Norwegian Christmas Baking: Krumkaker
I still remember what it was like, cupping my hand under my mouth to catch the crumbs. Biting into a krumkake at my grandparents’ house at Christmastime, I knew that the cookie would inevitably shatter. I just had to be ready to contain the pieces to a moderate mess.
The cone-shaped cookies, as golden as my locks of wavy hair, were a staple on both sides of my family. Somehow, perhaps due to years of practice, both of my grandmothers managed to make countless krumkaker, each one consistent in color and shape, nestled safely in round tins ready for visitors.
Biting into the delicate cookies was always a delight, one that was as expected as the garland of Norwegian flags strung around my grandparents’ tree and the riskrem (rice cream) these dear people served after a traditional Norwegian celebration meal of roast pork, spiced medisterkaker meatballs, the sour cabbage known as surkål, and a variety of vegetables simply prepared.
I came upon my late grandmother Agny’s krumaker recipe by accident a while back. It was nestled among recipe clippings and cards that my other grandma had given to me when she downsized to a retirement community. I’m thankful that Grandma Agny shared her recipe with Grandma Adeline. Written in her elegant handwriting on a scrap of blue paper, with a personal note saying “good luck,” it’s a treasure of mine—one of only three recipes of hers that I have. Had she not been generous enough to share it, I never would have gotten it.
A few days ago I heated my krumkaker iron—an electric model that makes two cookies at a time—and whipped up the batter, following Grandma Agny’s recipe for the most part, with a few tweaks. I added water, a little at a time, until the batter was just barely thicker than heavy cream. Pouring a teaspoonful into the center of each decorative circle, I closed the iron and hoped for the best.
The first couple of cookies, waffles, or pancakes are always sacrificial, as far as I’m concerned. It takes a few tries to get the temperature and the timing just right. Krumkaker pose an extra challenge because they are rolled around a cone while still hot—let them cool too much and they become too brittle to work with. But before I knew it, I had amassed two platefuls of beautiful krumkaker, much like the ones I had grown up eating.
Krumkaker are among the syv slags kaker, or seven sorts of cookies, that are a must at Christmastime for Norwegians. And they’re certainly a favorite type. Back in 1992, Aftenposten—Norway’s largest daily paper—surveyed people and compiled a list of the most popular varieties.
Krumkaker were on the list, along with smultringer and hjortetakk (these two tied for first place), sandkaker, sirupsnipper, berlinerkranser, goro, and fattigman.
The syv slags kaker fall into three categories: baked, fried, or cooked on special irons or griddles. The krumkaker fall into the latter and are the oldest of these cookies, along with goro. They go back to at least the 1700s, writes Kathleen Stokker in Keeping Christmas: Yuletide Traditions in Norway and the New Land, and the blacksmiths who made them would integrate their initials into the pattern. In Norway, the design might differ depending on the area or the family. With ties to waffles, another treat made on an iron, the roots of these cookies go back at least a thousand years.
As a child, I incorrectly associated the word krumkake with “crumb cookie,” an appropriate name for my experience with them. I have since learned that krum actually means curvature and reflects the cookies’ signature cone shape. As with any number of traditional cookies, variations abound. Some people flavor them with vanilla, others with cardamom. Some shape them into cones, others into cigars or bowls. While I grew up eating krumkaker plain, as many people do, they’re also often served with fillings such as whipped cream and berries or perhaps multekrem (cloudberry cream) or trollkrem (whipped lingonberries with egg whites).
As I baked the season’s first batch of krumkaker with my kids the other day, I watched with anticipation as they tasted them. I, of course, knew the cookies would break apart. I wanted to catch their surprise and then reassure them quickly that it was okay—to let that know that this is among the pleasures of eating these very old, very beloved cookies.
Today’s bakers have a choice: stovetop or electric irons. There are benefits to either type, with tradition and romance associated with the former and convenience, speed, and ease of cleanup with the latter. I personally use a dual-krumkaker electric iron that Grandma Adeline gave me years ago. Whichever model you choose, they’re available at many cookware and Scandinavian shops, as well as online. Don’t forget to pick up a couple of cone rollers, too. There are some beautiful, handcarved ones out there, which would make lovely Christmas gifts. As for technique, yours will vary a bit depending on your preferences and your iron. Please see a variety of tips following the recipe.
