In Denmark, Jewish cookies are all the rage at Christmas. True story. No Danish Christmas cookie plate would be complete without Jødekager (literally “Jewish cakes”)—a delicate butter cookie that comes topped with chopped nuts and a generous sprinkling of cinnamon sugar.
Just like with Rome’s carciofi alla Giudia, or “Jewish-style” artichokes, the name Jødekager indicates that the dish has roots in the country and region’s Jewish communities. In this case, the cookie is tied to Sephardim who, after the Spanish Inquisition, found refuge in the Netherlands. According to Gil Marks’ Encyclopedia of Jewish Food, “these Spanish and Portuguese Jews merged their Moorish-influenced Iberian fare with the local Scandinavian cuisine.” That meant using butter, which was widely available, instead of olive oil for some cooking and lots of baking.
Variations of the Joodse boterkoeke (Jewish butter cookies) that resulted eventually spread to Scandinavia (including Denmark), as well as Germany and England. By the 17th century, Jewish bakeries in Copenhagen were churning out their own nut- and cinnamon-topped takes on the butter cookie that would become beloved throughout the country. The association stuck, and the cookies became known for their Jewish provenance.
When it comes to the winter holiday connection, buttery cookies of all kinds are de rigueur on Christmas, especially in Denmark where crumbly shortbread and piped wreath cookies come flavored with seasonal spices like cardamom and vanilla bean. After all, who hasn’t walked into a Christmas party at the office or a friend’s house toting a blue metal tin of Royal Dansk cookies? Within this sweet, dairy-filled world, Jødekager fit right in. And for countless Danes, these Snickerdoodle-esque cookies are the stuff of warm childhood and holiday memories.
But if the thought of a Jewish cookie topping Denmark’s Christmas menu feels a bit odd, just remember: Some of the best American Christmas songs were written by Jews, too.
Jødekager (Danish Jewish Butter Cookies)
Makes about 2 dozen
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup plus 1/4 cup granulated sugar, divided
1 egg yolk plus 1 egg white, divided
1-2 tablespoons milk
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup raw almonds, finely chopped
1. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
2. Using a standing mixer or handheld electric mixer, beat together the butter and 2/3 cup sugar at medium speed until light and fluffy. Add the egg yolk and continue beating until combined. Add the flour mixture, a little at a time, until incorporated. The dough will look a bit crumbly at this stage. Add 1 tablespoon of milk, beating at a low speed until a firm, pliable dough forms. If the dough still appears dry and isn’t coming together, beat in the second tablespoon of milk. If desired you can store the dough overnight at this point. Gather into a disc and wrap well with plastic wrap before placing in the fridge.
3. If continuing with the cookies, preheat the oven to 375 and line two large, rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper. Gather the dough together into a ball. Use a rolling pin to gently roll it out on a floured surface until it is 1/8-in thick. Using a 3-in cookie cutter, stamp out as many rounds as possible and transfer them to the prepared baking sheets. Gather the scraps of dough and repeat the rolling and stamping process up to two more times.
4. Whisk the remaining egg white with 1 teaspoon of water and lightly brush the tops of each cookie with the egg wash. Mix together the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar and the cinnamon in a small bowl; sprinkle the cinnamon-sugar over the cookies (you will not use all of it), followed by the almonds. Bake until lightly golden, 8-10 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool on the baking sheets for 5 minutes, then carefully transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.