add water as necessary to make a spreadable, but not runny, icing.
11. When cookies are cooled, ice with the confectioners' sugar icing and decorate.
12. When icing has completely set, store in airtight containers in a cool place. Give them at least a few days to mellow before serving them. The longer they are allowed to rest in an airtight container, the softer they will become.
13. The cookies may be stored for as long as two months if kept in an airtight container in a cool place.
©2012 Cut That Out! Annie's Danish Brown Sugar Cut-Out Cookies (Sirups Kager) by Kathy Striggow