1 ¼ sticks of butter (10 tablespoons) (I use salted)
1 teaspoon freshly-ground cardamom seeds
¾ cup sugar
1 cup flour
Up to 1/2 cup cold water, or as needed to thin batter to the right consistency
In a small pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Remove from the heat, stir in the cardamom, and let cool a bit.
Beat eggs and sugar together until light and fluffy. Mix in the cooled butter, then stir in the flour until the batter is smooth. Mix in cold water, a little at a time as needed, to thin the batter almost to the consistency of thick, heavy cream—it should pour well but still coat the spoon.
Heat your krumkaker iron and lightly grease it. To bake the cookies, drop a teaspoonful of batter into the center of the iron. Bake until both sides are golden—this takes about a minute on my iron. To remove, slip a metal spatula—some people use the tip of a blunt knife—under the cookie and slide it off, then immediately roll onto a cone and set aside to cool.
Transfer to an airtight tin shortly after they’ve cooled, or serve immediately. They can also be frozen.
While everyone’s technique, timing, and workflow will differ, I like to slide the cookies off the iron onto a piece of parchment paper and immediately put more batter on the iron; by this time my krumkaker have cooled just enough to be workable (though still hot), but not so much that they become brittle. By the time they’ve set enough to transfer off the cone rollers and retain their shape, the next batch are just about ready to remove and roll.
Be patient and give yourself plenty of grace. It takes a little while to get the hang of the timing and rolling. Some krumkaker won’t turn out just right, but that’s okay—part of the fun is sampling while you go, and the imperfect cookies provide a great excuse to do so.
Some years ago when I was first learning to make krumkaker, I asked my surviving grandmother, Adeline, how to roll the cookies onto the cones without burning my fingers. “You just have to do it,” she said. Not satisfied that making krumkaker should have to hurt, I posted a question on Facebook a year ago, asking readers for tips. While some people echoed my grandmother’s thoughts, that you just have to deal with it (“Asbestos hands that’s all,” wrote one person), readers posted a variety of tips that I want to share with you here:
Some people use rollers from Norway that have a clip attached, which allows you to slide the krumkaker off the iron and roll it in one step with minimal contact with the hot cookie. Others use gloves, even the cotton ones available at the drugstore—just make sure you’re using food-safe materials. Others use a dishcloth or parchment paper as a shield for the hands while rolling. Another great tip I learned from one reader is to keep a small glass of ice water nearby—that way you can cool your fingers immediately after rolling the krumkaker.
Ah memories of watching Mom and my Bestemor making krumkaker. Mom even made them for my bridal shower. I still have my families stovetop version and cone roller. So great to see a story about them.
Christine, what sweet memories those must be!
I’ve framed handwritten recipes from my mother and mother-in-law hanging in my kitchen.
They are daily inspiration.
Judy, that is such a good idea! I think I’ll do that with some of my favorites too!
Memories…..My mor & her friend, Olga, flipping krumkakka in the old black krumkakka iron, jabbering in Norwegian & giggling. Also making sanbakkals
and fattigmanbakkals-at least those 3.
Norma, how special it is to make Norwegian Christmas cookies with loved ones! That’s part of the joy of it, isn’t it?
Thank you so much for sharing all about making Krumkakers! My mother’s ancestors come from Norway. I remember as a teenager, at my cousin’s wedding, one of my aunts made Rosettes. If you also had a recipe for how to make them, I would really appreciate it!
Judy, thank you for your note. I will be making rosettes in the coming weeks and will share the recipe and tips!
Make them every year. Looking for recipes for gluten free Norwegian cookies…any ideas?
I have a recipe for gluten free Krum Kake
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 1/2 tsp almond extract
1 cup oat flour
1 cup finely ground almond flour
2 T cornstarch
Beat eggs and sugar, add butter, extract and mix. Add flour. Batter is a different consistency than original recipe but cooks up good.
Makes about 44 cookies
Thanks so much for sharing!
KJG in MN
Well said! I use a 1″ wide soft silicone tool to remove these treasures from the hot surface.
In my family we call it “Krumkake “. Adore them 🙂
Becky, you are right to do so. “Krumkake” is singular, and “krumkaker” is plural!
I have my grandmother’s stovetop krumkake iron and treasure it. Mom and I used it for many years, until Mom retired from cookie baking. Now I use an electric krumkake iron (no more accidentaal burns of the right pinky knuckle!). I’ve made batches of krumkake for friends’ wedding receptions and other occasions, as well as of course for Christmas. It is a tradition. Thank you for sharing recipes and stories about Norwegian cookie baking. Brings back lots of fond memories of my family.
