Evergreen Christmas Cookies
In and around Zagreb alone, you get lost in the countless servings of desserts, ranging from simple biscuits to elaborate multi-layered cakes. Even if we only look at those that fall in the category of traditional desserts, it's hard to make a precise catalogue. It's also not easy to trace their origins, but I'm convinced there's no point in doing that at all. If something's been here for generations, it's ours, part of our identity. Allow me to make a random list of favourites when it comes to traditional, well-known cookies that are most popular around Christmas, wherever they might have come from. No surprise, the source of most of them is our Austrian-Hungarian heritage.
The baking frenzy begins a week or so before Christmas. Image credit: Taste of Croatia
I'll start with my personal number one, to which I'm emotionally attached because my mum regularly makes it for holidays. And it definitely has the nicest name – kućni prijatelj. Which literally means home friend. The best thing about this simple crisp biscuit is that it has long shelf life and actually softens with time. Actually, it's very similar to Italian cantuccini, but more flexible with the ingredients, including various nuts, dried fruits and diced chocolate – what more can you wish for? It's best when dipped in your hot beverage of choice.
A Londoner cookie stuck between two Linzers. Image credit: Taste of Croatia
Lincer, or Linzer, comes from the Austrian city of Linz, but this is a smaller version of the famous Linz cake. I never liked it as a child (alas, no chocolate), but I've learned to appreciate its buttery tenderness over the years. Linzers are family-favourites, found on almost all Christmas tables. The concept is to make a ground almond or walnut based dough, cut out the shapes you want (most often circle, heart or star), and make something like little sandwiches with a layer of jam in between, usually apricot, raspberry or plum.
Vanilla crescents are a must-have cookie of every decent household. Image credit: Biljana Milina
Biskupski kruh, or bishop's bread, is baked all over the world in Christmas time, originating from the German fruit cake called Stollen. The name implies its long history and connection with religious traditions. To make it a special treat, a lot of chopped dried or candied fruit and nuts was used, and nowadays chocolate is also an option. Add spices to the mixture and you'll fill the air with one of the most pleasant and memorable holiday smells. This thick and rich fruit bread gets an extra kick when washed down with an equally thick and rich stout beer.
Typical fruit bread known as the bishop’s bread. Image credit: Biljana Milina
Vanili kiflice, or vanilla crescents, can also be tracked down to Austria. Again, not one of my favourites in childhood, because when exposed to the plethora of all imaginable desserts, kids somehow don't get the „less is more” principle. The thing with these crumbly little crescents is that what you see is what you get. No layers, fillings, toppings, icings. But just wait until the delicate walnut and vanilla flavoured cookie coated in powdered sugar melts in your mouth! Show me a home without vanilla crescents during the holiday season, I dare you.
It’s never enough of vanilla crescents, especially when they are so perfectly shaped. Image credit: Da mi je nešto slatko
Londoner is another favourite old-fashioned cookie you'll often find in this region, although no one seems to know why it is called that way and whether it has any actual connection to London. Sweet and nutty, it has always been one of my first choices when confronted with a tray full of various holiday cookies. Again, the ingredients are simple, walnuts, jam, sugar, flour, eggs, butter, but the multi-layered little stick you get in the end is wonderfully rich in taste.
You don’t have more than five kinds of Christmas cookies? What an embarrassment! Image credit: Ebba’s Cuisine FB
Oraščići, or little walnuts, are walnut-shaped shortbread cookies where two halves are put together with a sweet filling. You just need to have the right moulds, and a lot of patience. Logically, the dough contains ground walnuts and also some cocoa, while the filling is a cream made either with ground walnuts again or chocolate. As far as I know, this is the nuttiest holiday dessert you can get!
OK, something bigger and containing chocolate at last... We call it božićni panj, meaning Christmas stump, but in some other parts of the world it's known as chocolate log or Yule log cake. It's a rich and creamy chocolate roll shaped like a log, requiring some skillful rolling and icing. Not meant to last for days displayed on a tray like the afore-mentioned cookies, our Christmas log is made to be the finishing touch of a proper family feast.
Christmas cookies – first you can’t get enough of them, then you don’t know what to do with them. Image credit: Ebba’s Cuisine
Yes, it's the season when the joy of baking is spreading all around you and everybody is excited to taste all the treats seducing you with their sweet smell. Inevitably, after a few days of family and friendly gatherings, everybody will curse the heaps of leftover cookies until you are not even able to look at them anymore. But in those nice few days in between, enjoy the sweet tradition with your loved ones, find comfort in the well-familiar tastes and don't think about the calories.
Header image credit: Taste of Croatia
Author: Taste of Croatia / Morana Zibar