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happy sweet 2016

Now that the holiday rush is over, it's finally time to bake some cookies and relax!

We don't usually do the resolution thing, but 2015's unrelenting crescendo of parties, events and non-stop food prep has prompted us to resolve to focus on two very important concepts this January: Fika and Hygge.

Our sister getting cozy with coffee.
Furry friends, ready to cuddle anytime.
These two Scandinavian social institutions are a little hard to explain, but once you get the hang of them, we are sure you'll want to incorporate them into your daily routine as much as we do.

Fika (pronounced "FEE-ka") is an extremely fun Swedish word to say aloud. It's 19th century slang for the Swedish word kaffe (reverse the syllables of "ka-FEE" and admire Swedish humor) but has come to mean so much more.

In the basic sense, fika means "to have coffee", but is most often used to describe the act of "having a break with one's colleagues, friends, a date or family." This lovely practice of taking a little breather is central to Swedish life. Increased productivity and the overall happiness of Swedish citizens is credited to fika.

Fika can be used as both verb and noun. Similar to the English "afternoon tea", the noun fika consists of coffee often accompanied with cookies, pastries, sandwiches or even a small meal. You can also fika at work (to take a coffee break), fika with someone (to go on a coffee date), or simply fika (to drink a cup of coffee, tea or other beverage.)

The Danish term hygge is harder to pronounce and it's meaning is even harder to pinpoint. Hygge (pronounced "HOO-ga") translates roughly to "coziness" but can be better described as "that moment when you're in a warm atmosphere and enjoying the good things in life with good people."

Hygge is the warm glow of candlelight, a sip of mulled wine, some good conversation with great friends, a family get-together, soft woolen sweaters, eating homemade cookies, watching your favorite television show while under a duvet, coffee served from your best china, snuggling with your best friend. We think that hygge goes a long way toward explaining why the Danes are considered to be the happiest people in the world.

So let's all do a little fika and some hygge every day and enjoy a happy, healthy, and safe 2016.

sugarplum linzer cookies

Makes about 2 dozen

These holiday linzer cookies are based on Austria’s most famous and beloved pastry, the Linzertorte. The original torte is made with a buttery almond or hazelnut dough and filled with black or red currant jam. Our sandwich cookie version uses Nordic flavorings and plum jam. Cookies keep in an airtight container at room temperature 1 week.
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon grated orange zest
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cardamom
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup almond flour
  • Coarse sanding sugar, for decorating
  • 1/2 cup plum jam (see note below)
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar on high speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add egg, vanilla, zest, cardamom and salt; mix on medium speed until combined.

In a small bowl, whisk together flour and almond flour. With mixer on low speed, add flour in 2 batches, mixing just until incorporated.

Divide dough into 2 equal portions. Place each on a piece of plastic wrap; flatten into disks. Wrap in plastic wrap; refrigerate until firm, at least 2 hours or up to 1 week. Note: dough can also be frozen for one month. Allow to thaw overnight in refrigerator before using. Remove one dough disc from refrigerator and divide in half. Roll out each half between two pieces of parchment paper to about 1/8 inch thick. Transfer each rolled half to a baking sheet (stack on top of each other if needed); cover tightly with plastic wrap. Repeat with the remaining disk. Refrigerate rolled dough until until firm again, about 15 minutes. (This step ensures clean cookie edges.)

Remove one sheet of rolled dough from refrigerator; remove top sheet of parchment. Using a linzer cookie cutter without a hole (bottom cookie), cut out as many cookies as possible; transfer to a parchment-lined large baking sheet; reserve and chill scraps. Repeat with second sheet of rolled dough.

Remove third sheet of rolled dough from refrigerator; remove top sheet of parchment. Using a linzer cookie cutter with a cutout hole (top cookie), cut out as many cookies as possible; transfer to a parchment-lined large baking sheet; reserve and chill scraps. Repeat with fourth sheet of rolled dough.

Roll reserved scraps out once more and cut additional cookie shapes, being sure to keep the number of bottoms and tops even.

Decorate cookie tops with coarse sanding sugar, as desired. Chill cutout cookies in refrigerator for another 10-15 minutes (this step keeps the cookies from spreading.)

Preheat oven to 350°F with racks positioned on upper and lower thirds. Remove cookie trays from refrigerator and bake in upper and lower thirds of oven, switching positions of sheets halfway through, until golden around the edges and slightly firm to the touch, about 15 minutes. Let cool on baking sheets 1 minute; transfer cookies on parchment to wire racks and cool for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, stir jam in small bowl to loosen. Flip a bottom linzer cookie over and using an offset spatula, spread about 1 teaspoon jam onto the cookie. Place a top linzer cookie on top to form the cookie sandwich. Let cool completely on wire rack.
Stonewall Kitchen's Sugar Plum Jam: My favorite plum jam is called Sugar Plum Jam and is available seasonally during the winter holidays from Stonewall Kitchen. Its very plum-jammy with a nice touch of orange peel. I also love their Holiday Jam, which is a sweet and tart blend of lightly spiced pears, cranberries and raspberries. Feel free to substitute your favorite plum jam (or other jam or jelly) and make these cookies your own.

Disclaimer: I mention Stonewall Kitchen in this post simply because I happen to really, really like their product in this recipe. Over the years, I have consistently been delighted by the excellent specialty foods, home goods and kitchen items offered by Stonewall Kitchen. Because of my positive experience with this company, I happily recommend Stonewall Kitchen whenever I can. Stonewall Kitchen has not compensated me in any way with any sort of payment, including free products or services.