Brune pinner literally translates to ‘brown sticks’. Doesn’t sound very romantic or catchy now, does it? But I promise you, even though they sound a tad boring, once you taste these cookies, you’ll fall in love. They are some of the most popular modern Norwegian Christmas cookies today, and for many families it’s considered one of the obligatory seven types of cookies to make every year during the holidays. Why seven? This number is associated with good luck in most countries. Seven is also a religious number, but it’s not necessarily a Norwegian tradition. Regardless, I doubt you’ll find seven types of Christmas cookies in any other household outside of Norway (and people of Norwegian descent) !
I believe the reason why brune pinner, also known as karamellkaker (caramel cookies) or colakaker (cola cookies), are such a hit, is because they are quick and easy to make; yet produce really incredibly satisfactory and delicious results. Most people are busy preparing for the holidays, so it’s nice to know these cookies can be whipped up in a matter of minutes and still delight both children and adults.
The ingredients? Sugar, cinnamon and syrup… along with butter and flour of course. If you’re looking for healthy cookies, don’t come looking for any Norwegian cookies, because we’re throwing down for Christmas. Of course, many Norwegians go skiing, commit to daily walks or hiking in the woods or mountains to off-set some of the calories, but all in all this time of year, you’re meant to go all out. I think this stems from the old days when people didn’t have as much money and had to be really frugal during the rest of the year. They saved all their good butter, nuts, sugar and other luxury ingredients for Christmas, when people were “allowed” to splurge.
Cookies with flour and sugar first entered into the Norwegian Christmas repertoire in 1845 (before then only the wealthy ate cookies and regular people ate flatbread and lefse). It was during this year when Norway’s famous poet, novelist and cookbook author Hanna Winsnes published her legendary book “Lærebok i de forskjellige Grene af Huusholdningen». This is how the people of Norway got introduced to the recipes for all the classic cookies we know today, and why Hanna Winsnes is regarded as the “mother of all kinds of Norwegian Christmas cookies”.
Traditionally, an egg yolk is added to the batter, but it’s easily replaced by either a flax egg or applesauce. I like using applesauce because it complements the cinnamon in the dough really well, just be careful not to use too much as the dough is already pretty wet. The texture and flavor is not altered whatsoever by leaving the egg yolk out, it’s just as delicious as I remember it from when I was eating animal products.
Brune pinner are decorated with chopped almonds and pearl sugar (a Scandinavian classic), but if you don’t have pearl sugar, you can use demarara or some other bigger flaked sugar on top. Alternatively, if you don’t like almonds, you can substitute with pistachios or hazelnuts, or leave them out all together. I do find that chopped nuts adds a nice crunch to the otherwise soft, slightly chewy cookies. Make sure you slice the cookies diagonally the minute they are pulled out of the oven, as they will seize up quickly when removed from the heat.
Don’t count on these cookies lasting much past the first day, but they will keep a couple of weeks when stored in an airtight container (although I’ve never heard of anyone keeping them that long!)
1 stick + 6 tablespoons or 7 oz (200 grams) vegan butter (I used Earth Balance)
1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar
1/4 cup (60ml) applesauce
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp maple syrup
2 cups or 10 oz (300 grams) flour
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp baking soda
water or plant-based milk for brushing top of cookies
1/2 cup chopped almonds for decoration
demarara sugar or pearl sugar for decoration
In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar until light and creamy. Add in the apple sauce, vanilla extract and maple syrup and combine. Lastly, add in the dry ingredients; flour, cinnamon and baking soda and mix together. Place the dough in the fridge for at least an hour, or overnight, to allow dough to relax and set.
When ready to bake your cookies, preheat your oven to 360 degrees Fahrenheit (180 degrees Celcius). Prepare two cookie sheets and line them with parchment paper.
Divide the dough into four parts, and roll each part into a sausage link the length of the cookie sheet. Using your fingers, lightly press down on the link to flatten it a bit, to about maybe 1/2 inch (1cm). The thinner the dough, the crispier it will be, I like it a bit doughy so leave a little height to it. Repeat with the other three links. Place two links on each cookie sheet, and make sure to place them widely apart, as the dough will expand.
Brush the top of the cookies with a little water or plant-based milk, sprinkle the chopped almonds and sugar on top and place in the oven. Bake for about 12 minutes until golden on top. Remove from oven, and using a pizza cutter or knife, slice the cookies diagonally into about 1 inch pieces. Let cool on rack. Keeps in an airtight container. Will keep for at least 2 weeks.