Thanks for sharing your memories here! Yes, your grandmother’s iron must be a treasured possession. And you’ve given a wonderful gift by making all those krumkaker for your friends and loved ones! It is a wonderful tradition.
I also have my grandmother’s krumkake iron and another iron as well which I don’t know the name of. Granddaughters love making them with me. That iron has made many Christmas memories.
I remember every Christmas my Mom would be in the Kitchen and make all these Norwegian delicates, they were so good, I was so proud to have a Mother like mine, always had some kind of cakes, cookies, or Norwegian food for whoever comes over. I would really appreciate these messages from you. Hope to hear from you again.
Since I lost my mother’s treasured krumkake recipe, I’ve been trying various ones without success. Yours is the closest I’m come to replicating the taste I remember–thank you!
I’ll have to pull out my mom’s recipe. It is the same as yours, but uses half and half instead of water. About the same otherwise, but I think it must be x2 of yours also. I recall putting a cup of half/half and more flour, but only a couple eggs. Remind me and I’ll send it to you. .
One tip on rolling and the fingers burning. If your finger tips touch the hot cookie only very briefly and individually, there is no burning that way. It is like playing a piano. Also, I have the double electric iron as you do, but that product is a bit thicker and smaller than the cast iron single maker. The cast iron one takes longer and heats more unevenly as the fire is only on one side while the iron retains the heat on the other, but the result is a more speckled and seems more traditional.
My mom helped her mother make krumkake as a little girl and up to adulthood on a stovetop iron on the stove. I would watch as it took them hours to make them one at a time. My mother could never get the hang of rolling them so my Mormor would do that part with out the cone roller. When my Mormor died I then helped my mother make them, still on the stovetop one at a time and I rolled them again without the rolling tool. A few years ago my mother bought me an electric iron that makes 2 at a time. I now make them with my Son. I cook them and he rolls them. They are his favorite cookie do I make them at least 3 times a year, not just for Christmas like my mother and Mormor did. We use Mormor recipe, that only calls for eggs, sugar, flower, butter and cardamom.
My question is, how long can these be stored and still be yummy, if they’re stored in a cookie tin? I, too, grew up making and enjoying these delights. I have my grandmother’s stovetop model iron and will likely be breaking it out again this Christmas.
I have my mom’s old iron that I use on my gas stove. Each time I make them it is a challenge. And a memory of making these with my mom! How lucky was I!!!!
I made krumkaker with my mom for years and have made them with my great grandmother Anna’s recipe on the stove top: It’s thicker and richer than yours, but it’s still my favorite. (1 C. sugar, 1C. Butter – creamed; 1 C. eggs-beaten, 2 C. flour, 1tsp. vanilla added and stirred by hand) 1 C. eggs is about 4 or 5 depending on the size.
My mother was not Norwegian, but when she married my father she embraced many of the foods of his mor (my farmor). She made everything from the delicious yellow pea soup to a number of the cookies at Jul (Christmas) including the beloved krumkake. And my Mom became an expert at all of them.
I know this is an old post, but just by chance I was wondering if these would survive being mailed? Any suggestions how to package and protect? I was thinking lining a sturdy box with bubble wrap, packaging cookies in a cellophane type food grade bag, and make sure they can’t move around too much. I enjoy making these and think my family across the states would enjoy them too. Thank you for any help.
We used to ship these, nestled together and “padded” with a few layers of paper towel, in a Pringles can. The can would then go in the box of whatever else we were shipping with bubble wrap packed around the can. Sure you get some broken edges, but that puts the “krum” in the krumkake!
We’ve shipped them nestled in wax paper, in cookie tins, and they survive pretty well. As Erika said, sometimes there are crumbs–but they’re yummy too, especially on on ice cream! Good luck and God Jul!
I have my grandmother’s Krumkake (the way I grew up spelling it) iron, my sister has my great-aunt’s. The problem is a.) we live in the south and getting the humidity low enough to make this is rare and b.) both of us have glass top stoves and these only work on coil burners or a gas stove. But this has been a holiday tradition in our house for a long time.
You may have already tried your iron on your glass stovetop. If not, you might give it a try. I have an old Nordic Ware iron that works fine on my glass stovetop. I’m just careful not to slide it around too much to avoid damaging the surface.